Why we make our own bread (and you should too)

Baking your own bread every week is often cited as an example of something too time consuming to be practical.  Your average loaf of white sandwich bread takes about 2 to 3 hours to make from scratch.   And baking bread is a bit of an art.  It helps if you can recognize what proper dough looks like, because things like room temperature and relative humidity can affect the final product.  A single extra teaspoon of water can affect the whole loaf.  But that’s fine tuning and you can safely ignore that for now. In the meantime you can make your own bread at little cost and with little time investment.

Here’s an example process for making bread

  • Mix and knead the dough (takes about 20 minutes)
  • Dough rests for 15 minutes
  • Punch it down
  • Dough rests 15 minutes
  • Punch it down
  • Dough rises for 30-60 minutes
  • Bake for 30 minutes
  • Cool for 10 minutes in the pan

That’s about 2 to 2.5 hours.

Bread ingredients are cheap, and except for the yeast you can get almost all of them in reasonable bulk at your local grocery store.   My local Kroger charges about $5 for 4oz of yeast.  Amazon charges $10 for 32 ounces (or $17 for 64oz), with free delivery on Prime.  So, for my sandwich bread recipe, it costs me about $0.7 in yeast per loaf.  Add to that about $0.30 in flour, $0.07 in oil and $0.03 sugar.  It costs about $0.50 to make bread dough.  Let’s go ahead and add another $0.10 in electricity, for a total of $0.60 per loaf.    You can probably drive the costs lower if you buy in larger bulk.

Of course you can buy a loaf of bread for $1.50 at the grocery store.   About 60% off isn’t that bad, but it takes some time.  And you’re only really saving about $4 a month this way.  So follows the next argument against making your own bread – my time is too valuable for these savings.   But really, that argument can be used to justify anything, including eating takeout every night.  If you’re committed to cooking at all, especially if you want start from scratch, making bread is about as low hassle as it gets.   After all, we live in the future now.  We can simplify this

We’ll have our robot do it for us, our trusty bread machine or Kitchen-Aid stand mixer.

  1. Place ingredients in bread machine anytime up to 13 hours ahead of when you need the bread
  2. Set the bread machine timer
  3. Press start
  4. Remove warm, fresh bread at precisely the time you need it (minimum of about 2.5 hours)

So…how much is a bread machine?  Well, you can get one new for about $50 to $200.  And the $50 ones almost always have all the features you actually need.  But we are about saving money here. To save enough money to pay for that, you have to make your own bread for about 9.5 months at a rate of 1 loaf a week.  Each loaf is slightly more bread than is required to make lunch sandwiches for 1 person for a week.  The more people you have eating bread, the more you save.  But the real deal comes from craigslist or garage sales.  Lots of people have bought a bread machine at some point.  About half of the people we know own one and never use it.  Offer them $20 for it and you’ll have it most of the time.  For craigslist, offer them $15 because you have to drive out to get it.  And at a garage sale, $5 to $10 should buy a basic bread machine.   A $5 bread machine should pay for itself in the first month.

But we’re still talking peanuts in terms of money saved, maybe a dollar or two a month?  Well, I would argue that alone makes it worthwhile.   The savings from any individual thing on this site is usually pretty small, but it adds up quickly.  Even so, there are some additional benefits to making your own bread.  First, it tastes better.  Try it and see.   And even if you used the same exact recipe as the commercial bakeries, your bread would still be fresher and, for a few hours, warm from the oven.  Second, and most importantly, you can control what goes into it.  You can control the amount of sugar and oil, and if it matters to you, you can choose sugar over High Fructose Corn Syrup[1].  And you cut back on several preservatives.  While these are generally considered safe, there’s certainly no benefit to eating them.  Third, you almost never have to run out to buy bread.  Bread is one of those foods that always seems to run out first, and I often found myself needing to go buy bread and nothing else or buying extra bread and having it mold.   A trip to the grocery, even for just one item, costs me at least 20 minutes and 4 miles, which costs $1 to $2 in most cars.  That’s an expensive loaf.

And for even more benefit, consider the cost of other types of bread.  Rye breads and potato breads are much, MUCH cheaper if you make them yourself.    I make at least one loaf of white French bread for sandwiches every week.   That alone saves me about $3 a month.  I also make pizza dough about once a week (you don’t need a bread machine for pizza dough) and cinnamon rolls about once a month.  If I wanted to, I could make rye bread or try my hand at gluten free bread[2].   Those loaves cost substantially more to make and your savings increases comparably.


[1] Right now there is only a little research that suggests HFCS is more harmful than traditional cane sugar. http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S26/91/22K07/

[2] I don’t believe that the gluten free diet is beneficial to people without Celiac’s disease.  http://www.gastrojournal.org/article/S0016-5085(13)00702-6/abstract.  Cutting back on your gluten invariably cuts back your carbohydrate intake.  I believe stabilizing your blood sugar by eating fewer carbs is probably most of the “I feel better” benefit of the much hyped gluten diet.   I am not a scientist.

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