Friday, April 01, 2016

The Economics of Home Bread Making

I've been looking at cooking and baking quite a bit lately. Up until a few months ago, my cooking skills were limited to toasting bread, microwaving frozen food, and scrambling eggs. Then I started making pancakes, baking premixed cakes, and trying out recipes for stuff I've enjoyed from restaurants. Now I've moved onto bread.

Seeing a recipe for bread for the first time was somewhat disturbing. That's it? That's all I need in terms of ingredients and work? Then I discovered no-knead bread and I was floored: even less work.

This got me wondering about how much money I could, theoretically, save by baking my own bread compared to buying a loaf from the grocery store.

The Base Case: Simple Loaf of Bread
A simple loaf of grocery store bread has been available in my home on an almost constant basis since I was a kid. I'm talking about the Wonder Bread type loaf -- I think Dempster's is our go-to brand. It's usually been whole wheat, packaged in a plastic bag, with a soft exterior brown crust, and sealed with a small plastic tab.

Checking online for prices in very early 2016, the price of a Dempster's Whole Wheat loaf was CA$ 2.98 for 675 grams.

A Simple Recipe for No-Knead Bread
I chose no-knead bread because it looked like it used less yeast and was the only one I tried making before. Also, the recipe appeared to be similar across a few websites I looked at -- probably because of the influence of a popular one on the New York Times.

Below is a rough estimate on the amount of materials used to estimate the cost of such a recipe. The numbers have been arbitrarily bumped up by varying degrees to account for wastage, flouring surfaces, etc.

All-Purpose Flour: 4 cups
Yeast: 1 teaspoon
Salt: 2 teaspoons
Water: 3 cups

Using a relatively cheap scale I hadn't calibrated before, my all-purpose flour appeared to weigh between 63 grams and 79 grams per half-cup (126 g to 158 g per 1 cup) -- not done scientifically. The lower value was obtained by scooping with a spoon into a measuring cup continuously and leveling it off. I got the higher value by doing the same thing but packing the flour in with the spoon.

Yeast and salt were smaller ticket items that I didn't bother to weigh. One packet of yeast was 8 grams that I only used a portion of for one no-knead recipe, so let's say 8 grams a recipe to overestimate. Salt? I'll guess 50 grams per recipe. Water usually comes from the tap, but bottled works too. And I assumed that a cup of water was 250 ml.

Guestimate of Ingredients per Recipe
All-Purpose Flour: 500 g to 630 g
Yeast: 8 g
Salt: 50 g
Water: 0.75 L

Rough Ingredient Costs
All-Purpose Flour: CA$ 13.97 for 10 kg
Yeast: CA$ 4.53 for 113 g
Salt: CA$ 0.77 for 1 kg
Water: CA$ 1.97 for 24 bottles at 0.5 L each (12 L total)

All-Purpose Flour: CA$ 1.40 / 1 kg
Yeast: CA$ 0.04 / 1 g
Salt: CA$ 0.00077 / 1 g
Water: CA$ 0.1642 / 1 liter

Total Cost of Ingredients per Recipe
All-Purpose Flour: CA$ 0.70 to $ 0.88
Yeast: CA$ 0.32
Salt: CA$ 0.04
Water: CA$ 0.13
Total = CA$ 1.19 to CA$ 1.37

Electricity was around CA$ 0.15 per kWh excluding all other "fun" additions last I checked in my area. This is a hard one to estimate since it's so regional. That and I don't know how my toaster works. It has a rated wattage, but is it on the entire cooking time? My oven is supposedly 1300 W, so that's presumably 1.3 kWh or $ 0.13 at $ 0.10 per kWh for one hour. Let's say CA$ 0.25 for a CA$ 1.44 to CA$ 1.62 total cost without factoring in appliances or cooking utensils.

How much does the final loaf weigh? The amount of flour is probably in the 400 g range assuming that some of that 4 cups is wasted. A portion of the water gets incorporated while the rest is evaporated or wasted. It's almost like I should actually bake this recipe and weight everything from start to finish to be sure. Anyway, factoring up the cost by 50% might bump it up past the 700 gram range? Let's say CA$ 2.16 to CA$ 2.43.

Store-Bought versus Home-Made
The store-bought loaf was about CA$ 2.98 for 675 g and the somewhat high-balled home-made one was maybe CA$ 2.43. This home-made cost may be on the very high side due to the factoring up of ingredient quantities. Also, the final price was bumped up since I didn't know the weight of the finished bread. It's still lower than the store-bought loaf though. Buying ingredients on sale or in bulk would probably lower the cost further. This is all assuming free labor for the home-made bread...

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