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Many of us got the baking bug over lockdown. We discovered the joy of creating baked foods for ourselves, rather than buying everything mass produced and plastic wrapped.
For the first time perhaps, we got into the kitchen and baked with our children, making delicious bread, cakes and pies and showing them that not everything needs to arrive pre-prepared.
There is something very soothing about baking. It is a creative outlet, but unlike knitting or painting, you get to eat your creations!
However, like many hobbies, you can spend a lot of money on ingredients and equipment. If you have decided to keep up the habit but money is tight, here are some ideas for baking on a budget.
Keep it simple
Of course, you can recreate the amazing and complex works of edible art you see on Bake Off, but there are many recipes that have been popular for many years because, not only are they delicious, but they are quick and cheap to make.
Some of them even help you to reduce food waste, which is good for the planet and saves you money too. Think of a fruity bread pudding with steaming hot custard, for example! I keep a bag of bread crusts in the freezer and make a batch of bread pudding or bread and butter pudding every month or so.
Then there are family favourites like jam roly-poly, fairy cakes and muffins. They don’t require unusual and expensive ingredients and generally allow you to use store cupboard staples.
Fruit crumbles give you an opportunity to use soft fruit, apples, pears, etc that may be past their best. At this time of year, you can often find windfall fruit for free from friends and neighbours. If you enjoy foraging, like me, you may also have a freezer full of blackberries.
Most people enjoy a slice of banana loaf, so don’t throw away over ripe bananas. I freeze them and, make a loaf once I have three or four.
Buy supermarket own brand ingredients
Unless you have a highly refined palette, I defy you to tell a muffin baked with Tesco Value flour from King Arthur organic. If a recipe calls for butter, I almost always use cheap margarine, and no one is any the wiser.
Smart Price mixed fruit tastes the same in your fruit cake as Tesco’s Finest! Best corn-fed eggs from the farm shop will be wasted in your Victoria sponge, so you may as well buy a boxed of mixed size free range eggs from Lidl!
When you are baking on a budget, it pays to check out supermarket own brands, including the cheaper ranges.
I have even been known to use a value sponge mix from time to time, and jazz it up with fancy icing and a few sprinkles! If you don’t bake very often, cake and biscuit mixes will actually work out cheaper than buying bags of flour that sit in the cupboard unused.
Don’t forget tinned and frozen
Fresh fruit can be quite an expensive ingredient to add to your baking – for example, as a topping for a cheesecake or on a fancy sponge cake. However, frozen or tinned fruit can also be good.
I really enjoy a can of peaches with a basic sponge on top, or tinned mandarins on a cheesecake. Frozen fruit is great in a crumble and is much cheaper than fresh.
Also, look out for yellow sticker reductions on fresh fruit and freeze it yourself until you are ready to use it.
Get equipment second hand
These days, because I am on a year of buying only second hand, I shop mainly in charity shops and at boot sales. There is inevitably all sorts of useful equipment for baking, from porcelain mixing bowls and baking trays to mixers and bread makers.
So, before you spend a fortune on a brand-new gadget for your kitchen, have a look to see what you can pick up pre-loved.
You can also find inexpensive baking equipment in the pound shop, but be aware that it is cheap for a reason. If you are going to be using it a lot, you will do better to buy the best quality you can elsewhere. Buy cheap, buy twice as the saying goes!
Having said that, I have spotted some of the Jane Asher kitchen range in my local Poundland and in Home Bargains, which seems reasonable quality.
In these days of rising energy prices, it makes sense to fill up your oven and cook more than one thing once it is on.
You could organise yourself to pop in a batch of flapjacks for lunchboxes whilst you are cooking your crumble or casserole.
Or you could have a fun family baking day once a month, making biscuits, fairy cakes and whole cakes that can go in your freezer until you are ready to decorate them.
Baking on a budget will keep you and your family entertained and well-fed for very little. If you are interested in the environment, you will also avoid much of the packaging that comes with pre-baked goods.
So, what are you waiting for? Get baking!
Shoestring Jane is a full-time self-employed mum of three daughters. Her frugal partner in crime is handyman extraordinaire, Mr Shoestring. They are constantly on the look out for ways to save and make extra money. Read more on her blog, Shoestring Cottage.