Sunday, July 5, 2009

Confessions of a Reluctant Baker

Not my actual baked goods... :-)

My first post to this blog was about my experiments with making granola bars and jam muffins-- which might give you the misleading impression that I've always been this avid baker-type person. But baking is quickly becoming a new hobby of mine, one that my whole family is coming to appreciate (and my husband is starting to brag to his friends about!)

My mom is a pretty highly skilled baker. She doesn't bake often- she usually bakes special cookies, pies and cakes for holidays, and they tend to be quite impressive. So I guess I have always associated baking with fussy special occasions, lots of calories, and lots of work. When I was a kid I used to bake brownies, muffins, and quickbreads- nothing healthy. When I was in my early twenties and quite poor, I did bake my own bread for a while, but gave it up. I baked birthday cakes, usually from a mix, and some quickbreads or Christmas cookies around the holidays, but that was the extent of my baking life. The flour and baking powder in my cabinet tended to stay there for a long time, untouched.

I think I started to develop an appreciation for baking after Thanksgiving this past year, when everyone in my family started to look glassy-eyed when I brought out the leftover sweet potato casserole. Even I was starting to get sick of it, and I loooove sweet potatoes. So I did some Googling and found a recipe for sweet potato muffins. They were delicious, everyone loved them, and I was happy that I didn't have to waste food. (In case you haven't noticed, my frugal pet peeve is wasting food.)

From that point, whenever I had overripe bananas or bruised apples or some other food item that no one wanted to eat anymore, I was making it into cheap and healthy baked goods. I found other sources of ingredients, too. I work at a school and often there is leftover produce from school lunches (the kids don't want the veggies and fruits with their meals) or leftovers from classroom parties. Most of the time, this extra food would go in the trash- instead, I turn it into applesauce, carrot bread and banana muffins.

I've only recently started baking bread again- my whole family loves it. My kids would rather have warm slices of homemade bread with homemade jam than almost anything in the snack cabinet. I've been a serious coupon user for about a year now and I've always tried to stockpile granola bars, crackers, and other healthy-ish snacks. But really, even with coupons and a good sale, a box of 6 prewrapped granola bars (with all kinds of additives and crazy ingredients) can be a dollar or more. I haven't worked out the exact costs of my baking endeavors, but I know I'm making delicious, healthy food for pennies. I was just reading Amy Dacyzyn's Complete Tightwad Gazette and she shared a similar comment from a reader:

"It's not accurate... simply to compare the cost of home-baked bread to that of store-bought bread; the actual savings is much greater. Because home-baked bread is so good, it tends to displace not only store-bought bread but also more expensive and often less healthy snack foods such as cookies or crackers. Another family I know that switched to 100 percent home-baked bread a couple of years ago makes the same observation- they noticed a significant drop in their food bill."
- The Complete Tightwad Gazette

The key is, sticking with ingredients that are inexpensive and readily available. If I'm in a baking mood, I look for recipes that have ingredients I already have, or make an appropriate substitution. The flour that sat in my cabinet for months (years?) has long since been used up. I want to try to find lower-cost sources of basic baking ingredients. I have an associate BJ's membership thanks to my mother, and their prices on yeast are great but I can get better deals on flour and sugar at Walmart. I have bought flour, sugar, honey, and dried fruit with Register Rewards and Extra Care Bucks at Walgreens and CVS, but their prices tend to be higher than the grocery store. I just found out there is a wholesale restaurant supplier in my area that sells to the public, so I want to head out there this week and see if they have any better deals (although my husband has expressed some concern about the logistics of storing a 50-lb bag of flour!) There is also an Aldi that opened recently, about twenty miles away, so I will check that out also.

photo by Peggy Greb source ARS license Public Domain

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