One Man’s Quest To Find Peace In Baking During The CB
All images by author, who really hated touching his phone while his hands were slicked with butter.

I’ve been to NTUC FairPrice, Cold Storage, Giant, but still I could find no plain flour, baking powder, or vanilla extract. Clearly, but also incomprehensibly to me, Singapore is still suffering from a baking frenzy. What’s so appealing about stirring together semi-solid sludge, putting it in the oven, and waiting one hour or more before you can eat it?

If I am such a heretic, you may ask, why was I looking for these ingredients? Because I am worn down by the pandemic and am willing to try anything to feel better. And if everyone is turning to baking now, I reasoned, there must be some therapeutic efficacy to it, no? 

Before I picked up the oven mitts and gave this last attempt at restoring my sanity a shot, I made one improvisation to the process: I cannot stand the thought of using buttery fingers to swipe through a recipe on my phone screen, so I found an audiobook that will narrate to me the entire recipe.

(Yes, the thought of printing a recipe did occur to me. No, I do not have a printer at home. Such extravagance. Who am I, Jeff Bezos?) 

The books featured are available as audiobooks on Storytel, a subscription-based audiobook platform. RICE readers get a 30-day free trial, so download their app to get started.

Banana bread is my recipe of choice because my colleague assured me that it’s “so simple a baby could bake it with their eyes closed”. Little did she know that I have severe myopia and the emotional maturity of a five-year-old.

Ingredients, assemble!
Anyway … I eventually found flour and everything else at Redman, praise be. Returning home with ingredients at hand, I launched my audiobook of choice—Keto Bread: 50 Easy-to-Follow Low Carb Recipes for Your Ketogenic Diet (don’t judge, I am trying to flatten my curves too)—and started listening to the recipe for banana nut bread. 

A perky but robotic voice—think Siri but sexually excited in the way robots can(not) get—started instructing me, off the bat, to “ADD FLOUR SUGAR BAKING POWDER BAKING SODA TO THE PAN” AHHHHH WHY WAS SHE SPEAKING SO QUICKLY MY HUMAN HANDS HAD ONLY OPENED THE PACKET OF FLOUR IN THE TIME SHE TOOK TO RECITE THOSE INSTRUCTIONS.

Then I noticed the playback speed settings. Apparently I had it at 1.5x times because prior to baking, I had skimmed through the audiobook to find a suitable recipe. Oops. I reduced it to 0.75x. Sexually repressed Siri started to slur sluggishly.

“Add … flour …. sugar … baking powder …”

In any other circumstance, the narration would sound comically slow or almost condescending, as if fake Siri was sardonically instructing a baking imbecile. But I am, in fact, a baking imbecile, so I was strangely comforted by her glacial pace of enunciation. 

“Followed by … eggs … sour cream … and vanilla …” she continued. 

“Add banana … and nuts … Start baking …”

This doesn't look right...
Wait. That’s it? All I did was dump all the ingredients into the loaf tin and mix them around lazily with a fork. The audiobook did instruct me to “add to pan”, right? 

I used my pinkie to prod at the “rewind 15 seconds button” on my phone. Yes. She did say “add to pan”. Well. There was nothing left to do, other than popping my batter into the oven and praying to Mary Berry.

You are beautiful, no matter what they say.
30 minutes in, the smell of caramelised banana wafted through the house. I inhaled deeply. I wanted to bottle up this scent and snort it like a druggie. Perhaps there are some merits to baking.

One hour. The oven dinged. I carefully extracted the loaf tin from the gaping hellfire mouth of the oven. It looked like a long rock-like log from Bishan Park. 

After letting the loaf cool a little, I cut a slice (182 calories, 8 grams total fat, 2.1 grams saturated fat, 29.5 grams carbs, 2.8 grams protein, the audiobook informed me) and tried it.

It tasted like … bread with banana in it.


Disappointingly, I did not get that sense of joy, accomplishment, control, productivity, orgasm, whatever, that CB bakers have been crowing about. 

I felt let down, both by the process and by my bread, which had none of that “baked with love” taste to it, though I detected a faint hint of “sprinkled with cynicism” and “is this salt or sugar I hope it’s sugar”. 

Was the recipe—dare I say it—too easy, even for me? Some degree of difficulty is necessary for satisfaction. It’s the logic behind people buying 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles of Mondrian compositions and not 20-piece puzzles of still life drawings. Maybe what I needed for a jolt of happiness into my veins, then, was a more complicated, more technical recipe. Yes. And, for comparison’s sake, I decided to follow a recipe from an ebook, Weeknight Baking, to see if it made any difference to baking from an audiobook.

Attempt Two: eBook of Weeknight Baking

From the beginning, my second attempt at baking a banana bread was a disaster.

What does “cream the butter and sugar” mean? Am I supposed to add cream to it? But it’s not in the list of ingredients … ?!?

Butter in the process of being creamed by my wrist action.
I gave my butter and sugar some private time to mingle as I frantically Googled for help on my phone. 

As it turned out, “creaming the butter and sugar” just meant mixing it together. Okay. Crisis one averted.

More words than War and Peace.
Then crisis two immediately appeared. Without the stern but sexy voice of Keto Bread instructing me, I had neglected to digest the recipe properly before attempting to bake. To cream the butter and sugar, Weeknight Baking instructed me to use a stand mixer, which poor me did not possess. 

But one must press on in the face of difficulties. So I whipped on, wrist strength against the resistant current of the butter. Luckily for me my wrist muscles are sinewy and ropey, honed through daily exercises of similarly repetitive up-and-down motions.  

After an eternity of pain, the butter and sugar looked like whipped cream—oh, rightand I added eggs, sour cream, flour, a litany of things that are bad for my cholesterol and blood sugar levels, etc. In comparison to the first recipe, which took all of ten minutes on my part, my second batter took approximately 30 minutes to complete. When I chucked it into the oven, I was beyond relief. Good riddance. 

Adding some walnuts, that I forgot to chop, for good measure.
But this time, when I took it out of the oven, I was genuinely impressed by my banana bread. It had a crusty, bread-like top but the interior was still soft and sweet.

My baby. My delicious baby about to be eaten.
The banana bread also tasted like how it smelled: rich, fruity, and buttery, which was a real achievement when you think about how disappointing most food tastes when compared to how they smell. 

I proudly took photographs of banana bread v2 and sent them to all my friends and group chats. I even wanted to give my neighbour some slices before remembering that talking to her is now illegal. 

This is what it feels like to be proud of a baby you gave birth to with your own hands, I think, if your baby is a delicious baked good that you want to eat.

That crack makes me want to dive in!
Perhaps it’s the sense of triumphing over a difficult recipe, or the sheer deliciousness of the final product, but I finally understood why so many Singaporeans are seeking solace in baking during the circuit breaker. 

If you pick the right recipe—and if your end product is actually tasty—baking gives you the feeling that you have the competence to create something beautiful and provide for your family and friends in the process.

Forking another slice of the banana bread into my mouth as I scrolled through the rest of the baking recipe books on Storytel, I let myself entertain the thought that I might give this baking thing another shot.

Though Storytel has both audiobooks and ebooks, I find the former vastly superior to the text-based experience. Yes, text-based recipes have their advantages. But there are some practical improvements that an audio recipe book brings, like having someone tell me what I need to do next without needing to constantly check the recipe, or the simple fact that it’s largely a hands-free experience.

Still, rather embarrassingly, what I like best about audiobooks has nothing to do with the practical aspects of baking. It is, instead, the feeling that I am not alone in the baking process and have someone to guide me along, even if it is a woman who sounds like a cyborg out to seduce-then-murder me if my soufflé collapses. She makes baking less stressful and more manageable even to someone like me, who has once turned custard into scrambled eggs accidentally.

Then I caught sight of the stack of unwashed bowls and plates, slick with butter and flour, waiting patiently to be washed. The temporary relief from depression I got from baking vanished instantly.

Maybe no more baking for me.

This post was brought to you by Storytel

All the books featured are available as audiobooks on Storytel, a subscription-based platform. RICE readers get a 30-day free trial, so download their app to get started, and check out over 110,000 titles they have available for streaming or download.

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