Baking Bread – Is it Worth the Effort?

Olive and Onion bread with brie.
Olive and Onion Crusty Bread with brie.

When I was trying to think what would be the best initial cost savings comparison, I did what I usually do, I let my stomach decide.   I chose to analyze bread making to find out for myself if there is a cost benefit and if it is worth the effort.  I know when our kids get older we will go through a lot of bread so I thought it worthwhile to see if there were significant savings found when making our own bread, or if it is just too time consuming.  When starting out we had 4 questions to be answered.

1)       How Much Money can we Save?

The first step to answering this question is analyzing how much we currently spend buying bread.  Our family likes a whole wheat bread and we will pay a bit more for bread to feel we are getting a better quality loaf.  We average around 2-3 loaves of bread a week and this will continue to grow.  We look for sales but we still spend an average of $3/loaf.  For our family calculation of 2.5 loaves a week at $3 each we would spend just under $400 a year in loaves of bread.  Breads do range in price from $1 loaves to well over $5 so you can adjust the calculation to fit your family consumption and buying decisions.

I found this standard looking recipe on the Robin Hood Flour website as it is similar to breads that we would buy.  Figure 1 shows what the cost would be for 1 loaf of bread.

Figure 1

Ingredients Amount Used $ per loaf
Water 1 1/3 cups  | 325ml $0.00
Oil 2 tbsp | 30ml $0.07
White Flour 1 1/2 cups  | 375ml $0.24
WW Flour 1 1/3 cups  | 325ml $0.21
Whole grain cereal 1/2 cup  |  125 ml $0.21
Salt 1 1/2 tsp  | 7 ml $0.01
Brown Sugar 2 tbsp | 30ml $0.06
Yeast 1 1/2 tsp  | 7 ml $0.34
Total Cost of Loaf $1.14

I actually thought that it would cost less than one dollar for a homemade loaf and it still could be if I were to really search for the best deals for the ingredients, probably by buying bulk sizes.  There are also energy costs of cooking but all the calculations I came up with show it to be a minimal cost.

For our Family we would save $1.46 a loaf or $240 annually.

2)       How Much Time Will it Take?

The perception with homemade bread is that it is wonderful if you can find the time, which is always a problem for families.  When looking at the amount of time that it will take I thought I would compare two ways of making bread, from scratch and using a bread making machine.

The key to making bread from scratch and fitting it into your schedule is to make large batches at once and then freezing the extra loaves.  Most recipes are for 2 loaves but if you feel strong you should be able to knead 4 loaves at a time.  This doesn’t mean you cannot make more than one batch at a time; I made 6 loaves using 3 different recipes.  I found that to make a batch of bread takes around 4 1/2 hours from start to finish but your actual commitment is less due to rising and cooking times.  My commitment was 20 minutes to mix the dough, 20 minutes of kneading, and 25 minutes cleaning.  If you are making 4 loaves at a time it would take approx 15-20 minutes per loaf to make.  The problem I found is that during the whole 4.5 hours I could not be very far away so I could do the next step at the right time.  When I look at a work week there are few times that I can commit to 4.5 hours at a time, and those times are usually reserved for family time, or sleep.

For the bread maker test we dug out the machine that we received as a gift but rarely used.  It took me approx 10 minutes to place the ingredients together in the pan, place the pan in the bread maker and then turn the machine on and it then took another 5 minutes, 4 hours later when the bread was ready, to clean up.  This process took me a total of 15 minutes for one loaf, similar to what it took me, per loaf, baking per scratch.  At 15 minutes per loaf and 2.5 loaves eaten by our family a week than it means that we will spend approx. 32.5 hours a year baking bread.

** If you want to use a bread maker and you have not been given one, purchasing one will cut into your cost savings.  You should be able to spend $100 or less for a half decent model, though you can easily spend more as well.  If you make a commitment to baking bread and you like the time benefits a bread maker provides then buying a machine can be a worthwhile investment.

3)      What are the other benefits we should consider in our decision?

First benefit – it tastes better.  I find that, even using the bread maker, our bread is at least as good as our local bakery, and certainly better than anything found in the grocery store.  Some people have used the argument that homemade bread tastes too good they eat too much bread.  That may be true but to use the logic that store-bought bread is better because it does not taste as good seems a little silly to me.  Once you get into the habit making fresh bread the novelty wears off and you probably will start eating normal amounts of bread again.

The second benefit I think is an important one and is the main reason why we decided to look at baking bread in the first place – it is better for you.  Bread should not contain much more than flour, water and yeast yet the ingredients in most store bought bread contains many different additives.  Many consider the additives in bread to be perfectly safe, but have they really been tested for long term affects?  For our own health we have made it an initiative to try and limit the amount of additives in our foods and bread is a good place to start.

4)       Is It Worth It?

The value of baking bread will have to be a personal choice as there is no clear cut conclusion.  For our family if we were just to look at the annual cost savings (around $240) compared to the amount of time we would spend a year (around 32.5 hours) we would probably choose the extra time. Instead we have chosen to bake our own bread since it tastes better and is better for you.  We have decided to try whole heartedly to fit baking bread into our schedule and we will be baking the majority of the loaves in our bread maker.  We love trying different loaves and there are many recipes that do not work in a bread maker, at least for the baking portion, and those we will still be baking from scratch.

In the end I think our decision to make our own bread came down to the fact that baking bread is a good fit for new family lifestyle.  Why shouldn’t we make our own bread if it can be made easily, tastes better, and is better for us?  Got to go now, bread is almost done and it smells great.

  1 comment for “Baking Bread – Is it Worth the Effort?

  1. November 4, 2009 at 9:39 am

    I just had some Whole Grain bread I bought from Costco last night (we like to have a backup loaf in the freezer, incase we run out of homemade). And it was ok, but not as good as the breadmaker loaf from the Robin Hood Flour website that Martin made for this blog.

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