Friday, 30 March 2012

Home Baking

I pondered upon the concept of home baking as I strolled through a Tesco Extra. There were aisles and aisles of baked goods ranging from humble ginger breads, apple crumbles, and sticky toffee puddings, to lavish chocolate eclaires, profiteroles, and citrus tarts. Upon these superordinate categories of tarts and fruit breads, you have the basic level of muffins and scones, and then the subordinate levels of fruit scones and chocolate chip scones, and each of these then has their own numerous subtypes. Choices are overwhelming. Take a plain sultana scone. One can decide to get it in the Cake and Baked Goods aisle, packaged and mass produced by different companies, ranging from Tesco Value to Tesco Finest and the common big brands. One can go to the Bakery aisle and find fresher scones made recently with simple clear pastic packaging only with the name of the item and the date of production shown. Or put in a bit more effort and go to the frozen aisles where they're jumbled up in a bag, ready to be popped in the oven. With a little more work, there is the Cake Mixes aisle with the boxed mix -- add an egg and some butter and cream, stir and bake. You could even get fresher mixes in the refrigerator aisles. If the choice is a plain sultana scone with cream and jam to accompany an Earl Gray at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, there is a pool of choices before deciding how and what to acquire.

Once upon a time, before the industrial revolution hit the food industry, with refrigerators, chemical additives and super-refined processing, home baked goods didn't only taste better, but perhaps more importantly were much cheaper financially. Now a pack of 2 apple turnovers are £1.25, a bag of double chocolate chip cookies cost £1.00 and a cheesecake of the finest quality can be just £3.00 (or 2 for £5.00). Evidently the price of making your own cheesecake is greater than buying it in the supermarket.

In addition to the financial cost of the tarte itself (£3.00), it would take a person maybe 15 minutes round-trip to go to the supermarket + 3 minutes in the supermarket. Making it oneself, assuming one has already most of the ingredients at home and ignoring the cost of past purchases, there would still be the new ingredients to acquire, which would, let us assume optimistically, be £5.00. The preparation would take 30 minutes, baking would take 30-60 minutes, and it would need to be cooled for several hours. The inference from this brief analysis, and a few decades of food manufacturing, is that one should go and purchase a cheesecake from the supermarket instead.

But as logical consumers, we don't make decision based on costs, we make them based on utilities. Every consumer's utility function is different, and thus for some, the cost of home baking outweighs the benefits.

For me, there are few things as satisfying as home baking. Perhaps it's the feeling of fresh pastry in my hands, of seeing the magical transformation of simple ingredients into enchanting, concrete treats, of the feeling of accomplishment as they come out of the oven. It's something almost close to a God complex. For this, with money and time, we have to pay a price.

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