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The true cost of homemade bread


Fun. Boredom. Relaxation. Stress-relief. Hobby. Necessity. Why you bake at home could be lots of different reasons, and one of these could be to save money.

Do you love fruit-filled fig and walnut rolls, but not love the double-digit dollars? 

Is a weighty and wholesome rye sourdough loaf your favourite, but not the weight and hole it leaves in your pocket at payment?

Do you enjoy a premium organic sourdough loaf, but not enjoy handing over the premium price?

This blog is my encouragement to you to bake at home. I’ll show you a guide to the costs so you can weigh the costs for yourself and your situation.

For the record, this isn’t a criticism of big bakeries, small bakeries or micro-bakeries selling bread at a certain price (for whatever it’s worth, I’m generally selling at around $8~ for a loaf)—whatever your local situation considers ‘high priced’. Perhaps a blog for another day/month is the realities of making and selling bread and the time, equipment, space and risk involved for the baker. Their hours worked vs net profit isn’t a glamorous as it might seem.

So, what is the true cost of making bread at home? I’ve crunched some numbers whilst crunching a sourdough loaf crust. A few notes to base pricing:

WATER $0.05
The cost of water is almost inconsequential (per loaf of bread). But to allow for the dough water, hand-washing, dishes, and a glass of water to drink during preparation, let’s use $0.05 (five cents) for every loaf.

ENERGY $0.72
Energy costs will vary with your type (e.g. electricity, gas, wood, solar, etc.), where you are in the world (government charges, subsidies, etc.), provider, appliances efficiency, and method (e.g. hand-mixing vs machine, residual wood-oven heat vs electric oven on just for the bread vs solar panels on the roof). So, given all those variables this example will use my oven (a 60cm Miele electric convection oven) and SA energy average cost (31.52c/kWh).

Let’s work off 60mins of 2300 watts of electricity in South Australia at 31.52c/kWh = $0.72 (oven preheat 20mins + 45-50mins bake with oven elements cycling on and off during baking + some room lights, maybe a little hot water, etc.).

It’s worth noting, this is one loaf; two loaves would be more economical per loaf. Cooking dinner (crispy roast vegetables?) in the oven at the same time would also make sense and save cents. Got solar? Bake during the day. Not in SA? You probably pay less for electricity.  

TOOLS/EQUIPMENT
If you have a way to bake the bread (ovens are most commonly used) and a mixing bowl or bench you don’t need anything else. But helpful common tools are loaf pans or bannetons (round/oval), a dough scraper, a sharp knife or scissors, perhaps a cast-iron pot to bake the loaf in or a speciality pan. Because these are one-off costs, we won’t include them. But they are real costs, for sure.
  


SOURDOUGH STARTER/LEVAIN
Because a sourdough starter (SS) is generally just an inoculated flour and water dough/batter, it makes sense to include it in the overall flour calculation per loaf. In a recipe it’s a separate step, but for costing purposes it isn’t.

FLOUR
These are based on purchasing bulk bags (12.5kg) of flour. It’s much better value for the regular home baker. Split a bag with a friend to save $$ and/or with most suppliers order 2 bags to reduce shipping costs.

SALT
Salt, salt, salt. Where do we begin and end with salt. Expensive; cheap. Fancy; basic. All work for bread—just make sure the texture is reasonably fine. $2 per kg will work just fine for our calculations.  

DOUGH QUANTITY
I’ve done all of these based on 500grams of flour, because it made my life simpler. Water is variable, so the loaf dough quantities vary, although reflect fairly closely what I do anyway.
I decided not to flatten these to the same dough amount, because it isn't a comparison of different flours; everyone will have their own reasons and preferences for choosing a particular flour. 

 

(Note: if you are skim reading or skipped the technical stuff above, start reading here.)

Are you still tracking?

Here we go, here are some common, but often higher-priced, breads and how much do they cost to make (current $AUD June 2022—these will obviously change over time). 

 

A large wheat-based sourdough loaf (approx. 850 grams dough)

What’s often just referred to as a ‘Sourdough’, a loaf with all white (refined) bread flour, perhaps a bit of wholemeal flour or rye added to the mix. This loaf is wheat flour, salt and water.

 

An organic wheat sourdough bread (approx. 880 grams dough)

The unique farming and processing practices or certified organic appeal to many. There are added costs to be certified, more complex processing, and sometimes lower yields, and this is reflected in the higher priced flour. If a bakery is certified, they’ll also incur additional costs. Some famers may not pursue certification but still grow organically. If they sell direct, usually they’ll indicate their approach.


A spelt sourdough loaf
(900 grams dough)

Because spelt is grown less widely and requires more processing, it is more expensive. Many people enjoy the nutty, wheat flavour and some find it easier to digest.  

  • Wholemeal spelt flour – 250grams = $1.08
  • White spelt flour – 250grams = $1.08
  • Fine sea salt – 10grams = $0.02
  • Water – 400grams = $0.05
  • Energy (electricity) = $0.72
  • Total cost for one homemade loaf = $2.95

 

A sprouted wholewheat bread (900 grams dough)

Sprouting wheat begins the transformation from seed (grain) to plant. But after sprouting it’s dried to stop the process and milled flour. The resulting flour and bread is wholegrain and full-flavoured, a naturally sweeter taste and softer bread texture from the extra enzyme activity and nutrients in the grain are ready to be processed by the body. These loaves are often found at health food stores or from speciality bakeries.
(July 2022 update: we are very soon stocking delicious and nutritious local Sprouted Wholewheat Flour! Contact us to be notified.)

  • Sprouted wheat stone-milled flour – 500grams = $1.94
  • Fine sea salt – 10grams = $0.02
  • Water – 400grams = $0.05
  • Energy (electricity) = $0.72
  • Total cost for one homemade loaf = $2.73


A rye sourdough loaf
(approx. 950 grams dough)

If you are a 100% rye fan, I don’t need to describe why it’s fantastic. I could mention the soft, dense texture, or fibre-rich satiety (filling-ness), or the spicy, toasty aromas and flavours. But I don’t need too.
Rye, especially wholemeal/wholegrain rye absorbs a high ratio of water, and water is cheaper than flour.

  • Wholemeal rye flour – 500grams = $1.52
  • Fine sea salt – 10grams = $0.02
  • Water – 450grams = $0.05
  • Energy (electricity) = $0.72
  • Total cost for one homemade loaf = $2.31

 

An olive and rosemary bread (approx. 875 grams dough)

A classic at most bakeries, the addition of olives and rosemary adds rich flavours and aromas. Here we’ll assume the ‘a wheat-based sourdough loaf’ from earlier.

  • Pitted olives – 75grams = $2.57
  • Rosemary – 2grams = free(?) from your backyard, or neighbours backyard or local community garden or supermarket carpark hedge.
  • Euro T55 high-protein [white] bread flour – 500grams = $1.08
  • Fine sea salt – 10grams = $0.02
  • Water – 350grams = $0.05
  • Energy (electricity) = $0.72
  • Total cost for one homemade loaf = $4.34

Comment: these are really delicious olives but would be worth buying a bigger size jar if using for bread regularly. We can order bigger jars—contact us to check pricing.  

 

A rustic Italian-style yeasted loaf (approx. 800 grams dough)

Crusty or soft; white and yeasty. All that quick-rise baker yeast makes these continental loaves light to hold and light when paying. What about making it at home…

  • Euro T55 high-protein [white] bread flour – 500grams = $1.08
  • Fine sea salt – 10grams = $0.02
  • Instant dry yeast – 10grams = $0.15
  • Bread improver powder – 5grams = $0.18
  • Water – 300grams = $0.05
  • Energy (electricity) = $0.72
  • Total cost for one homemade loaf = $2.20

Comment: added ingredients add to the cost. Use less yeast and less improver (but ferment longer to compensate) for less cost. The loaf would likely bake quicker, too.   

 

Summary of cost-saving ideas
Buy in bulk. Split a bag with a friend if minimal space.
Order multiple bags to reduce shipping costs.
Make multiple loaves at once or bake other foods at the same time to improve energy efficiency. 
Ask your power retailer for a better energy deal.
Bake when solar energy is being produced (during the day, if you have solar panels).
If you have more time and less money, bake the bread you enjoy at home.
Learn to bake at home! 

 

Over to you...
Surprised? As expected? Only you can resolve the actual cost to you of making a loaf vs letting the baker make you a loaf. Time, effort, money, uniqueness, and life situation all play a part. Maybe next time I’ll write some good reasons to buy your bread...