You know it’s true: fresh-baked anything tastes better than store-bought, and nowadays being a good baker is easier than ever with the help of internet recipes, videos, and advice. If you buy a bread machine (got mine from Goodwill, $8), you won’t even spend all day kneading and mixing unless that is your kind of thing. Baking can also save you money in some unexpected ways.
Baking bread saves on sandwiches and side dishes. If you can bake bread, dinner at home will always have an extra-special flavor to it. Your brown-bag lunch sandwiches will spark envy in the break room. Baking bread means you can branch out, too. Make homemade hamburger buns, cinnamon rolls, and all kinds of quick bread. You can do it the old-fashioned way, by kneading and rising and kneading some more. You can buy a bread machine with a dough setting. You can try your hand at no-knead bread. The best part of baking bread is that there are so many variations. Rich cheesy bread with homemade soup on a cold winter’s day? Bring it on! Feather-light rolls for a romantic candlelight dinner with your sweetheart? Yes, please.
Save big bucks at birthday time. The cake you make at home will be fresher and will taste better than the store-bought version. Homemade cupcakes are a huge hit when it comes to in-school birthday celebrations. You get bonus points if you learn some decorating tips—try YouTube or take a class at your local craft store.
Gifts galore. My friend calls it “My Year of Living Poorly” but I distinctly remember that Christmas as the year I got the most amazing, melt-in-my-mouth cookies with Christmas-colored M & M’s. (It’s been fifteen years and she still won’t give me the recipe.) Let’s face it, most people have too much stuff—but no one minds a gift that says “I was thinking of you and I know you love chocolate chips.” A batch of cookies or a fresh loaf of bread makes a wonderful hostess gift, too.
Promote your side gig. I got this idea from my 9-to-5. I went to a community event and (gasp! Oh horrors!) our marketing department just gave me a bunch of lousy pens to give away. No golf umbrellas. No cool company-logo nail files. In a fit of desperation, I baked a bunch of cookies and put them on the table. Note to Marketing: the cookies were all gone by the middle of the day, and I’ve got plenty of pens left for the next event. If you’re looking for a way to build customer loyalty for your side gig, try it. A realtor friend presents every family a gift of braided bread on the day they close. There’s a reason Doubletree makes those luscious fresh-baked cookies their trademark—it can work for you, too.
Use up leftovers. Okay, it sounds like a stretch, but it works. I’ve made raisin bran muffins with the last half-inch of cereal at the bottom of the box. Homemade pizza with the last slice of bacon, a little leftover ham, or that third of a green pepper from last night’s salad tastes infinitely better on a fresh-baked crust. Sometimes I make a strata using my day-old fresh-baked bread and whatever I have on hand. It’s pretty easy to make homemade tortillas to eat with leftover chicken or beef.
Baking can be therapeutic, but it can also save you money. Bon appétit!