Martha+Tom

The Cost of Homemade Bread

I make bread at home for a lot of reasons: I like how it tastes, I think it’s fun to make, I get to control what goes in it, and I feel connected to generations throughout history, across all classes and creeds, who in making bread daily expressed their humanity (yeah!). But the nagging question in these “trying economic times” ( :roll: ) is, does it save money? 

It was pretty easy to break down the costs for my standard bread which is from a recipe published in the March & April 2006 Cook’s Illustrated and yields two (~1.5#) loaves:

Ingredient Amount Cost/Oz ($) Total Cost ($)
Bob’s Red Mill 10 Grain Hot Cereal Mix 6 1/4 oz .1272 .795
Boiling Water 20 oz Free! Nothing!
Unbleached All Purpose Flour 15 oz .080625 1.209375
Whole Wheat Flour 7 1/2 oz .074375 .5578125
Honey 3 oz .243125 .729375
Unsalted Butter 2 oz .243125 .48625
Instant Yeast .275 oz .243125 .06686
Table Salt .76 oz .018846 .014323
Total Cost      3.86
Cost/Loaf      1.93

That’s $1.93/loaf or about 8 cents/oz of bread. A recent trip to Cub revealed the white Wonderbread can be had at the price of 2 for $3 for 20oz loaves. For good quality multigrain bread it’s probably a lot more; I haven’t bought bread in so long that I don’t know. Looks like baking bread at home saves a little money.

Saves money, that is, if you leave out the cost of labor (not to mention gas to heat the oven, electricity to boil the water, and cost of the water reflected in rent). Assuming my time is worth $16/hour counting just the active time for making this the bread costs more like $6 a loaf. For a lawyer to bake bread would cost much more! But baking bread is fun and fulfilling—it makes you human. And if you refuse to commodify your time, you are definitely saving money on the ingredients.

Obviously I’m not the first person to think this way. For a historical perspective, check out this letter to the NYTimes from 1916. Prices were also going up in the writer’s time: $1.10 for 24# of flour!

Finally, for those of you curious about the process behind this bread, it is very simple. First, pour the boiling water over the cereal and let it soak for one hour. After that, you mix in all the other ingredients and knead for ten minutes. Let the dough rise in an oiled bowl for an hour and a half, then divide it into two pieces. Shape the pieces into cylinders and proof in loaf pans for another hour, until they are bursting out of the pans. Bake at 375° for 35-40 minutes. Bread! For a more detailed explanation, check out Cook’s Illustrated #79, March-April 2006.

How can you argue with that?

4 comments | , , , ,

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4 comments on “The Cost of Homemade Bread”

  1. Uncle Don 7 February, 2009 at 6:26 am

    Tom,

    Good study, but wish you would switch to grams for mass, and specify flour amounts as a mass measure.

    Uncle Don

  2. Tom 7 February, 2009 at 8:14 am

    The flour amounts listed are by mass. As for switching to grams, it does appear my scale would be slightly more accurate if I went metric (d=2-5g versus 1/8-1/4oz), but I have a natural suspicion of all things metric (don’t try to convince me that C is superior to F, for example). I don’t know if it would make much difference anyway because I suspect my scale is even less accurate than it claims, but I could give it a try.

  3. Linda 20 June, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    My first attempt at making the Multigrain Bread was a big success. My RedMill Five Grain cereal was rolled so I had to food process it a bit before soaking in boiling water. I didn’t soak it for an hour and probably will do so the next time. The temperature was down to 100 degrees before the hour was up. For the first time ever in my bread making experiences I weighed out the flour. In my past bread making I rarely ever was careful about how much flour i used. I just added flour until the dough felt right. I love the addition of sunflower seeds to the bread. My sunnies were from Trader Joe’s. Mine were roasted but I think I’d enjoy un=roasted the next time. Also rolling the loaves in oatmeal before putting to rise in the pans seemed like a good idea but a lot of oatmeal falls off on the bread board when you cut the bread. I’ll definitely make this bread again.

  4. Tom 21 June, 2009 at 11:56 am

    I’m glad it worked for you Linda! It really is a great recipe; a very good result with not too much hard work—but enough. I’ve never had sunflower seeds on hand for this bread, but I bet they’d be great. Sometimes I throw in flax seeds.

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