Bread-Baking Kitchen Hacks to Save Money: Special Ingredients

Reader Contribution by Wendy Akin
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Jars of citrus zests, ginger, and boiled cider.

This is Part 2 in Wendy Akin’s frugal-living baking hacks series.Read all parts here.

Next to grab my attention were the prices of special flavor ingredients. If you’ve followed my posts over the years, you’ve already seen some of these.

Boiled cider. Don’t waste money on boiled cider at $15 for only 16 ounces: For $6 or $8, buy a gallon of really good cider. Drink a couple glasses, then pour the rest into a stock pot or Dutch oven — a wide one if you have it — and boil the cider down. Reduce the cider to about one quarter. Your house will smell fabulous all day.

I freeze my syrupy boiled cider in an old peanut butter jar. They won’t crack, they’re wide mouth and fit on the freezer door shelf. When I need some, it’s easy to spoon out, because a syrup doesn’t freeze hard.

A good splash of boiled cider will make your best ever apple pie. Use your favorite recipe, put the floured and spiced apples into the bottom crust, then drizzle a couple spoonfuls of boiled cider over the apples. Cover and bake as usual.

Cornstarch. Not a money saver, but if you use cornstarch as a thickener in your pies, be aware that cornstarch is most often of genetically modified (GMO) corn. Happily, a new organic cornstarch has appeared on your grocer shelf.  It’s made by Clabber Girl; it’s in a green can about the size of baking powder cans and you’ll probably find it next to the baking powder rather than next to the big yellow box.

Ginger puree. It seems so wasteful to buy a big piece of fresh ginger root for just a spoonful in a recipe. Freezing it over and over ruins it. Never mind, just buy a nice piece of fresh ginger when you see some silky-skinned fresh pieces. Roughly peel it, slice about ¼-inch thick, and toss it into the mini-prep food processor. Chop, then add about 2 to 4 tablespoons of cane sugar and process to a lovely slush. Store this is a half-pint jar on the freezer door shelf.

Use this ginger puree in everything that calls for ginger: stirfry, pickles, even cookies.  The dry kind is just hot with no flavor. The little bit of sugar to make the puree slushy is too little to make a difference in any recipe. You won’t taste it in a stirfry.

Crystallized ginger shouldn’t cost $20 per pound. Buy really pretty ginger when you see some, usually in during fall. Consider looking in an Asian grocery, where shoppers use a lot of fresh ginger in their cuisine. Peel it and slice. Make up a sugar syrup of 2 cups of cane sugar to 2 cups of water. Add the ginger slices and bring to a slow boil. Cook gently until the ginger begins to be tender. Attach a candy/jelly thermometer. Bring the temperature up to 220 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring. Cool, then you can either drain the ginger pieces and roll in sugar or just put them with the syrup into a canning jar. Again, on the freezer door shelf. Or in a zipper freezer bag with the rest of your holiday ingredient goodies.

Ginger syrup? Ten dollars for just 8 ounces? Well, how much sugar and water is in there? Here’s your ginger syrup for free. Leftover syrup from making crystallized ginger is ginger syrup. You could also just add some sliced ginger to the simple syrup and cook it down a little. It makes great homemade ginger ale, just add sparkling water or club soda.  Remember also that ginger and ginger ale are very helpful for easing nausea. Mix a little ginger syrup in sparkling or still water and sip. Ice cold is also calming to a roiling tummy.

If you love ginger and you’ve found some beautiful pieces, go another one and make this stunning marmalade. Wait until you find some really silky skinned fresh roots.

Lemon or orange paste at $12 for just 4 ounces? Do this instead and save your $12. Buy six nice, clean, skinned lemons or two bright oranges, organic if you find them. Scrub, then peel with a potato peeler. Toss the peels into the mini-prep (what would we do without this wonderful little $30 workhorse?). Chop, then add maybe ¼ cup of cane sugar and process to a paste. Again, put this into a half pint jar and store on the freezer door shelf. The sugar helps get it slushy and prevents it freezing too hard.

For all these neat little pastes, use a white plastic lid, not the two-piece canning lid. It won’t stick or rust and you can rinse it easily. Less than $2 for a dozen, they last for years. The citrus zests, ginger and cider line a shelf of the refrigerator freezer, close at hand for frequent use.

I use a lot of lemons for the zests for cooking and baking and also for making limoncello.  So, I keep fresh-squeezed lemon juice in a bottle for when I need a tablespoon and don’t have a fresh lemon.

This is absolutely as delicious and fattening as it looks. Tastes like fresh, sweet cream, but solid as you can see.

Clotted cream costing $8.95 for a tiny 6-ounce jar is just too expensive. Earlier this summer, I had a happy accident. I’d bought whipping cream and somehow it was missed and left in the car for two days. When I found it, I opened the carton and found it was still fresh and sweet! So I put it in the fridge but when I got the cream out the next day, it was solid. Clotted cream?

Unwilling to believe this, I purposely repeated, leaving the cream on the sun porch where the temps rise over 90 degrees these hot summer days. Two days in the heat and then overnight in the fridge, again I had solid, delicious sweet cream. Because the cream was unopened and pasteurized, I won’t worry about bacteria. Over the price of a small jar of clotted cream, I figure a saving of about $18.00. The cream won’t be shelf stable for a year, but I prefer a natural cream over whatever preservative is used in the jar stuff. And, it is so yummy.

What will I do come winter if a craving hits? Pour the cream into a pint canning jar, fill the crock pot halfway with hot water, set it on “keep warm” and incubate my pint of cream for two days. I’m pretty sure it will work just as well.

Almond paste. You can buy 8 ounces for nearly $5 or make 34 ounces for about $10.  See my recipe here. It makes a lot of sense to make your own and it is a kinda fun thing to do. One little hack I’ve learned since I posted the recipe back in 2015: Instead of buying whole almonds with skins and spending the hour skinning them, I found slivered almonds that have no skins. Saved an hour. I do toast the slivers for about 10 minutes at 300 degrees just to freshen them. Get some almond paste made in early October so it will be ripe and perfect when holiday baking starts.

There is a difference in almond filling for pastries and almond paste. Last year, I made some almond filling to use in my Christmas Stollen. It’s easier to make, as it uses just confectioner’s sugar instead of boiling up a sugar syrup, but in the end, we all preferred the almond paste.

Superfine sugar can be had at $12 for 3 pounds. Four pounds of regular white cane sugar is under $2.50 just about anywhere. Just superfine it: Pour about 4 cups into the big food processor or blender and process until it’s superfine. Make about a quart at a time and store in a jar, ready for those fussy, fussy recipes that call for it.

If you forgot to buy confectioner’s sugar to make cake frosting, do the above superfine process and add a couple tablespoons of cornstarch. Be sure to have the non-GMO cornstarch on hand.

Vanilla beans prices have skyrocketed to $12. We know about the crop failure a couple years ago that caused prices to soar, but shop around. I see several online stores that offer good Madagascar beans for around $3. If you see a super buy for a larger quantity, see if you can put together a group of friends to split it. Or just put them all into a tall glass jar filled with vodka or brandy. Make sure the beans are fully submerged.

You’ll always have a fresh bean for a special recipe. I pick them out with the little jar lid picker. This makes nice vanilla extract in a few months which is nice. Do not leave the beans dry — they will self destruct into powder. I did this with a few. I did put the powder into a spice jar and use it, but it was a mistake to leave them dry.

Spices. Grocery store prices for little jars of spices at $4 or more are ridiculous. First, you don’t need a new jar every time and second, they will fade before you use them. If you have a nearby store with a bulk department, go there and get just the ¼ cup or even just the tablespoon you’ll actually use before it looses its oomph. If you don’t have such a store, but a friend does, ask.

In early December, I spend about two hours in the bulk spice department of Central Market in Dallas filling herb and spice orders for my sister’s wide circle of friends. We save a fortune on expensive spices, blends and dried mushrooms.

If there’s no such bulk department within reach, reach out to friends and neighbors who probably also hate spending $4 for a tiny jar of inferior grocery store cinnamon. A pound ofpremium Vietnamese (Saigon) cinnamon for $6.95 is too much cinnamon for one household, but split that among four friends who get 4 ounces each, and everybody has enough best cinnamon for the season’s apple pies and cinnamon bun for less than $2.

Likewise, all the spices when bought in bulk. Even good salts are available in bulk and do not go stale. Kept airtight, salt is forever. A pound of Guerande Grey salt can be had for $6.50. Eight ounces of precious Fleur de Sel can be bought for $15.75. Split among four friends, each of you gets 2 ounces for less than $4. That will sprinkle a lot of peppers.

Look at Atlantic Spice and San Francisco Herbs Co. Check Amazon and do a Google search for herbs and spices. Search before you buy and save money. Look at the same sources for a matching set of spice jars, which makes an attractive and orderly spice rack.

Wine. Anybody can buy a great bottle of wine if they’re willing to spend $30, $50, or $100. I have more fun and bragging rights for finding a really good bottle for $10 or less. Look at some of the wine sellers online at Last Bottle and Wines Till Sold Out. Both offer free shipping with a few bottles. Last Bottle has a marathon event each year when you only have to order one bottle of each wine you want. Fun and a great way to try something different or indulge a yen for Chateauneuf.  Just don’t get carried away.

To be continued in Part 3.

Wendy Akin is a happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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