"FRUGALITY AND ECONOMY ARE HOME VIRTUES, without which no household can prosper," (Mrs Isabella Beeton 1859-61)
It's wonderful to impress friends and family with chocolate tortes, cream cakes and fancy desserts, but there are times when baking can be equally impressive, delicious and memorable without breaking the household food budget. Baking your own cakes, cookies and desserts doesn't have to take much effort and will cost you a lot less money once you know how.
Home baking should be enjoyable and affordable. The following hints and tips are methods I use at home to manage my household food budget, time and pantry:
* buy fruits in season and bake seasonal dishes to keep your costs per dish low, unless it is for a particularly special occassion.
* Make a family menu planner. Once I've bought my regular staple meats, groceries and baking supplies (which rarely change unless something was on sale at a great price), I plan a weekly menu plan for lunch, dessert, afternoon teas etc to make efficient use of my ingredients and make a varied menu.
* Figure out how much to spend on your groceries. Remember that dining out, or having a coffee with a biscuit at the shops is part of your food budget, it's not extra. We try and spend money going out for dinner or a treat once a month, this way I can get the most out of my money. Try taking home baked cakes and cookies to the shops or to the park, especially for kids. I always have a cake freshly baked for the weekend, or from the freezer if I'm short on time to stop the munchies or the need to go out to the coffeeshop after going to the shops- drinks and a sweet treat become very pricey with a family.
* Know what's on sale, and whether it's at a good discounted price. I recommend going from store to store to get bargains within reason, as time, impulse buying and cost of petrol are also factors in working to a budget. For example, if bananas are cheap (usually from a fresh fruit grocer rather than supermarket), then buy 1- 2kgs and spend the afternoon baking a tray of banana muffins, banana chocolate chip pikelets or pancakes, banana cake and freeze them. IMPORTANT: Always make sure you have the time to bake with them or it is a waste of food and money!!!
* Calculate how much your weekend Lemon meringue pie, or devonshire tea and scones with fresh cream and homemade jam or quality store bought jam cost at the cafe or boutique teahouse, and compare it to how much it costs for you to bake at home. Even if you paid yourself for baking it (at a reasonable rate) you'd still come out ahead!
* You'll realise how much money you can save having coffee and cake at home, or tea parties with the girls at home- leaving cafes and boutique patisseries for special treats.
* If you're an inexperienced baker or short on time, you may resort to buying packet cake mixes and processed or frozen desserts- these are costly and full of preservatives and other food product fillers you don't need to eat or pay for! Simple baking is easy, and with practice you'll become more confident with your successes and be surprised with the money you save and you can bake from home.
* Invest in a well stocked pantry ready for your baking. See The Baker's Pantry for my Top 20 Essential Baking ingredients.
* Don't buy more pantry supplies than what you can use within a month or two to maintain freshness and eliminate waste. It may be cheaper buying in bulk, but unless you are going to plan to use it all, you're wasting your money and food.
* Make sure you check expiration dates of your pantry ingredients, try to organise your baking around them, for instance if you get the baking bug, look at what will expire soon and bake something with that so as not to waste food and money.
* Be time efficient too! When you bake a batch of biscuits, make double the recipe, and freeze the dough. For example, with Cherry coconut cookies, I roll all the dough into balls, flatten them a little, and put them into a plastic container, with a piece of baking paper between each biscuit for easier separation when frozen. Put them in the freezer, this way you can bake as many individual cookies as you like, and they'll be fresh. I found that having a range of biscuits in the freezer meant I didn't spend money buying cookies from the shops, and all my ingredients were preservative free and natural- no vegetable fats or trans fatty acids, and you can control the amount of sugar.
* Work out the cost of baking your regular recipes, this way you can buy some of your ingredients in bulk, like yeast, flour in 5kg sacks, sugar etcetera.
* Try getting into the habit of "only eat what you bake" as you won't need to buy quality cakes or cookies from the shops which are costly. I mention quality cakes and biscuits as you get what you pay for, if you bake at home your food will be quality as you use quality ingredients- cheaper cakes and cookies from the shop are cheap for a reason, not becuase they can buy ingredients in bulk, but because the quality of ingredients is often cheap. Unfortunately for the cafe profits, you will get used to eating your own quality home baking, as it becomes disappointing eating store bought food!
* If you serve dessert after every meal, you don't want to be baking expensive dishes like rich chocolate brownies or cream tortes. But if you feel like a chocolate dessert, there are many cheaper alternatives that won't be expensive for every day eating, in regular serving size portions, such as Economical Rich Chocolate Self Saucing Puddings.
* If you're using cream or sour cream in your dinner meal, make a dessert that finishes the rest of the dairy left over either as an accompanyment to a Queen of Puddings, Blueberry muffins or Quick and Easy Cherry Streudel.
* Try baking an extra tray of muffins, freeze them, and use them as lunch box snacks. The more variety you can freeze over a period of two weeks or so, means that you don't have to bake during the week if you're short on time, and the natives won't go wild at eating the same Triple Chocolate Cupcakes or Chocolate Almond meringue biscuit every day for a week.
* Store small amounts, like 1/4 of cup or less, of left over chocolate, nuts and dried fruit in a container. Let this build up over a few months to bake some tasty pantry treats rather than forgetting about them at the back of the pantry.
* If you store away left overs, always date their best before or expiration date to maintain the quality and freshness in your baking.
Let me know if any of these were helpful? Happy and Blissful Baking!