As a nation, we love everything to do with baking. The eating of delicious baked goods, yes, we like that very much. But besides the eating, baking is one of our favourite hobbies. It's a way to relax for some, or a way to express creativity. We bake for our friends and families. We bake for charity and raising funds at bake sales. And when we're not baking, we love watching others bake on popular TV shows and baking competitions.
Whilst our business is selling luxury birthday cakes to discerning customers in London and Surrey, it's also a personal interest of mine to make baking accessible to our fans and followers. We've made my signature recipes of Hero Sponge, Swiss meringue buttercream, and now, Hero Cookies, available for all to download. I've published my children's baking books - StoryBakes, which now has its own website! And I also love doing "Fake Bakes" with my son, X-Ray - fake baking is when I set myself a strict £10 budget to buy ready-made cakes and decorations from one supermarket and turn it into a stunning showstopper of a cake.
The popularity of our Hero Sponge recipes and Fake Bakes is understandable - in a cost of living crisis and the dismal economic times we find ourselves in, we all are looking for ways to cut costs, but not compromise on our desire for stunning cakes. Whilst a lot of families now might not be able to splurge on a bespoke luxury cake-makers birthday cake for their children, they still want to present a beautiful bake for the occasion, and are turning to baking the cake themselves instead of buying. But...considering inflation...is it still cheaper to bake at home?
I wanted to find out how much it costs exactly to bake a a birthday cake at home from scratch and have gathered costs from all the major supermarkets. The results are...surprising.
For the purposes of this research, I have chosen to base my findings on baking a 6" simple vanilla Hero sponge cake with Swiss meringue buttercream as this would be the cheapest cake to bake. Hero sponge calls for oil and yoghurt instead of butter, and we are not buying expensive caster or icing sugars. I have also gathered information up to date as of 3rd January 2024 from the major supermarkets excluding the discount stores such as Aldi and Lidl due to them not having online shopping available. The products in baskets are the cheapest available store-labels or alternative brands. I have decided to cost up the whole package of product, vs apportioning costs for ingredients used, for simplicity, and to give the true costs of a one-time bake.
Costs of Baking a Birthday Cake from Scratch
The average total cost for baking from scratch is £11.73.
The cheapest supermarket to shop for a basic birthday cake's ingredients is Asda at £10.68. The most expensive supermarket is M&S at £12.65. These results in themselves aren't particularly surprising, considering Asda and M&S are widely considered as cheap and expensive respectively. However, I found a whole lot else surprising.
I wasn't expecting Morrisons to be almost as expensive as Waitrose. I was also surprised about how no supermarket can claim they are the cheapest across all products. Waitrose eggs are cheaper than Asda. Morrisons yoghurt is more expensive than Waitrose and M&S. M&S, Tesco and Sainsbury's have cheaper sugar than Asda. You'd have to carefully consider where you shop if you're keen on saving.
With the cost of fuel, it may or may not make sense to shop carefully - driving to different shops costs money too. But it is definitely worth planning as there is a whole £1.57 difference between the supermarket totals - and that's just for baking one small cake.
It's also worth bearing in mind that baking requires an oven. The cost of running an oven for an hour is approx. 71p*, which you should add on top of the cost of the ingredients. This pushes the total to almost £13 at the top end.
So what do these costs mean for baking?
If you're starting out as a hobby baker, you would be looking at a considerable investment to bake your first cake. You'd need additional equipment - such as cake tins, a mixing bowl, and some basic cake decorating tools. It is worth looking at eBay or Vinted for discounted equipment like cake turn tables, piping nozzles and palette knives. Whilst you won't need to pay for these tools again, the ingredients and electricity for even practise bakes will cost upwards of £11 each time, which doesn't make it a cheap hobby.
Baking for Friends and Family
Before you commit to baking for friends and family, carefully consider everything. A cake for your child or partner, absolutely. I'd go cold for nights if I have to to save up for that. But how much do you really like Aunt Sheila?? Because her 60th birthday cake to feed the whole extended family of 20 is going to cost you a fair amount. On top of the ingredients and energy costs, you will also need to source a cake board and a cake box.
These costs here are for the smallest and most basic of all cakes - a simple 6" 2-layer sponge cake covered with buttercream. You'll most likely want to add some decorations, candles, chocolate etc which starts pumping up the costs considerably and very quickly.
Baking for Charity Bake Sales
This is the point that makes me the saddest. Bake sales are one of the best ways to raise funds. MacMillan Coffee Mornings and school fair bake sales are a cornerstone of our culture. They were a cheap way to raise much needed funds for worthy causes. However, with the costs of baking so high now, is there a risk of turning people off from participating? Possibly. It would be far cheaper to buy a pre-made cake, or pack of doughnuts from the shops than baking from scratch and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see supermarket bakes making an appearance at bake sales. And who could blame anyone? It would just mean that I wouldn't necessarily purchase it, even if for charity. Which then defeats the whole purpose of the bake sale.
Is it Worth Home-Baking Anymore?
Turns out, whilst baking from scratch at home is still cheaper than buying a cake from a professional bakery, it would actually be cheaper to Fake Bake. You don't need to turn on the oven, saving you on energy. You would probably end up with a more spectacular looking cake by just focusing on the decor instead of also baking from scratch.
But the value in baking isn't just from the presentation of the end product. Home-baked cakes can't be compared in taste with supermarket cakes. They taste FAR superior in both flavour and texture. Plus, there is something to be said about the joy from the actual baking itself, and the sense of achievement and pride it gives. Baking has scientifically been proven to offer mental health benefits. Following a recipe requires focus and concentration, and is a way of practising mindfulness. Baking is a therapeutic sensory experience - taste, smells, sight, all engaged. Baking is a creativity outlet, which helps positivity and can help with fighting depression. It's a great feel-good and mood-boosting activity. It's also a great way to connect socially - whether it's baking together as an activity, or baking for someone.
I'm not sure what value can be placed on all the other benefits of baking from home, but it's probably more than £10. It's just sad that what once used to be considered a cheap wholesome pass-time, now costs more than the hourly national living wage (£10.42).
Happy new year!