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What is “stress baking”?

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Stress baking isn't just the name of this blog – let's dig into how and why people use stress baking as a coping mechanism.

Leslie Kiszka sitting on a kitchen floor in an apron covered in flour while eating a cookie

First of all, yes – it's the name of this blog. But it's much more than that!

You've probably seen the term “stress baking” thrown around a lot (especially in 2020-2021 – banana bread, anyone?), but do you know what it means?

The short answer: baking to relieve stress.

The longer answer involves some psychology, the science behind different stress management techniques, and a splash of personal opinions based on my own experience.

Baking can be therapeutic

Now I know this isn't the case for everyone — I know plenty of people who would rather step on legos than bake a cake — but for me, baking is therapeutic. I've been stress baking for as long as I can remember, which was why I started this blog around 2013.

I find baking therapy to be the perfect combination of coping mechanism + productive activity. Even better, I end up with snacks. And who doesn't love snacks?

Rather than vegging out in front of a TV for hours — where I just end up feeling like a lazy slug — I'm creating something. I'm able to channel my stress and anxiety into something constructive (and, hopefully, delicious). I can share it with other people, and that makes me happy.

My cycle of stress usually looks like this:

  • Something happens to stress me out
  • I look to my list of recipe ideas (or add to it) and see what I already have the ingredients for in the house
  • Prep, bake, test, and perhaps photograph it as a new recipe for this site so I can share it with others
  • More taste testing
  • Hand out to neighbors and delivery people to spread the joy
  • Relish in the smell of fresh baked goods wafting around the house
  • Rinse and repeat

I have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and also find cleaning therapeutic, so even the act of doing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen after covering it in flour and sprinkles lends itself to being a helpful part of my baking therapy routine.

Apple cider being poured into flour mixture

The psychology of baking

I'm not a doctor, so keep in mind that I'm sharing what I've learned over the years from actual doctors and research and not any kind of medical advice or expertise.

Baking is a distraction. A delicious distraction, but a distraction nonetheless. And it's the kind of distraction you need to be fully present for – physically and mentally. You're using all of your senses: touch, smell and taste.

Unless you are a truly talented multitasker, you can't focus on stirring a bowl of cookie dough and doom scroll through social media feeds at the same time.

Neurologically speaking, there is also the conscious or subconscious aspect of baking that is more focused on the resulting sweet treats – because eating those carbs and sweets boosts your happiness hormones. I mean, who's not going to be happy after they've eaten a whoopie pie?!

But in all seriousness, eating sweets can give you a bump of dopamine. I'm talking about a brownie or two here friendo, not an entire pan! Even eating dark chocolate can contribute to a bit of an endorphin boost.

And for some, the act of learning a new recipe and successfully creating something delicious and edible that was once just a bunch of random ingredients in your pantry can give you a serotonin boost. Confidence triggers serotonin, and if you're proud of something you just made with your bare hands, that can be just what you need for that mood booster.

Two glass mixing bowls full of wet and dry ingredients

Stress baking is a coping mechanism

More people got into stress baking in 2020 while they were stuck at home than ever before, and people started using the terms “quarantine baking” and “pandemic baking” in addition to the old classic “stress baking”. Both of those hashtags were so popular, you could barely scroll through Instagram without being flooded by posts tagged with one of them!

People needed something to pass the time because they were out of work, or a new hobby to replace that group yoga class that had been canceled indefinitely. And personally, I loved watching people around the world gain a new appreciation for baking, cooking, and their own kitchens.

Folks were pulling that pasta maker they were gifted at their wedding 10 years ago for the first time and scouring the internet to learn how to make their own fettucine.

People who relied on takeout and microwave meals found themselves without those options due to restaurant closures and supply chain issues, and learned how to make their own pad thai and breakfast burritos.

Some people just needed an excuse to hide in the kitchen to escape the home-schooling calamity for a bit and ended up discovering their new favorite chef on YouTube or Instagram that taught them how to make pizza.

It can be a bonding mechanism, too

It really didn't matter the reason – it was a popular and accessible activity to the majority of those who found themselves spending far more time at home than they'd ever imagined. People bonded with their partners over a newly discovered shared love of muffins. People also bonded with complete strangers.

Because it was popular and we have the magic of the internet, people were able to share recipes, techniques, and the photos they took of their very first sourdough loaf and cheer each other on. It was a beautiful thing to see in such a dark time.

When stores reopened, people discovered local vendors and shops they never would have sought out otherwise. And I believe it helped people reprioritize the value of shopping locally, versus big box stores.

The supply chains were so broken you couldn't find the most basic ingredients and foods at the store – so we turned to that tiny shop around the corner where six generations of women in their family have been making pasta and spices from scratch.

Easy Summer Vegetable Spaghetti

Is stress baking different than stress cooking?

Baking is generally about precision and the science of how ingredients interact with one another. Too much butter and not enough flour, cookies melt into a giant mess. Use expired baking powder and you end up with a cake that doesn't rise.

Cooking is more of an art where you have more wiggle room. Add a sprinkle of this spice, a dash of that, swap out proteins willy nilly, leave out ingredients you don't have… it usually turns out okay. You have the freedom to play around with recipes more than you do with baking.

Some people (like myself) are looking for something with precision and structure and gravitate toward baking desserts like cupcakes and pies.

Other people want to experiment and discover new flavors, specifically with savory dishes – and cooking is perfect for them.

There's no wrong way to stress bake

Stress baking doesn't have parameters. There are no rules you have to follow to do it the “right” way. Stress baking is whatever you want it to be.

And contrary to popular belief, it doesn't have to be comfort foods! Sure, lots of people jump into carb-heavy cookies, banana bread, donuts, or mac and cheese – but that's not what it has to be.

  • If your version of baking therapy involves the quickest recipes you can find because you're short on time and your priority is just to get food in your face as quickly as possible, that's great.
  • If you need the recipes to be super simple because you don't have the attention span for something more complicated, there are plenty of options out there for that.
  • If you need recipes that you can make with your kids because you don't have the luxury of time for yourself, then you get to have an awesome (and maybe a bit messy) group baking therapy session.
  • If you're looking for a new hobby and want to learn how to bake, maybe you're starting with the Baking Basics and your goal is to work your way up to layers cakes – awesome!
  • Or maybe you want to work your way through a cookbook of complicated and time-intensive recipes because you need a longer-term distraction and a way to fill that time you might otherwise spend mentally spiraling out of control – perfect.

Most of the time for me, the vigorous whipping of frosting, crushing of peppermint, and the oh-so-delicate placement of cupcake toppings all help me find an outlet for my worries and nervous energy.

Other times I just need to be able to throw all the ingredients in a bowl and be done with it. Though at that point it's really more about stress eating the resulting cookies and less about the process.

It doesn't matter how you go about stress baking – it just matters that you're doing what works for you to manage your stressors, and hopefully enjoying it at the same time!

Freshly baked red velvet cookies with white chocolate chips on a baking sheet

Stress baking recipe ideas

As I said before – there's no wrong way to stress bake, so you can pick any recipe in the world and go for it! But if you're looking for ideas, here are a few of my personal favorites that others seem to love as well.

It's hard to narrow it down to just a few for each category, so I recommend taking a spin through my recipe archives!


The Perfect Banana Bread – I don't give it this title lightly! Readers have agreed for years that this is THE BEST banana bread recipe – easy-to-make, moist banana bread that is crisp on the outside and loaded with flavor. One bowl, no mixer required.

One Banana, One Bowl Banana Muffins – These muffins really took off in 2020, especially amongst people who were living alone and didn't need a dozen muffins for just themselves. Based on my fan-favorite banana bread recipe, this is an easy small batch 1 banana muffin recipe that only needs one banana, one bowl, and 30 minutes.

Copycat Starbucks White Chocolate Mocha – Another easy recipe that skyrocketed in popularity in 2020 when people couldn't pop into Starbucks as easily as before. People love this recipe so much it trends year-round! I made an iced version for those iced coffee lovers, too.

Cranberry Vanilla Bean Scones – Don't let the idea of making your own scones scare you! These cranberry vanilla bean scones are bursting with cranberry and vanilla flavors, a hint of orange, and are perfectly tender on the inside with a delightfully crunchy exterior – drizzle with your choice of icing for added sweetness.


Fluffernutter Cookies – These are on the more involved end of the baking spectrum, and have been massively popular for years. They're a classic New England fluffernutter sandwich turned into a cookie with thin, chewy peanut butter cookies filled with swirls of marshmallow fluff. If you like these, try my fluffernutter rice krispie treats.

Mascarpone Whipped Cream – This stabilized mascarpone whipped cream is my all-time favorite, and it can be ready in 15 minutes. It’s light and airy, and honestly goes well with freaking everything – perfect to top cupcakes or ice cream, dip fruit in, or just eat by the spoonful. Way better than canned whipped cream, and has been a long-time reader favorite recipe.

The Best Fudgy Brownies – If you're looking for a go-to brownie recipe, let this be the one. These brownies are rich, fudgy perfection that are easy to make in one bowl – no mixer required.

Pumpkin Spice Rice Krispie Treats – Speaking of rice krispie treats, this recipe took off as soon as it was posted! People love their PSLs, and it appears pumpkin spice added to classic krispie treats are no exception.

Maple Sugar Cookies – These maple sugar cookies are soft cut-out sugar cookies with crisp, defined edges that are loaded with maple syrup flavor and a sweet maple icing – no chilling required, and ready in about 30 minutes. This one is a longtime fall favorite and makes amazing Christmas cookies.

Savory snacks

Easy Homemade Mozzarella Sticks – This is another recipe that really blew up during the pandemic! People couldn't go to their favorite restaurant while everything was shut down, and they were craving that ooey, gooey fried cheese. I’ve also included my favorite small-batch marinara sauce recipe!

Copycat Ruby Tuesday Pasta Salad – This has been quite possibly the longest-trending recipe on this site. It's getting harder and harder to find yourself a Ruby Tuesday to pile your plate high with this fan-favorite pasta salad, so you're lucky that you can make it at home!

Homemade Soft Pretzels – You don’t have to wait a long time for the dough to rise, and there’s no need for a thermometer. And they go wonderfully with my beer cheese dip, just sayin'.

Lunch and dinner

Quick and Easy Pantry Pasta – Pantry pasta is clutch for those with limited time and ingredients, and can be made with whatever ingredients you have on hand in your fridge and pantry! An easy-to-customize recipe base that can be ready in about 15 minutes.

Pan Fried Gnocchi and Brussels Sprouts – Italian sausage, brussels sprouts and gnocchi are pan-fried with lemon zest and butter for a dinner that’s ready in less than 30 minutes! 

Carrot Ginger Soup – This carrot ginger soup makes for an easy, healthy, and heartwarming winter dish – it’s creamy with a subtle spicy kick of ginger and can be ready in 30 minutes. Includes directions for making in an Instant Pot as well as on your stovetop.

Baked Mac and Cheese – It's hard to turn down the ultimate comfort food, you know?

Kid-friendly recipes

Easy, One Bowl Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies – I've had so many people tell me that these are their go-to cookie recipes to make with their kids. These big, chewy oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are made in one bowl, don’t require a stand mixer (aff link), don’t need chilling, ready in 30 minutes, and are easily customizable to whatever add-ins you like or have on hand.

One Giant Chocolate Chip CookieIt's exactly what it sounds like! I also have a double chocolate chip version.

4-Ingredient Funfetti Popcorn – Funfetti popcorn is full of sprinkles, addictive, salty, and sweet – four ingredients and 30 minutes are all you need for the perfect shareable snack.

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  1. Oh, Great Baking Guru, I’ve got a sponge cake recipe and I’m wondering if I can make it as cupcakes. I think they would be a good base for strawberry shortcakes, but I’m not confident enough to figure out the details.