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It didn’t take long for my new virtual social life—Zoom happy hours, evening FaceTime calls and wine tasting through a screen—to get tired. Don’t get me wrong, I love talking to my friends and family, and it’s often the brightest moment in my homebound day. But there are only so many empty silences, awkward interruptions and pixelated frozen screens a person can take in a conversation. So, when my sister, social-distancing almost 500 miles away, texted our family group chat with a mysterious invite, I wasn’t expecting to be attending the most popping party of the year: The Great Quarantine Bake-Off.

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great virtual bake off phone
Katherine Gillen

“You’re invited to: The Great Quarantine Bake-Off,” the invite read. “Time: Thursday 5:30 p.m. Place: FaceTime in your house. Wash: your hands. Bake: anything you want!” When I asked my sister how she came up with the idea, she revealed it was actually her husband’s genius. “We had been planning on baking a pie, and people seemed lonely, so it morphed from that.”

We were instructed to prepare anything too time-consuming in advance of the bake-off (i.e., homemade pie crust or chilled cookie dough). When Thursday rolled around, we dialed in to a multi-way FaceTime call with myself, my sister and her husband, my mom, my aunt and my cousin. Needless to say, there were some technical difficulties (if you want to try this at home with more than two people, I’d recommend Zoom), but that didn’t stop us from ensuing two-hour video call.

great virtual bake off chat
Anne Gillen

As for the actual bake-off? It was far from panic-baking scones in a hot tent in the English countryside. There was no intense scrutiny from Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. We really just assembled and baked as we chatted, showing off our goods before they went in the oven, taking a break for wine and sharing the final treats when timers went off. I made sourdough bread; my sister (read: her husband) baked an apple pie. My mom made maple sandwich cookies and, if I don’t say she won, she’ll be disappointed. But in the end, it was more about the time spent together than the bake-off.

great virtual bake off bread and pie
Katherine Gillen / Anne Gillen

I highly recommend you host your own great quarantine bake-off with your family or friends. Here’s how: Download Zoom (you may have to log back in because it kicks you out after 40 minutes unless you pay for it), pick a date and pull those break-and-bake cookies out from the back of your fridge. Or make it an appetizer competition and see who can create the most Instagram-worthy cheese board.

The point is, it doesn’t matter what you make. For me, the act of making something while dialing in eliminated those pixelated, awkward silences and weird video-call nuances. It was almost as if we were all in the same kitchen again, goofing around like we did when I was a kid. And it reminded me of how much I look forward to going home when this is all over and baking a pie, or maple sandwich cookies or a loaf of bread with my family; a carb-laden light at the end of the tunnel. I hope it does that for you, too.

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