A few times a year, the baking bug takes over our house. The cookbooks and recipe websites get fired up, the pans, sifters, and mixers come out from the deep recesses of the cabinets, and the house is filled with the scent of fresh breads, scones, muffins and cookies.
I’ve found over the years that these little baking booms have an unexpected and helpful side-effect. For the few months after baking, I tend to have an ironclad resistance to tempting baked treats at home or in town. The reason is that baking at home gives you a reality check as to what’s actually going into these foods. Take, for example, the wonderful ingredient that is butter.
In a normal day I don’t eat much butter. If I’m feeling indulgent at breakfast I’ll add a small pat of it (about 1 cm thick) to some toast. Yes, I know, SO naughty. We sometimes use it for sauteing if the recipe calls for a thick, buttery flavor, but even then it’s a small portion off the stick, thinner than my pinky finger. In this way, a stick of butter in the fridge will get whittled down over the course of weeks. It lasts a long time.
That is, until we decide to bake something.
Our go-to scone recipe, for instance, calls for an entire stick of butter. As that entire stick of butter is gently worked into the batter, I always get a queasy feeling in my stomach. That is a LOT of butter. And yet, when the scones are done it’s not like they’re greasy and dripping in butterfat. They’re warm, dry, compact, and delicious.
Sugar works the same. In the morning I’ll put a tiny quarter-teaspoon of sugar into my coffee. Just that touch of sugar brings out the flavor of the coffee to my palate. When I go to a cafe and see a person holding the sugar in a steady stream over their coffee I’m aghast.
But when it’s baking time, what counts as a lot of sugar gets all out of whack. A cookie recipe we use will call for 1 cup of white sugar, 1 cup of brown sugar. Two full cups of sugar is an amazing thing to see. It’s more sugar than I’ll use in my coffee over the course of an entire year, all in one recipe!
To offset this we usually cut the sugar in these recipes by a quarter, and it’s still plenty sweet, although the cookie texture suffers. But as good as home baked cookies are, that’s still a sickening amount of sugar and I can’t bring myself to eat much.
In baking you see this pattern again and again, with oil, heavy cream, salt, peanut butter, chocolate, and icing. When you’re doing the dirty work yourself, you’re humbled by the sheer volume of these ingredients that go into the mix. It’s far more than you’d ever use in a usual meal on a usual day.
And so, after a baking session, I’ll be out and about with a fresh memory of how much butter, sugar, cream, oil, and salt I use to make something at home. I’ll find myself at a cafe looking at the display case of baked treats. The person who baked these items has one job — to create a delicious food that the customers will pay for, and come back to have again. Why wouldn’t they toss in a whole stick of butter, or two cups of sugar towards that goal? In fact, why wouldn’t they use more?
This intuition bears itself out when you go to a place with calorie content on their baked goods. Let’s take a look at the Starbucks Morning Bun as an example.
This isn’t a big cinnamon bun, and it doesn’t even have icing. It’s the kind of thing you’d think, all things considered, is probably not too calorically dense. Right?
Starbucks lists this item as having 390 Calories. That’s a dramatically high amount of energy stored in such a small package. A dinner roll of the same size would only be about 75 Calories. Where are the hundreds of phantom Calories coming from? You guessed it, ample amounts of butter and sugar that would be concerning if you made this item at home.
Home baking is kind of a “scared straight” approach to resisting tempting baked goods. When you’ve dumped whole sticks of butter and cups of sugar in your own kitchen, you can’t help but lose your appetite thinking about having too much of that food prepared by someone else who has no concern for your health and wellness.
At least for me, I’ll get 2-3 months of this natural aversion to baked goods, and feel zero temptation at the bakery or pastry case after home baking. But the effect fades with time, and soon enough I find myself slipping into having a little something with my coffee or tea at the cafe. That means it’s time to do some home baking again, and refresh my memory about how heavy-hitting most baked goods really are.
Like all foods, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying baked goods from time to time. But if you’re dipping into the pastry case more than once a week, you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle to stay trim over time. We have many clients who come to us saying they eat healthy and never have fast food or junk food, and can’t figure out why year by year their waistline is expanding. A little probing reveals that their weakness isn’t the classic junk foods, but a steady intake of baked goods brimming with high-impact ingredients.
They’ll sneak up on you!
Take this article as an invitation to bake something soon. It’s one thing to read about it, and another to feel the visceral reaction to enormous amounts of butter, sugar, and other unhelpful ingredients going into something you’re going to feed yourself and your family.
Seeing how the sausage scone is made makes a big impression!
Patrick Reynolds // Kenzai Founder