Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Maybe Challah today and talking baking versus store bought

Baking plans for today. The high today is only supposed to get to 73, so it's a perfect day to bake. My mother in law and my oldest son are having digestion issues. I think it must be some virus. Sonja thinks it's something they ate. Since they didn't eat almost anything in kind, symptoms have been for two days, and we ate what Adrian ate and Sven and I are fine, I think it's a bug... So... mild white bread is what I should make - maybe a challah? We'll see.

But, I'm also thinking about the price of baked goods like breads, biscotti and cookies in stores. Cookies especially are outrageously expensive. Maybe everything is so marked up, but we don't realize it because we don't make our own and we never figure costs for making things versus buying? But with breads, especially those we typically buy - plain whole wheat, or simple sourdough, they cost like 50 cents or less to make for ingredients, and about 25 cents for the oven to run and with equipment costs added in for me, about another $1. So, when everything is figured in, I spend about $1.75 a loaf to bake (that price will come down the more I do it as the cost of equipment will be spread out for more uses). Yet, in the store they cost $4 to $6 a loaf to buy.

The equipment cost is one thing bakers oftentimes overlook (that and electricity). Electricity is cheap, so that's not much to figure in, but there are some costs involved in pans, and if you're lazy like me, a nice mixer, but the more you bake, the cheaper it costs to bake your own. I've owned my mixer for 5 years (maybe a bit longer) and a very conservative estimate is that I've used it once a week during that time. (There have been months I haven't used it, and months I used it every other day). That means I've used it about 210 times - that's a $0.92 per use (so far). If I use it for one more year, that's $0.76 cents per use. And that's with using it just ONCE a week.

So, I need to remember to add about $1.25 for every loaf of bread I make for electricity and equipment (for now). Eventually, as I have a good machine and good quality pans, the cost per loaf will be down. In ten years if electricity costs remain the same, cost per loaf will be $0.75 if I still only bake on average once a week.

I ran into the 'not thinking about cost' a lot on a cake forum. People would price their cakes for $15 or $20. They totally didn't factor into their pricing the $300 they invested in a nice mixer, the $200 in baking tools (or more). They would only factor in the cost of ingredients - flour, sugar, vanilla, butter, etc and packing materials (foil, box, etc). I factored in the cost of my organic ingredients, equipment (for over 10 years per use charge), and realized my cakes cost me about $20 to make. MOST of that in ingredients/box alone. That means I would be working for free and making no money if I sold for $20. A cake, start to finish - including clean up (another time factor bakers tend to overlook) takes about 4 hours. So, when I sold a cake for $50, I was basically earning $7.50 an hour - minimum wage.

So, on to a conversation this morning I mentioned to Sven that I should try to make biscotti. The Mandelbread was so easy to make and so inexpensive. Sonja loves biscotti and she'll buy one box for $4-$5 at the grocery store for 8 individually wrapped pieces. He agreed, I should try to make it. Sonja however said, "yes, but you aren't counting the cost of running the oven or mixer." Ah... but I am. There's the other problem. People over estimate costs of running equipment and buying equipment. She though that running the oven for an hour cost about $2. Um, no, it costs about 30 cents. The mixer for ten minutes (and that's a long time for a mixer), a few pennies."  So, about 50 pieces of biscotti with almonds would cost about $5 to make (counting electricity and equipment). Store cost is 50 cents each. Homemade cost is 12 cents each (and probably tastes better). Yes, of course, you can order through or go to costcos to get a gazillion boxes. I saw one for $21 for 96 pieces. But that's still 21 cents each and that doesn't including shipping or taxes.

The biggest factors of baking versus buying is convenience and start up costs. For convenience, I think we have all gotten so used to just picking it up at the grocery store, that we don't even think of it as something we could make quite easily and enjoyably. I started looking at the breakdown of what I spent at the grocery store and I started to realize how much of it went to snack foods and bread (and dairy). I can't do much about the dairy (except venturing into making yogurt), but I can control costs and quality of breads and snack foods.

Equipment cost is another expense and it would be expensive if you got everything at once, but many of us already have the tools we need - we have bread pans and cookie sheets and rubber spatulas and measuring spoons. It's only when you get into the heavy duty mixers and fancy equipment that the costs can really take off, but they aren't necessary either.

Of course, I'm also saying this as a stay at home mom, and not as a working mom, but my hope is that I'll get into these habits now, it will be easy to continue once I start working. And with good equipment, I have incentive to use them too.

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