Baking Challenges in the Time of the Coronavirus

This is the story of a baking challenge told through the lens of the coronavirus. It centers around my 97-year-old mother who lives in a senior independent living facility in Southern California where the coronavirus has forced residents to be quarantined in their rooms. They can no longer even use the public spaces provided within the building such as the library or the craft room. No visitors are allowed. Meals are delivered to their rooms. It is a lonely time.

Because Mom needs help getting dressed, my sister Donna is allowed into the facility on a daily basis as a “caregiver.” In the past, she has also regularly participated in the monthly Villa Literary Society meetings and brought baked treats to share during discussion time. She enjoys creating something unusual inspired by the topic of the book. This month they are reading a science fiction novel that is challenging to some, but a delight to the resident who suggested it. Donna looked at the Table of Contents and determined that if she would read a chapter a day, she would be able to get through it in time for their April meeting or Zoom call. Some of the book club members don’t have a copy of the book, so Donna volunteered to copy individual chapters for them each day. That was about the same time that she decided that she would just take breakfast to my Mom each morning. Combining all those factors meant that Donna decided to give herself a baking challenge and come up with a different breakfast bread each day that she would make to take to Mom and to the Book Club members along with their chapters.

She began with some of her favorite muffin recipes: blueberry streusel, buttermilk spice, chocolate banana with flax seed, Morning Glory and fresh ginger lemon muffins. Then for a change of pace she made oatmeal scones on St. Patrick’s Day in the shape of shamrocks. Challah with fig jam filling came next. Then, Thomas Jefferson’s Sweet Potato Biscuits. By this time, another challenge of the coronavirus presented itself — scarcity of ingredients. Flour and butter were becoming harder to find in the grocery store. But Donna kept going, and the book club members were so appreciative of her efforts. The project is giving Donna a purpose-filled day. As she told me about it, the whole story began to sound like the Good Deeds Club out of Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories, where the moral centered around the pleasure gained from doing something for others. But, that too has become a challenge.

Home-baked goods are probably not what one should be sharing now. Instead, purchasing restaurant gift cards for take-out food might be something to give away to first responders and health care providers as your Good Deed. That supports both the local restaurants as well as those who are working hard to get us through this time of crisis.

Of course, baking for you and your family is a good deed, too. So, if you enjoy baking and have flour and butter, here’s the recipe for Thomas Jefferson’s Sweet Potato Biscuits:

INGREDIENTS

2 ½ cups flour

¼ cup brown sugar

1 Tablespoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon allspice

½ cup butter, cut into small pieces

¾ cup sweet potato baked and mashed (1 large)

½ cup milk

½ cup chopped pecans

DIRECTIONS

1. Sift together first seven ingredients in a food processor. Pulse. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-size lumps.

2. In a large bowl, combine sweet potato and milk. Gently fold in flour mixture. Turn out onto a floured surface and gently knead into dough.

3. Roll into a large rectangle 1/2 inch thick. Cut with 2-inch biscuit cutter. Place on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. (Should yield about a dozen biscuits.)

4. Bake at 450 degrees (Fahrenheit) for 10-12 minutes.

5. Serve warm with honey butter.

Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.

Photos courtesy of the author.

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