Lesson #2: Take the Lunch Break Baking Challenge

In this seemingly endless shelter-in-place period, things can start to feel a bit grim. You’re stuck inside and slowly one day begins to fade into the next. You start to look forward to your breaks from your “prison cell” to visit the rec yard to stretch, get some air, clear your head.

Without proper stimulation, even home can begin to feel like prison…

It’s true, walks and exercise breaks are a great way to break up the monotony. But another farm girl strategy for keeping the body and mind nimble is to take baking breaks.

OK, yes, this is California, where cannabis shops have been deemed “essential businesses” that are allowed remain open during the shelter-in-place period. But, no, I’m not talking about that kind of baking.

I’m talking about butter, batter and baking pans. I’m talking about sweets. You know, the good stuff.

However, to truly reap the benefits, you can’t treat this like a leisurely weekend baking project. In times like these, you have to up the ante. Make it a game with rules and lots of pressure and real consequences. Really get the blood pumping!


Complete an entire baking project during your workday lunch break using only the hodgepodge of items you have left in your pantry.


I call it The Great American Lunch Break Baking Challenge. It has all the ingredients of a real nail-biter of a show, a bizarre cross between Survivor and The Great British Baking Show.

It’s not just about speed; you have to be strategic about your ingredients, too. The longer you play, the harder it gets. As supplies dwindle, you may soon be eating into your dinner plans. Difficult choices will need to be made…

The Great British Baking Show. Getty Images.

Imagine Paul Hollywood breathing down your neck. Oh, the pressure!

Speaking of Paul, let’s not forget the judges: your family / housemates. Remember, they are going to be far more discerning than Paul could ever be, given you all share the same food supply. You screw this up, you’re all going to pay. And boy, that’s a miserable way to spend the next few days locked up together.

Doesn’t this sound like fun?!

While the risks may be high, the results are worth it. Not only does this challenge help break up the day, but it provides some valuable health benefits: it boosts creativity, increases agility, exercises problem-solving and reasoning skills, and provides a bit of heart-strengthening cardio (to help offset whatever you’re about to snack on).

An added bonus: it provides emergency sustenance for both body and soul. Let’s face it, when times get real tough, a homemade chocolate chip cookie will be just what the doctor ordered.

Do enough challenges, and you’ll have a stockpile of comfort food that will make all the neighbors jealous. (Remember, in times like these, it’s best not to share – sorry, friends!). Which, come to think of it, might lead to another interesting game to play with the neighbors: Hunger Games!

A Lunch Break Baking challenge winner

Salted Double-Chocolate Olive Oil Cookies


2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
2/3 all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (mild)
2 tablespoons salted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup dark or light brown sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon sea salt (to sprinkle on top before baking)


  1. Sift together the cocoa, flour, and salt. Sift again. Set aside.
  2. In a stand mixer, beat the sugars, olive oil, and butter on high speed for 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides. Add the egg. Beat on medium speed until just blended (about 8 seconds). Scrape down the sides. Add the vanilla extract. Beat on medium speed until just blended (about 5 seconds). Scrape down the sides. Slowly stir in the dry ingredients at low speed, 1/3 portion at a time and scraping down the sides between each addition, until just blended (about 8 seconds for each third). Add the chocolate chips and beat on medium for another 5 seconds at the most. If there are any pockets of flour remaining, mix them in by hand.
  3. If you have time, refrigerate the dough for about an hour. It will be easier to handle. (NOTE: for Lunch Break Baking contestants, it was ruled by the judges that this is not cheating. Today you can take 2 shorter breaks, one at lunch and another later in the afternoon after the dough chills, and still be in compliance with the contest rules.)
  4. Heat the oven to 350° F.
  5. Line a sheet pan with parchment. Scoop the dough into half spheres. (NOTE: a small ice cream / cookie scoop is the perfect tool for this. If you don’t have one, you can scoop with a spoon and quickly roll with your hands.) They will spread a bit so leave a few inches between cookies. Sprinkle each cookie with sea salt (amount is baker’s preference). Bake for 3 minutes. Spin the tray around 180 degrees and bake for another 3 – 4 minutes. The centers should still be glistening—they will firm up as they cool. Remove from the oven and allow cookies to cool on the sheet pan. Eat soon, or freeze for up to a few months.

Source: Food52

Judge’s tip: these are excellent warmed with ice cream on top, or paired with a lovely red wine.

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