Palesa Mofokeng is an honours student in journalism at Wits University. She has decided to use her time during lockdown to learn a new skill, baking. The following photographs were taken at her home in the Vaal.

 Growing up, I was never the person who enjoyed cooking. In fact, I hated it. In my final year of university in 2019, I decided to challenge myself and move into a self-catering residence. This decision was a game-changer for me but it did not change my attitude to baking, a skill I did not think necessary. 

After at least six weeks of the lockdown, I finally mustered up the courage to bake, regardless of the inevitable possibility of dismal failure. This photoessay, titled A First Time Baker – what could go wrong? documents the process. 

For this adventure I made foolproof vanilla cookies, with my mother giving instructions of course. 

Wearing my mother’s apron,  I am geared up and ready to make some biscuit magic. My mother only ever wears an apron when she’s cooking or baking for festive occasions like Christmas and family gatherings. Seeing myself wearing her apron for the first time is a commemoration of our special ‘festive’ moments. Being in the kitchen and taking on my mother’s role in the house is exhilarating. For a moment I imagined I was in my own house and I was preparing a meal for my own family.

First things first, I wash my hands. Covid-19 has forced us to reflect on how we practice hygiene. The government has emphasised and reiterated the importance of washing hands; before and after touching surfaces, frequently used objects, and before eating and handling food. Now, I know I have been touching my notebooks, my laptop, my phone and many other objects in and around the house. So to protect myself and my family from contracting any germs and/or the virus, I followed the golden rule before baking or cooking. I washed my hands with warm water and soap and used a bathroom towel to dry my hands thereafter.


The mix (my mother’s recipe)  

  • 150g margarine 
  • 500ml sugar
  • 1250g flour 
  • 10 ½ Tsp baking powder
  • 500ml sour milk 
  • 8 eggs 
  • 2 ½  tsp vanilla essence

I preheated the oven to 180℃  and start working on the dough in a large clean bowl. The margarine and sugar go in the bowl and I use a wooden cooking stick to combine them, until the contents looked like one compact. I add some flour and the baking powder into the mix, and somehow the powder ends up on my face. I am taking that as a sign of my hard work.

I was working on all this mixing on our dining room table, and as expected, it got very messy. I mixed the content together and using a bottle, I mixed the eggs and the vanilla essence together. I had to shake the bottle for a good 2 minutes before  adding that into the mixture.  
Just when I was about to whip out a mixer, my mother was already in my corner telling me that it was time to get my hands dirty.

I keep my nails short so I didn’t mind. I dug in using my hands and properly mixed the ingredients together until the dough feels tender and softer.  My effort manifests in a desperate thirst and my mother holds a bottle to my mouth for relief. The process was tiring, it left my arms feeling very stiff, I think I might be growing my biceps.


With a heads up from the instructor, the contents were ready for the oven. I rolled down at least a handful of dough, using a roller. I used a cooking cutter so that the cookies are more less evenly sized and of similar shape. The circles end up on a margarine-greased roasting tray.

The cookies sit in the over for 20 minutes and then they’re done. I transfer the cookies from the tray into a bowl, to allow them to cool before serving. Although I am proud of my work, I can only hope that they taste as good as they look. If they do, then great, but if they don’t, then what a waste of ingredients that will be.


My dad, Senekane Mofokeng (55), is the taste tester, if there’s anyone in the house I can rely on for brutal honesty, it’s him.  He enjoys my cooking more than anyone else in my family. His feedback is positive, probably why he has the entire bowl all to himself. Fortunately, I have made enough to serve our family of four- my mother, father, elder brother and myself. 

If there’s anything the experience has taught me is patience. Behind every great production work, there’s a long and tangled process that goes into it.

FEATURED IMAGE: The lockdown has given me enough time to learn a new skill. Photo: Palesa Mofokeng