If you don't already know by now, I try to do everything on the cheap, including baking, without sacrificing on taste or flavour. There are some recipes I'd just love to try but can't justify using a dozen eggs or a whole block of butter. Yeah sure, they might taste delicious but with my family's tastes, my grocery budget and the effort to make some of these recipes, it's just not economical. Here are some frugal baking tips that I've put together just to help you save a few dollars but without sacrificing on flavour.
Caramel Mudcake I made for my sister's birthday which needed 200 grams of white chocolate and that's about as extravagant as I get.
1. Don't buy special ingredients
I've been seeing quite a few recipes coming through my Pinterest and Facebook feeds, for slices, cookies and bars that have candy or chocolate bars added. Unless it was for an absolute special occasion, I would never buy these ingredients. For example, if you were wanting to make something with those delicious (I love them) peanut butter flavoured chocolates (you know the ones I mean), you can achieve the same taste with your basic pantry ingredients of peanut butter and chocolate. I always have a block of dark chocolate in the pantry for baking. Same with chocolate mint flavoured baked goods. Having a good supply of essences like peppermint and almond essence, for example, you can achieve the same result.
2. Bake while the oven is on
You know the old saying "make hay while the sun shines" or "strike when the iron is hot"? Well, nothing could be truer than making the most of an already preheated oven. I try to bake every fortnight on a Sunday for the kid's lunchboxes and after school snacks so try to plan a roast or meal that requires baking in the oven. Sometimes this doesn't happen so it might be a quick batch of muffins made during the week, while the oven is on. You might only be saving a couple of dollars but over the course of the year, you'd be surprised how much that adds up.
3. Make your own bulk baking mixes
There's a few recipes around for bulk baking mixes like pancakes, cakes and cookies but having them already made up will save you a bit of time as well as money. The only time I buy a box mix of anything is a 70 cent vanilla cake mix for the kid's birthday cake. This may change as they get older because, my son in particular, is developing some exotic tastes and loves rich desserts.
4. Use seasonal fruits to determine what you bake
It's nice knowing that nature has it down pat when it comes to deciding what to cook and when to cook it. During winter, fruits like apples, pears and citrus fruit are in abundance and can be made into beautiful hearty, warm desserts like pies, tartlets and wholesome cakes. During the summer months, fruits like strawberries and tropical fruits can be made into no bake, lighter desserts. I always decide on what to bake with what's in my fruit and vegetable crisper.
5. Avoid recipes that require a lot of expensive ingredients
In my part of the world, eggs and butter aren't the cheapest ingredients around so I avoid baking anything that requires a lot of either. We're not big egg eaters so I usually only have a dozen eggs in the fridge and this might last me a month or so. I do stock the freezer with butter, for sandwiches and baking (we're a butter only household) so it has to last. Unless you have a cow and chickens, then use the butter and eggs to your heart's content.
6. Use up leftover breakfast cereal in your baking
Does your breakfast cereal stash look like mine? Half eaten boxes of cereal in the pantry? The kids must get bored of them. I can remember as a child we did. We'd usually only want the box of cereal for the toy and then not eat it. Breakfast cereal makes a wonderful addition to baked goods. I like to turn my leftovers into Breakfast Muffins for a quick, on-the-go breakfast option. I've always got oats and Weetbix in the pantry because the make the best baked goods. Here are just 5 recipes using breakfast cereal I like to make on a regular basis.
7. Never throw anything away
I like to keep all the bits and pieces from birthday cakes and broken biscuit pieces from the cookie jar to use in my baking. Making my son's 8th birthday cake, for example, I had the 2 circles cut out from making the number '8'. I stored them in the freezer and I used them to make chocolate truffles. Broken biscuit pieces are excellent for cheesecake bases, bars and slices. I particularly like this Rough Road Slice I make with any leftover candy (is there such a thing) and broken biscuits.
8. Substitute, substitute, substitute
I guess if you've been baking for as long as I have, you quickly learn which ingredients will still work well when substituted for those that the recipe calls for. For example, sugar is pretty much sugar in any form it's in. If a recipe calls for brown sugar and you don't have it, use white. If you need sour cream, use yoghurt, milk or cream. My 'go to' web site I use when I'm not sure is The Cook's Thesaurus. It's a wealth of information for everything from herbs, spices, ingredients and everything in between. Also, if you're trying to 'lighten' things up a bit and reduce sugars and fats, fruit and vegetable purees work just as well. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, I substitute with 1 cup of fruit puree like apple, for example. I've very rarely had a failure. It's all a matter of trial and error. Baking is a science they say but if you substitute like with like, you're bound to have success. Except unless you substitute plain flour for self raising flour, like I have done on more than one occasion, and got flat, lifeless cakes like bricks.
9. You don't need expensive equipment to bake
I hope I'm not going to get anyone offside with this one but I don't use anything but my Nanna's wire whisk when I bake. I don't even own a mix master. There's a certain appliance on the market that everyone raves about for about $2,000 and yes, it might be good and an absolute wonder in the kitchen but you don't need it to achieve excellent baked goods. People were baking for hundreds of years without electricity and achieving wonderful results. Pastry, for example, was around back in Roman times and as far as I know, no electricity. My Nanna also won many prizes at the county fairs for her sponge cakes, all made by hand with her wire whisks. I do have a hand held mixer for whipping egg whites if I need to but I avoid baking things like that unless I really want to.
10. Avoid buying baking specific ingredients
I very rarely buy ready made chocolate chips, rather opting for chopping the chocolate myself. Like seriously. If you're making a chocolate chip cookie you want to bite into a decent piece of chocolate, right? I tend to buy a basic sprinkle but don't get caught up thinking you need special sprinkles or decorations for cakes. A good supply of icing sugar, a few different food colourings and a basic sprinkle and the kids will still be happy. Easter and Christmas time the supermarkets are inundated with special toppings. A crushed candy cane, for example, (we all have stacks of those at Christmas time, don't we?) makes an excellent topping for cookies or cakes. Same goes with nuts, chopped dried fruit, crumble topping, coconut, biscuit crumbs, oats, poppy or chia seeds or a simple piece of candy.
Remember, you don't need to buy special ingredients if you've got a well stocked pantry with the basics and use seasonal produce. If you're looking for recipe inspiration, just Google the basic ingredients you have, for example, if you have a glut of oranges and a tub of yoghurt, and you want to make a cake, Google "orange yoghurt" and there's over 14 million different recipes for you to choose from.