‘Baking has got me through the past few months. What have you been craving?’

Rainbow cake. Photo: Ben Hewes

Rainbow cake. Photo: Ben Hewes - Credit: Ben Hewes

Food and drink editor Emma Mayoh has been surviving on towering rainbow cakes, apple pies and Mrs Crimbles coconut macaroons...now she wants to know what you have been indulging in

Emma and seven-year-old daughter Matilda spend lots of time baking. Photo: Ben Hewes

Emma and seven-year-old daughter Matilda spend lots of time baking. Photo: Ben Hewes - Credit: Ben Hewes

It all started with smiley faces and alphabetti spaghetti. Not the best thing for a food writer to admit, but we’re all friends here, right? In those early days of high school, arriving home on a wet winter’s day – and usually after my three bus, two-hour long journey home - this was the meal that hit the spot – the Mayoh household version of the Heinz soup ad with steaming glasses and broad smiles. It was always the dish most friends requested when they came for tea – although alphabet letters and Findus crispy pancakes were seldom complained about either.

While these last splendid bastions of eighties dining don’t make it onto the Mayoh household menus anymore, the memories associated with them still have the ability to illicit a smile. It’s the comfort. Not just in the crispy on the outside, soft on the inside potato of my childhood dream meals but the warmth of the memory. It’s a thing that’s followed me, like many, through life – times get tough – reach for the chocolate Hobnobs, shattered from those early days of being a new mum, Mrs Crimbles coconut macaroons to the rescue. Sunday roasts, apple pies, crumbles, cakes and croissants, they’re all capable of delivering that booster shot of happiness.

Lockdown, unsurprisingly, has offered more opportunity for comfort. Not just more, in fact, but an abundance. We’ve tried to be healthy – Joe Wicks’ frozen yoghurt bark with summer berries and lime really is delicious. But, in reality, it has been those glorious dishes that envelop you in a warm hug that stick in the brain.

Recipes: make Booths’ chicken satay, jewelled couscous and nectarine galette

Macaroni cheese with roasted red pepper foccacia. Photo: Emma Mayoh

Macaroni cheese with roasted red pepper foccacia. Photo: Emma Mayoh - Credit: Emma Mayoh

While many of us stampeded to the shops in late March in fear of food shortages and starvation – come on, we all had that panic – more than two months in I can admit after a particularly energetic attempt to don workout gear – I needn’t have worried. A brief glimpse in the mirror and the sight of my discarded Garmin shows I’ve enjoyed it rather too much. But, in times like these, the joy these baking sessions with my seven-year-old, Sunday dinners we have languished over and desserts – oh, the desserts – we have lovingly prepared and appreciated have brought much more joy than the worry of a few extra pounds on the scale. There has been macaroni cheese – food of the gods when teamed with the most gloriously rich Burt’s Blue cheese - the obligatory lockdown banana bread, well, bread of all kinds, fruit laden meringue and, a Mayoh household favourite – the rainbow cake. The latter was started on my daughter’s first birthday and it’s one of those memory inducing recipes for all of our household now. But it seems particularly fitting during a lockdown when rainbows adorn windows, people gather in appreciation for the NHS and the colourful symbol has become a cheery sign of hope.

While I can’t say – with a full-time job, home schooling and a busy child at home – I’ve had lots of time on my hands, those mealtimes, with dishes created with care, have become almost ceremonial. Time out from the sometimes-overwhelming enormity of what the world continues to navigate together.

I’m not on my own in seeking comfort in the meditation and appreciation of cooking and baking. While it feels churlish to mention this - we know there are tens of thousands of people who are facing serious challenges during this time – across social media and chats with friends, food has often been the topic on everyone’s lips. Speaking to a friend who is spending his spare time volunteering at his local farm shop – he also develops recipes for luxury barbecue brands - he says those early panic buying days of basics like mince and pork chops have been replaced with sirloin, tenderloin and T-bone steaks along with requests for recipes that take time. People, he believes are swapping commute time for time spent in the kitchen.

A treasured birthday cake for a 12th birthday

A treasured birthday cake for a 12th birthday - Credit: Emma Mayoh

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Groups of people have been brought together – virtually, I’ll add - through a love of baking, too. Facebook group Sandbach Bakes and Cakes was set up by dentist and new mum Janine Yazdi-Doughty – she tells me dentists have an horrendous sweet tooth - as a way to bring joy, distraction and unadulterated, delicious happiness through baking. The daily feed is filled with temptation – a dieter’s safe haven this is not. But it has banded people together through a shared love of loaves, lattices and lemon drizzle. It gained traction quickly and now has hundreds of members. That’s the power of food, though, isn’t it? It’s greatest power, I’d argue, is that in bringing people together. As we move into a new stage where meeting family and friends is more of a possibility, there will be undoubtedly more joy through food, those reunion meals, creating memories that will one day bring that same broad smile to people’s faces. Long may it continue.

What are your favourite recipes? Share pictures of some of your best cakes and bakes with Emma at emma.mayoh@archant.co.uk or to our new Cheshire Life Food and Drink Facebook page, where you’ll also find food features, tips and more recipes.