I was asked to speak to a 4-H club today on reasons you might want to bake from-scratch items at home rather than buy baked goods from a store. It was fun to think about all the reasons I bake, so I decided I’d also share my list with you.
- Special Dietary Needs
Do you have a loved one who has diabetes, high blood pressure, or other health conditions that come with dietary restrictions? If so, you can find delicious recipes that limit the amount of salt or sugar or make use of artificial sweeteners so they can still enjoy baked goods. You can also often reduce fat content in baked goods by swapping out the butter or oil for applesauce or by using reduced-fat or fat-free dairy products in place of regular versions.
Americans commonly have low dietary fiber intakes. You can increase the dietary fiber content of your baked goods by looking for recipes that call for whole wheat flour, rolled oats, wheat bran, or wheat germ. In general you can substitute whole wheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour called for in a recipe.
Picky eaters in your house? Thankfully my kids like fruits and vegetables, but for those that don’t you can sneak fruit and vegetable purees and dried fruits into a variety of baked goods.
- Food Allergies, Intolerances, and Sensitivities
Last week I attended a meeting where we were encouraged to bring a snack to share and were given a list of foods that people in the group were allergic to and therefore needed to be avoided. One of the best ways to ensure that you’re avoiding food allergens is to bake items from scratch – then you know exactly what they contain. Even if the donuts or cookies you want to buy don’t obviously contain nuts, for example, they may be made in a production facility that also handles nuts.
Example of an allergen statement from a package of slider buns at the grocery store.
True food allergies can cause anaphylaxis and even death, so you can’t be too careful. (The most common food allergens must be declared on food labels: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy. For more information check out Allergenic Foods and Their Allergens
Likewise, if you’re feeding someone with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you can avoid the gluten in wheat, rye, or barley by using recipes that call for alternative flours.
Have you ever wondered why bread you bake at home molds within a few days while a loaf from the store can last one to two weeks? There are additional ingredients added to that store-bought bread that are responsible for extending its shelf-life and maintaining its quality. Those ingredients are called preservatives.
Don’t get me wrong, I love food science and the amazing things we can do with food ingredients. But I recognize that many folks are concerned about food ingredients that they don’t understand, like preservatives. If you bake your own bread, cakes, cookies, etc. you get to control which preservatives get added. Yes, even salt and sugar are food preservatives.
Along those same lines, that bread you buy in the store is likely a day or two old when you purchase it. Granted, it’s not as old as those eggs you’re buying at the store, but it’s not as fresh as homemade.
By baking at home you have the flexibility to try out different flavors, textures, shapes, and sizes in your cakes and breads.
You can also use your creativity. What’s your favorite dried fruit? Have you ever tried it in oatmeal cookies? One of my favorite combinations is roasted pecans and dried, sweetened cranberries (here’s my favorite oatmeal cookie recipe).
What are your favorite vegetables? If you make your own pizza crust, and assemble and bake your pizza at home, you could come up with some exciting new combinations not available at your local pizza parlor. Chicken, red pepper, and asparagus pizza? Why not?
- Family Fun
Some of the best family time is that spent in the kitchen. Even toddlers can help stir and cut and decorate cookies.
Plus, you can turn it into a science lesson. Unlike cooking where you can throw in a little of this and a little of that, baking is about chemistry and chemical reactions; each recipe tweaked is a science experiment.
You can also use the experience to give your family greater appreciation for where your food comes from and what it takes to get it to your table. Consider a field trip to a wheat growing area of the state, buy some wheat berries, and grind them into flour that you then use to make bread. Or visit a you-pick apple orchard, harvest apples, and use them to make a pie.
Did you know that realtors used to encourage home sellers to bake cookies before an open house? Why? Well I think you would agree that the aroma of baking bread or cookies in your kitchen is unbeatable! I can also attest to the fact that the aroma can lure teenagers away from their rooms and devices.
- Less Waste.
At a minimum, bread purchased at the store is going to come in a plastic bag. Cakes and cookies are probably in a plastic clamshell container. Do you re-use these when the product is gone or do you immediately dispose of them? Here’s an opportunity to reduce the amount of packaging waste going to landfill and/or recycling center. At home you can store your based goods in re-sealable dishes and avoid the waste.
Food at the grocery store has some sort of date label on it (“best by,” “sell by,” etc.). What happens to that product if it isn’t sold or donated by that date? Most likely it’s off to the landfill. Some grocery stores will turn this over to a farmer to feed to livestock, but most won’t make the effort. At home you can bake just the quantity that your family will eat right away. Extra bread or cookie dough can be frozen and thawed as needed.
Home-baked items are definitely cheaper than their store-bought counterparts. Take rolls for example. Here is a bag of 12 wheat slider buns for $2.99. That’s $0.249 each.
Compare that to rolls made at home (recipe below). I estimate that my recipe’s ingredients come to $2.39 (estimated using http://www.pricingbakedgoods.com). That’s $0.10 each. (And my rolls are so much better than anything the store has to offer – see 4, 5, and 7 above.)
Something Else to Consider
Okay, those are all reasons for baking at home. But I’m a realist and a busy mom. I DO NOT bake all my family’s baked goods. Flavor-wise there are some things that I make time to bake, like cookies and birthday cakes and rolls for holiday dinners.
Do you know the four main factors that Americans consistently identify as important in food choice? They are taste, texture, cost, and convenience (Source: Insel et al., 2010). Baking at home is the way to go for best taste, texture, and price. But that brings me to the number one reason for buying baked goods at the store: convenience. Don’t feel guilty about buying sandwich bread from the store. If you take into consideration your time, which is valuable and finite, that $3 loaf of bread doesn’t look so bad. And it just makes your home-baked goods all that more special.
Share in the comments a link to the one recipe you insist on baking rather than buying. I’ll go first. Here’s my favorite recipe for dinner rolls.
Best Ever Dinner Rolls
- ½ cup milk
- 5 tablespoon butter, divided
- warm water
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 (1/4-ounce) packages active dry yeast (that’s 4 ½ teaspoons if you buy yeast in bulk)
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 4 to 4½ cups bread flour
Place milk and 4 tablespoons butter in a 2-cup glass measuring cup. Microwave on HIGH for 1½ minutes. Add enough warm water to measure 2 cups.
Combine sugar, egg, and salt in a large bowl; mix well. Add milk mixture; mix well. Stir in yeast; let stand 2 minutes.
Add 1 cup whole wheat flour and 2 cups bread flour. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until smooth and elastic. Add 2 cups of bread flour. Mix dough with hook or stir in by hand until smooth. Stir in enough of the remaining flour by hand to make dough easy to handle. Turn out on lightly floured counter-top and kneed for 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
Place dough into bowl that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size (about 45 minutes). (Dough is ready if indentation remains when touched.)
This dough has doubled in size and you can see the indentation in the top left.
Punch down dough; divide in half, then half again, then half again, so you have eight dough portions of equal size. Now divide each of those portions by three so you have 24 rolls. Using lightly floured hand, shape each roll and place onto a buttered half-sheet pan (or two cookie sheets). Let rise until double in size (about 1 hour).
Heat oven to 375°F. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and rub tops with butter. Serve warm or at room temperature.
I wish you could smell the fresh roll aroma!
Makes 24 rolls.
Allergenic Foods and Their Sources – University of Nebraska Lincoln
Insel, P., D Ross, K McMahon, and M Bernstein. 2010. Chapter 1. Discovering Nutrition, 4th edition. Jones and Bartlett Publishers.