Times are tough. Every householder knows it, and every home cook laments having to by-pass the expensive ingredients as the nation’s grocery bills rise.
Itv.com reported that “consumer prices data shows that food prices have steadily been increasing and that there is a wide variety of food types contributing to the rise (including staple goods)”. FARMA state that “economists expect the cost of the weekly shop to continue to rise by 4 per cent per year until 2022. “But is it really that bad that we must resort to using vinegar? According to Dan Lepard, writer and resident foodie at The Guardian, it’s high time vinegar made a come back to the British kitchen. Lepard said that vinegar can be used in “breads and crumpets to give a quick sour flavor” but it’s the use in US fruit cakes that most interests him. During rationing, vinegar cakes became popular because “the acidity mellows the starch and makes the texture seem softer and richer, and which were often made without eggs.” Not quite convinced? If you don’t fancy adding a splash of vinegar to your next cake, there are other ways to keep the costs of baking down.
Fit out your kit on the cheap
Pound shops are meccas for the keen home baker, stocking everything from novelty-shaped silicone bake ware, decorating sets and kitsch muffin frills to practical items like timers, measuring spoons and oven gloves. Do your window shopping at the pricier specialist outlets, compile a wishlist and snap up objects of desire as and when they turn up. Stock rotates pretty frequently, so you’ll soon acquire a collection of baking paraphernalia to rival Mary Berry’s!
Internet for budget friendly recipes
Use search tools on recipe sites to save time and cash – baking websites will often have sections devoted to thrifty cooking, or you can search by the contents of your store cupboard so you can bake without going on a spending spree for expensive and elusive ingredients. If you prefer the old-fashioned approach, cooking from proper books, check out wartime wisdom and recipes from canny cooks like Marguerite Patten.
Don’t forget your local library as an invaluable recipe resource. Take out the books you love but could never afford, revel in reading them, then photocopy or photograph that handful of recipes you will actually cook. You can even call in titles that the library doesn’t already have on the shelves. Also look out locally for book swap services and community initiatives like ‘Books for Free’. And don’t bypass the charity shop shelves, where you might find a celebrity cookbook or a real retro treasure for a few pounds.
Jazz it up
When it comes to a cupcake or a big, blowsy gateau, more is more. Often, particularly at kids parties and events, less-than-remarkable goodies will be gobbled up provided they’re well-dressed. Use natural food colors, bright, jewel-like sweets, crushed leftover biscuits, glitter and fancy piping to add appeal for pence. Always think about presentation – neat rows of well-decorated-yet-cheap cookies will look slicker than a haphazard stack of clumsy, costly specimens.
Get energy smart
People often forget the costs involved with baking beyond the ingredients. But as soon as you switch the oven on, you’re paying for your pleasure – as you are if you’re running a heavy-duty stand mixer for hours on end. Go without gadgets where you can get away with it – rubbing flour and butter into crumble or a hard kneading session is part of the experience. When it comes to cooking, try to fill the oven – bake a big batch or multiple items in much the same as the way you’d cook your meat, veg and potatoes for a big roast. Cook items that need the hottest temperatures first, and don’t preheat for longer than necessary. Leftover egg whites? Make meringues, perfect dried out overnight in the residual heat of the oven after it’s switched off. If you’re left with yolks, make a custard and bake it slow and low.
Once you’re au fait with baking basics, don’t be afraid to break the rules. Although baking is a science and it pays to stick to recommended ratios when it comes to main ingredients, there’s no harm in mixing up your mix-ins, substituting cheaper dried fruits for luxurious items, or selecting spices that will alter the taste of your go-to recipe and save you some cash into the bargain. You might even find a new family favorite!
Bake instead of, not as well as
If you’re dead set on baking a treat, use it to replace something you’d purchase to eat instead. Forgo the cereal bars in the shopping trolley and fill the lunchboxes’ void with a homemade flapjack. Banish big-brand bread and use your own loaf for sandwiches and toast, and bake versatile ‘anytime cakes’ that can both be dressed for the dinner table and will do nicely for snacks and hearty family puds. Stretch leftovers with other recipes like trifle or Queen of Puddings.
A kitty for communal kit
If you and your friends are all keen bakers, pool your cash and get yourselves a decent kit that you can all use as and when you need. Make sure you have your own basic equipment so you can still bake if someone else is using something, and use the communal fund to purchase the niche items everyone needs from time to time – but not ALL the time. Depending on what works for you, you can make a database from which you ‘book’ and ‘loan’ items, or do things on a more informal basis.
Cook up some cookies and clear out the cupboards
Before you commit to a certain recipe and start compiling cripplingly expensive shopping lists, check out what you already have in your cupboards. You’ll be shocked by what a brief rootle might yield – half-empty tubs of glace cherries, specialty items you bought for various one-off dishes, dried fruit and spices… make use of websites which feature tools where you can input your ingredients and find recipes to suit what you have in stock.
Don’t forget the fridge
Clear out the crisper drawers and the fruit bowl – past-their-best fruit and veg are perfect added to cake recipes, adding nutrients and bulking cakes, cookies and breads. Prune or apple puree is great for replacing some of the fat in most cake recipes. The blacker the banana, the better the cake it makes. Courgettes, carrots, beetroot, pumpkin, parsnips and the like can all be used finely grated, yielding moist results with natural sweetness that means you can cut sugar. Both natural and flavored yogurts can be added to lots of recipes, too.
Featured images: License: Royalty Free or iStock source: http://photodune.net/
Jessica Bourne frequently writes about everything from food, fashion to personal finance for a wide range of blogs in the UK and the US. If you like to find out more about budgeting in and around the house, she recommends “How to cook a great meal without it costing the earth” which she has recently written for the Eccount Money Blog.