This post is about a side of home bread baking that I’ve not spoken to many people about: cost.
If you dip into the bread baking section of social media you’ll be amazed by the artisan works of edible art. Professionals and amateurs alike post photos of loaves beautifully decorated with ivy patterns or artistic folds; videos show time-lapse views of skilled dough shaping and loaf preparation.
I appreciate those skills, and continue to try to learn them, but this post isn’t about that. This post is about home baking loaves of sandwich bread to support a family, and how much that costs, with probably more detail than is necessary.
My backstory and detailed cost breakdown will follow, but here’s the point:
Baking loaves of wide-pan wheat-white-oat bread myself cost us up to $3.80, lasting a week and a little longer.
Buying bread ran us $3.57 per week, but could be up to $5.57 without cheap bread options. (I’ll explain.)
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Why sandwich bread?
My main motivation in bread baking is not saving money per se. As I’ve said in previous vlogs I baked bread to earn money for gas after college, in between journalism gigs, and the skills earned then have now become a hobby/cathartic respite for me.
Being able to serve my family healthy bread for which I know every ingredient in it, plus saving a few bucks, are major additional benefits.
[To know which bread I’m talking about here, please check out this walk-through episode of The Baking Journalist.]
I had been making the occasional Salted French loaf, or Rosemary Asiago, but began wondering about sandwich bread after downloading a cooking guide from the 1920s.
The Woman’s Institute of Cookery series is an amazing resource for foods of all kinds, and has a number of bread recipes for a busy household. This is from a time when families created more of the essentials–food, clothing, etc–themselves, instead of popping into a grocery store or ordering it from Amazon.
Kids like sandwiches for lunch, bread for breakfast, etc, and this guide presented recipes that were supposed to supply busy households.
Cost of ingredients for success
The recipe used butter and a lot more sugar than I like, so I modified it, settled on a blended flour mix of wheat and white, and have been adding rolled oats. Again, you can find the walk-through and full recipe here, but for our cost breakdown we’re counting: 5 cups wheat, 5 cups white, 1 cup oats, 2 Tbsp sugar, 2 Tbsp salt, and .75 oz yeast—this is for one batch or 2 wide-pan loaves.
Costs are hard to figure out for baking your own sandwich bread, because if you find good bulk products, it lowers the overall cost. So I’ve done my best to be fair figuring out cost:
A 5lb bag of wheat flour is $2.50, providing about 17 cups…that’s my estimate.
A cheap 5lb bag of white flour is $1.20.
Oat costs vary, and I can’t remember exactly what we paid, so I found a 42oz oat canister for $3.70, getting 8 to 10 batches of bread by my estimate.
A 5lb bag of sugar costs $2, and is good for 60 batches.
A 26oz canister of salt is $.80—sea salt can run a bit more.
.25oz packets of yeast cost us $.89 for three…which is expensive. If you buy a 2 lb package of yeast (costing about $10) then each batch costs only $.30 or so.
So my rough estimate per batch is $1.90. We need nearly two batches per week depending on needs, which is why I estimate $3.80 per week.
Bread at the store can be really cheap. A local store sells split-top wheat for $.89 (we need 2 of those), and a wide-pan wheat loaf for $1.79.
To buy bread we were looking at about $3.57 per week (before tax). Other stores have wide-pan loaves for up to $3.79, which is much more expensive.
With cheap bread at a local store, the cost to make my own sandwich bread or buy it is a wash.
But like I said: I don’t bake just to save money. It’s about knowing what ingredients are in what my family eats; I enjoy the cathartic activity of creating bread; I like the more artisan loaves that let me experiment; and I like baking with my family as a way to bond…there’s so much value that goes beyond the dollars and cents.
Obviously retail baked goods hold a convenience factor, and are not cost-prohibitive.
For those of us who want to try to be a bit more involved in the staples of a family diet, it’s nice to know a home baker is not yet priced out of the market.