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How to Bake on a Budget

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Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, Catherine Lamb shows us how to make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety. 

Today: People, start your ovens! Today a new chapter of My Broke Kitchen begins -- with baking.

Vegan Gingerbread Cookies

Right now, in the season of hot chocolate and frost on your windowpanes and chestnuts roasting on an open fire, you will most likely have the urge to bake things. Because, naturally, you'll want your house to smell like chocolate and to invite friends over for gingerbread cookie-decorating and cake-eating. Such cake. You may also feel a strong desire to put on your pajamas and pour yourself some wine and have a night in, just you and your oven. We at Food52 understand this urge; we get it too. And we encourage you not to fight it. Give in.

The one downside to baking is that it can get a little pricey. Nuts, booze, exotic flours, xanthan gum, and fancy pants chocolate brands can really add up. Thankfully, there are plenty of recipes out there that will make your house smell like a winter wonderland, without any post-grocery store guilt. Here are a few tips (and recipes) for avoiding breaking your bank as you bake:

1. Spend smarter, not harder. Invest in a few staple powerhouse baking ingredients to elevate your baked goods: good vanilla extract (or vanilla beans if you're feeling flush), molasses, high-quality cocoa powder, and whole nutmeg. Then make this.

Faith Durand's Gingerbread Cake


2. Make the most of the ingredients you already have. Brown your butter. Level up your nuts and spices by giving them a little toast before using (and store fragile seeds, nuts, and flours in the freezer to keep them from going rancid quickly). Caramelize anything and everything.

Brown Butter Blondies


3. Bake with your leftovers. Mashed potatoes become cake. Delicious, chocolate-y cake. Plus you get to brag about your thriftiness. Some other ideas for turning one man's leftovers into another man's baked goods? Turn leftover sweet potatoes into biscuits; turn leftover egg whites into meringue; turn leftover beer into bread; and turn leftover wine into poached pears (or more cake!).

Mashed Potato Cake


4. Engage your crafty side and DIY some of the more expensive ingredients. Start by making your own almond mealcake flour, and coconut milk.

Almond Meal


5. Cocoa powder is chocolate's cheaper, less flashy cousin -- take advantage of it. It makes damn good brownies. And cake. Double points if you use this genius cake recipe, which is vegan, palm-to-forehead simple, and dirt cheap to boot. 

Vegan Amazon Cake


6. Make a bunch of cookie dough, then save it in the freezer to bake off when the holiday spirit so inclines you. This reduces waste and ensures you never have to endure a sub-par cookie. Plus, it maximizes the amount of time your kitchen will smell like freshly baked buttery goodness. 

Magical Marvelous Cookies


7. Bread is actually one of the cheapest things you can bake. Just invest a few bucks in some yeast packets and you're only 4 hours away from breaking into a steaming baguette. Cue the accordion. 

Dan Leader's 4 Hour Baguette


8. Freeze excess fruits and vegetables from your bulk buying sprees, so you can always whip up a loaf of banana or zucchini bread (or, worst case scenario: a smoothie). Because sometimes you need that. 

Zucchini Bread

What baking project do you turn to over and over again, even when money is tight? Tell us in the comments!

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: On the Cheap