How to Bake on a Budget

December 24, 2014

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

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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!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Margit Van Schaick
    Margit Van Schaick
  • Nicole Hamari
    Nicole Hamari
  • shellie
  • Gabriella Paiella
    Gabriella Paiella
A kitchen scientist and dog-lover. Someday I want to have you over for dinner.


Margit V. January 7, 2015
Ice cream sandwich covers. (I should not comment so late at night--).
Margit V. January 7, 2015
#5 cocoa--one of my favorite ways to make delicious baked goods, instead of using expensive chocolate. I recommend making the cookies in the photo, not with a gingerbread dough, but using Deb Perlman's recipe for "brownie roll-out cookies"(Smitten Kitchen). So inexpensive to make, so utterly delicious. Especially if you frost them with peooermint buttercream(well, that is not as thrifty!). If you get rich, dark cocoa, all the better. The same recipe makes amazing
Nicole H. January 4, 2015
I always freeze bananas for bread, and throw in leftover berries or nuts whenever I have them. And this is more general cooking, but I save the olive oil left from roasting garlic (I get a lot from work) and use it in pasta, chicken, potatoes, you name it.
shellie January 4, 2015
Other ways to save on not having to buy ingredients (slash, not have extra jars and bags crowding your likely-too-small kitchen cabinets): make your own bread flour (just keep some vital wheat gluten on hand), baking powder (if you happen to have cream of tartar), oat floor (grind up rolled oats), ultra-fine sugar (grind up regular sugar), buttermilk (regular milk plus lemon juice), pumpkin pie spice (if you like to bake, you probably have the component spices on hand already), brown sugar (normal sugar plus molasses)..... The list goes on and on!
Gabriella P. December 28, 2014
Love this!