In Defence Of Home Baking

I pondered the concept of home baking as I strolled through a Tesco Extra. There were aisles and aisles of baked goods ranging from humble ginger breads, apple crumbles and sticky toffee puddings to lavish chocolate éclairs, profiteroles, and citrus tarts. In addition to these categories of tarts and fruit breads, you have the basic muffins and scones, and then the next levels of fruit scones and chocolate chip scones, and each of these then has its own numerous subtypes. Choices are overwhelming.

Take a plain sultana scone. You can decide to get it in the Cake and Baked Goods aisle, packaged and mass produced by different companies, ranging from Tesco Value to Tesco Finest to the common big brands. You can also go to the Bakery aisle and find fresh scones made recently with simple clear plastic packaging and only the name of the item and date of production shown. Or put in a bit more effort and go to the frozen aisles where they're jumbled up in a bag, ready to be popped in the oven.

With a little more work, there is the Cake Mixes aisle with the boxed mix – add an egg, some butter and cream, stir and bake. You could even get fresher mixes in the refrigerator aisles. If the choice is a plain sultana scone with cream and jam to accompany an Earl Grey at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, there is a pool of options before deciding how and what to acquire.

Once upon a time, before the industrial revolution hit the food industry with refrigerators, chemical additives and super-refined processing, home baked goods not only tasted better but, perhaps more importantly, were much cheaper to make than to buy.  Now a pack of 2 apple turnovers are £1.25, a bag of double chocolate chip cookies cost £1.00 and a cheesecake of the finest quality can be just £3.00 (or 2 for £5.00). Evidently the price of making your own cheesecake is greater than buying it in the supermarket.

In addition to the financial cost of the tarte itself (£3.00), it would take a person maybe fifteen minutes round-trip to go to the supermarket, plus 3 minutes in the store. Making it oneself, assuming one already has most of the ingredients at home and ignoring the cost of past purchases, there would still be the new ingredients to acquire, which, let us assume optimistically, would be £5.00. The preparation would take 30 minutes, baking would take 30-60 minutes, and it would need to be cooled for several hours. The inference from this brief analysis (and a few decades of food manufacturing) is that one should go and purchase a cheesecake from the supermarket instead.

But as logical consumers, we don't make decisions based on cost. We make them based on utility. Every consumer's utility function is different, and thus for some, the cost of home baking outweighs the benefits.

For me, there are few things as satisfying as home baking. Perhaps it's the feeling of fresh pastry in my hands, of seeing the magical transformation of simple ingredients into enchanting, concrete treats, of the feeling of accomplishment as they come out of the oven. It's something almost close to a God complex. For this, with money and time, we have to pay a price.

Images sourced from My Kitchen Table, teaandcake.co.uk, Scandi Foodie, and Zesty Cook. Compiled by Jenni Dimmock.

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