Until last week, Austrian gugelhupf cake had only been something Aileen Eglington ordered in cafes, usually somewhere in the Alps or coffee shops of Vienna. The busy MD, who runs a Dublin-based PR agency specialising in global tourism and events, is usually away from home for large parts of the year, and the circular cake tin she'd bought specially with the intention of recreating her favourite bake at home had sat in the kitchen cupboard - until now.
"Between October and February, I was away on 10 trips and then suddenly, I'd a bit more time on my hands unfortunately," says Aileen.
She's baked before, but lockdown has become a repertoire-expanding bonanza.
"First, I made flap-jacks and caramel slices, then bakewell tart and a gorgeous coffee cake," adds Aileen. "Then, at last, I made the Austrian gugelhupf cake from the Hairy Bikers' European book and it was simply divine."
There's been a continental theme to the sweet treats that Olivia Hope and her sons Charlie (12) and Thomas (8) have been baking in their Kerry home too.
"During the first week of lockdown, Charlie's schoolwork involved doing a project on a country and he picked Sweden," explains Olivia. "The question of what they eat in Sweden arose and I was planning to make bread anyway, so we searched online for 'simple Swedish bread' and made a lovely flatbread."
From there, weekly country themed baking took off, with Italian wedding cookies and breads, American pancakes and brownies and Spanish almond cake, all baked by Olivia and her two younger sons, but also enjoyed by husband Matt and eldest son Ethan, who was busy studying for his Junior Cert.
"We stick on music from the country and it's been quite atmospheric baking to Abba or mixing to Pavarotti," laughs Olivia.
At the end of March, Google Trends reported that the number of people searching 'bread' hit an all-time high. Tesco Ireland last week reported that sales of flour across its stores has risen by 300pc.
There's no denying that, in Ireland, we seem to develop a primal need for bread in times of stress. But according to the experts, this drive to bake our own baps, bracks and buns during the current crisis goes beyond just meeting a basic need for sustenance.
"We don't usually talk about the mental health benefits of baking - and might not even recognise them consciously - but the rise in baking during the pandemic has shown that its benefits have registered with us at least unconsciously and we're drawn to it," says Dublin based psychologist and author of The Seven Day Soul, Susannah Healy.
"Baking takes us out of our heads, and our usual ways of being lost in thought, and into the present moment. In this way, it's like a meditation."
"I don't think you can underestimate the power of kneading dough for 10-15 minutes or mixing furiously to get rid of frustration or annoyance," adds Olivia, who works as a children's author and Creative Associate for the Arts Council.
Mum-of-two Fiona O'Neill from Tipperary agrees. "You're focused on the task at hand rather than thinking about the 'what ifs' of tomorrow or the shoulda/ woulda/ couldas of yesterday. Baking keeps you in the now."
From only baking for special occasions, Fiona now regularly finds herself whipping up porridge bread and Rice Krispie buns alongside her sons Niall (14) and Aydin (10). She's found it a wonderful bonding activity for the family - especially with Niall, who lives with juvenile arthritis and is cared for by Fiona.
"I joke that baking is like Home Economics when we're doing home schooling," laughs Fiona. "But what I really love is the chat. Nowadays, teenagers are all technology and games. Baking, although it might only be for 30 minutes, is 30 minutes of us talking about whatever takes his fancy. It might even be him talking about a new game, but we're chatting over a mixing bowl.
"It also gives the boys a sense of responsibility to make something that we'll all enjoy, and a sense of achievement that doesn't come from competition. It's teaching them a skill for life. And I love to hear Niall in the kitchen with a hand-held old style whisk, zipping through his eggs. It makes me smile. From an arthritis perspective too, I think the wrist motion of beating eggs is like physio. I don't tell him that though!"
According to Susannah, the neurologist Viktor Frankl wrote in his book, Man's Search For Meaning, about three ways to find meaning in life: through creativity, experiences and attitude.
"Home baking ticks all these boxes," says Susannah. "It's creative, it's experiential and it's something non-essential that we choose to do, often with or for others so it's very social."
"Having the time to learn to bake bread has been one of my favourite parts of the lockdown," reveals Ennis-based IT Sales Manager David Marra.
"But aside from eating the bread, sharing is my favourite part. I've given loads to friends and family, and always send photos to my parents back in the USA.
"Everyone knows I love to cook, so no one's too surprised I've taken up baking as well - but I think they're a little taken aback (as am I) at how well my latest loaves have turned out!
"My dad has also taken up breadmaking the past couple of months and he and I always share our results and tips via WhatsApp. It's great fun and a little competitive."
After three seasons on The Great Irish Bake Off and a 23-year career at the five star Merrion Hotel in Dublin, there's not much executive pastry chef Paul Kelly doesn't know about baking and, unsurprisingly, he's had his social media inundated with pictures from people looking for his verdict on their lockdown loaves.
"People send me photos on Instagram, but it's always of the outside," chuckles Paul. "I always write back saying, "can you send me a cross section please?", because that's where you can tell so much about the process."
He's happy to dish out advice and has been sharing tips with bakers, whether it's about bread, where to buy yeast or even vegan baking, on his Instagram page (@pastrypaul).
For baking newbies, he recommends starting with tray-bakes, like a simple bakewell tart ("very hard to get wrong"), but even the cockiest of baker should steer clear of croissants. "Getting the lamination, the temperatures and the equipment right is a lot of work and heartbreaking when it goes wrong - even in a professional kitchen. It's just not one to try at home."
With some ingredients scarce, the maxim that 'necessity is the mother of invention' certainly seems true when it comes to baking. But it's something that Olivia sees as a positive learning experience for her sons.
"Not being able to get to the shops means we've had to be creative and do a little bit of research on the internet," she explains. "The boys will look at what we have and then see what we can make. On one occasion, we made coconut macaroons because we didn't have flour and another time, because we had a tin of condensed milk, we made vanilla fudge."
Aileen's looking forward to making carrot cake this weekend and maybe some cheddar and courgette scones if she can persuade her husband about the courgette element.
David's searching online for more flour to continue his bread odyssey and Fiona's getting ready to make, with her sons' assistance, her own birthday cake. They all say they'll keep baking even after the crisis has passed.
"I think I'll miss the morning rituals of baking, but for sure, every weekend will still see a cloud of flour and the rattle of spoons in mixing bowls," says Olivia. "This hasn't been a negative experience - unless you count our brief dalliance with an Angel Delight, butterscotch, tiramisu concoction!"
Paul believes it's the children and home-bakers, who got into making bread during the pandemic, that will be in jobs like his in the future.
"There are going to be kids baking during this pandemic who end up going into the trade down the line or even people in other jobs who later decide to open an artisan bakery and see this as the turning point," he says. "In a sad time in history, I think it will also be the moment when people had the opportunity to do something positive."