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Is baking cheaper than buying?

Baking can quickly become expensive - Felicity's ingredient collection

Cooking from scratch saves money. So many of my money-saving experiments have shown this, from cheap student food to gourmet dishes.

But there’s one area where I’m starting to think it might not be so true… Cakes. Baking is one of my hobbies and I love serving guests my homemade treats.

Fairy cakes, birthday cakes, cake pops, fruit loaves… If you can lick the whisk while it rises in the oven then I have made it.

But I was recently looking through my baking cupboard and I realised just how much I have spent on baking paraphernalia, cake decorations and recipe books.

I had nine little packets of ready-made sugar flowers, balls and edible glitter (my cakes make Christmas look conservative and stuffy), each costing around £2.99.

That’s £26.91-worth of cake decorations before you even get to my icing-flower kits, packets of marzipan and the high quality chocolate I prefer to use.

[Related feature: The 10 best easy-baking recipes]

Is shop-bought cheaper?

I’ve long suspected that shop-bought cakes can be cheaper. Sometimes that’s because I’m using more expensive ingredients than the shops - it costs me around a fiver to make a Victoria Sponge, including fresh cream and strawberries but an ASDA Smartprice version costs just 59p.
So I wanted to see whether shop bought really is cheaper when comparing like for like cakes. I’ve compared three of my home-made cakes to similar shop-bought goodies. I’ve chosen comparisons made with quality ingredients, rather than the budget alternatives, as I don’t often buy budget baking ingredients.

Where the total price is for something I could store, I’ve given the price per cake – but where the item is perishable like cream, I’ve factored in the cost of the whole item even if I didn’t use it all.

Finally, I’ve not included pinches of salt or drops of essence, as the price per cake would be negligible.

Victoria Sponge (serves 12)

Total price Price per cake
225g butter £1 (250g) 90p
225g caster sugar £1.08 (1kg) 24p
4 medium eggs £1 (6 free-range eggs) 66p
225g self-raising flour £1 (1kg) 22p
Fresh whipping cream £1 (300ml) £1
Strawberries £1.75 (250g) £1.75

Total price: £4.77
Price per slice: 40p
Shop-bought price per slice: 41p

[ Related story: Feeling inspired? Check out our Victoria sponge recipe]

Chocolate sponge with chocolate ganache (serves 12)

Ingredient Total price Price per cake
225g butter

£1 (250g) 90p
225g caster sugar £1.08 (1kg 24p
225g self-raising flour £1 (1kg 22p
4 medium eggs £1 (6 free-range eggs) 66p
50g cocoa powder £2.98 (250g Fairtrade cocoa) 60p
150g dark chocolate £4.12 (2 x Green & Blacks 100g bars) £3.09
150ml double cream 55p (150ml) 55p

Total price: £6.26
Price per slice: 52p
Shop-bought price per slice: 33p

Video: The 5-minute chocolate cake 

Fruit cake (serves 6)

Ingredient Total price Price per cake
450g self-raising flour £1 (1kg) 45p
125g caster sugar £1.08 (1kg) 13p
125g unsalted butter

£1 (250g) 50p
450g mixed fruit and peel £1.54 (500g) £1.39
250ml milk 49p (568ml 21p

Total price: £2.68
Price per slice: 45p
Shop-bought price per slice: 33p

So my hunch was right, it has been cheaper to buy shop-bought cakes on two out of three of these occasions. But which tasted better?

[Related link: Feel good food]

Is home-made better?

After spending two weeks eating more cake than I should, I now feel in a position to compare my home-made baking with the shop-bought cakes.

Honestly – I preferred my own baking. When I make it myself, I can add a little more vanilla essence if I want to, chuck in a bit of extra cocoa powder if I think it needs it, and generally make something just right for me.

Not only that, but I knew what had gone into my home-made cakes, for example, I was happy that the eggs were free-range. Also, I’m always proud to whip out a cake I’ve made myself, whereas it’s less impressive to offer guests the supermarket’s finest.

Will I give up baking?

It might be often cheaper to buy a ready-made cake, but I don’t think I will. Price isn’t everything, you have to factor in taste and nutrition as well.

If my family are going to eat cake, I want to know that they’re eating good, quality ingredients and not needless preservatives.

Do you find it’s cheaper to bake at home or buy in a shop? Have you ever eaten a home-made cake and wished it had been shop bought?! Share your baking experiences and tips with other readers in the comments below.