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How to Cook Online with Friends and Family

I recently heard someone refer to the early days of spring 2020 as the “banana bread phase” of the pandemic. If you’ve found yourself baking more than usual during this past year, you’re certainly not alone! Even if you never got into sourdough—or banana bread—maybe you baked a lot of cookies around Christmas and Hanukkah, or tried your hand at hamantaschen for Purim. Maybe you’ve taken up weekly challah baking as a way to bring some warmth, comfort and deliciousness into these strange days.

With all this baking going on, virtual baking dates have been a fun and creative way to stay connected with loved ones outside your home. Whether you’re a grandparent who misses sharing the kitchen with your grandkids, or a 20-something longing for your parents’ cooking, or maybe even partaking in virtual cooking dates or anyone who just wants to spend time with friends, here are some tips for pulling off the best possible virtual baking experience.

Choose your own adventure.

Part of the fun of virtual baking hangouts is in the preparation. What do you want to make? Is there a holiday coming up that would provide a good theme? We have recipes for every Jewish holiday from Passover to Shavuot to Rosh Hashanah and more. A special family or friend anniversary you want to mark? Get in touch with your baking buddies a day or two in advance to settle on an option (maybe even create a little Google poll to decide on the recipe!) and to give yourself enough time to get your ingredients. Grandparents may want to pick a kid-friendly recipe that doesn’t create too much work for the parents.

Timing is everything.

Keep in mind that virtual baking takes longer than in-person baking, mostly because everyone has to perform all the steps on their own. If you’re going to make a cookie dough that needs to chill before cutting, consider whether you need to be together on screen for the mixing, or if the rolling (or decorating!) is really the part you want to share. If you’re going to make something like challah that needs to rise, you might need to schedule two separate calls: one for the mixing and another for the braiding (here are some great braiding tips). 

Set up in advance.

Have all your ingredients and equipment out and ready to go and easily reachable—especially if you’re baking with kids. Maybe you want to have your ingredients measured out ahead of time to make it easier for yourself and your baking partner. Figure out where you’re going to put your screen to maximize visibility and minimize potential for spills (again, especially if you’re with kids). Have your charger ready to go, too, so you don’t suddenly need to unplug your mixer to make sure your battery doesn’t run out.

Be patient.

It’s likely something will go wrong. Technologically or baking-wise, be ready to laugh it off and try again. Or if it’s someone on the other end of the call who’s having trouble, be supportive with words of encouragement and reassurance. Since you’re not even going to be able to taste each other’s finished product, it’s also good to remember there’s no pressure to be perfect.

Plan a waiting activity.

What are you going to do while your apple pie pockets or butternut squash kugel are in the oven? Consider using Zoom’s whiteboard feature for a quick round of Pictionary, or create a quiz on a platform like Kahoot. Have a discussion topic ready to go (try these conversation starters about family food culture), a slideshow to share or turn on some music for an impromptu dance party. Any of these will help pass the time!

Remember this moment.

What pictures would you take in person during a baking extravaganza? Find those moments and screenshot them! Sure, the quality’s not great, and it might feel a little goofy to hold your challah up to your screen. But this year is all about flexibility, making the most of what’s in front of us and remembering the parts of life that are still full of sweetness.

Miriam Steinberg-Egeth

Miriam Steinberg-Egeth is passionate about bringing people together, fostering a cohesive Jewish community and helping individuals find their Jewish paths. She serves in multiple professional roles in the Philadelphia Jewish community, including as the creator and writer of Miriam’s Advice Well for the Jewish Exponent. Miriam lives in Center City Philadelphia with her husband and two children.