This is why people are baking more during the pandemic, according to a chef - Exclusive

One day, perhaps, when the pandemic is behind us, we'll look back at how we reacted to the initial shock of the coronavirus and marvel at some of the strange things we did as we dealt with the anxieties of school closings, travel cancellations, and all of this talk of "flattening the curve." There was the panic over toilet paper shortages, those viral Tiger King memes, and, of course, quarantine baking. Maybe we'll never unearth why it was that a disease that didn't involve gastrointestinal distress caused us to stock up on Charmin, and our collective obsession with Carole Baskin probably does not have a logical explanation, but when it comes to why we all started making sourdough loaves and banana bread, there's an obvious reason why we started baking like crazy. Or at least, that's the opinion of Michelin-award winning chef Daniel Kleinhandler, who served as executive pastry chef at Bar Boulud, Aureole, db Bistro Moderne, Picholine, The Clocktower, and Boulud Sud, before opening his own own pastry company, sugar, butter, chocolate, earlier this year.

In an interview with Mashed, Kleinhandler, who is teaching a virtual cooking class through CocuSocial, on September 13 at 2 p.m. EST, explained why the pandemic has brought out the inner pastry chef in us all.

We actually always wanted to bake but didn't have the time before, chef says

According to Kleinhandler, baking is something we always longed to do, but there simply weren't enough hours in the day. "I always say, when I'm trying to teach my cooks or my sous chefs how to make a new dish, everyone needs to eat food. Not everyone needs to eat dessert," he said. "So if you are working a nine-hour job, you go an hour commute to a different area — an hour commute home, you're not baking bread. You're going to go to the store and buy bread. You're not baking cookies at night."

With so many of us now working from home to reduce the spread of the coronavirus transmission, we have more time to do the things we like, Kleinhandler added. "So I think a lot of it comes to the two hours we're saving on commutes, that time," he said. People are thinking to themselves, "Now, I can actually do something fun or do something extra!" he said. Instead of time-saving, one-pot meals or slice and bake cookies, we can get ambitious. "For a lot of people, baking is always something that sounds really cool," Kleinhandler explained. "And now, they're okay using their time [on it]."

Since we have more time, we might as well make elaborate foods

To feed the ambitions of emboldened home cooks, who are finally figuring out how to use the flour sifters and egg beaters they might have had in the back of their pantries for years, Kleinhandler is teaching a virtual cooking class that demonstrates how to make two dessert items that we previously left to professionals: chocolate soufflé and ice cream. "Chocolate soufflé is like the fanciest, French-est, scariest sounding dish you can do," he explained, but added that it's actually not impossible to do. "In reality, it's five ingredients, three techniques. None of them are like crazy, crazy difficult. And if you just do the four or five, like little phases, you can get caught and you'd do it right, it's super approachable. And everyone you make that dish will be like, 'Oh my gosh!'"

Indeed, when Kleinhandler was first approached by CocuSocial about teaching a master class, his goal was to find a recipe that would be a challenge, yet would be executable. A novice chef "might feel like, 'Oh my gosh, how can I make chocolate soufflé?'" he said. "But in reality, 'Yeah, you can do this... It takes 30 minutes. No big deal.'"

Having more free time allowed Chef Kleinhandler to realize one of his own dreams

While having more downtime may have allowed you to finally bake your own bread — or even attempt a soufflé — for Kleinhandler, a break from the daily grind meant he could finally achieve one of his biggest life goals: opening his own business. The pastry chef who began working in the kitchen at age 14 had always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but never had the time to put together a business plan. With restaurants closing due to the pandemic, though, a busy schedule was no longer the obstacle, Kleinhandler explained, and he was able to open sugar, butter, chocolate, an online chocolatier, in early 2020. "There's always a silver lining in a really awful situation," he said. "So, as a chef, you work 70, 80 hour weeks every time. And, I've been talking about a concept for probably seven years. So, actually, the pandemic allowed me the time to actually open a business."

In addition to selling desserts and candy online, sugar, butter, chocolate will help restaurants get back on their feet before they are equipped to hire back their pastry teams full-time. "When [business] starts coming back, restaurants aren't going to open with a hundred percent staff," he said, adding that his business will "hopefully be an opportunity to give restaurants an option, to create desserts and have dessert programs that are still up in the center that they had, eight months ago, without having to hire back a full staff or lose money on desserts." 

Be sure to reserve your spot in Chef Kleinhandler's virtual cooking class on CocuSocial, which will be taught on September 13th.