Baking can be an expensive hobby. From bowls to tins, rolling pins to using good quality, fresh ingredients; it all soon adds up. I wanted to put budget ingredients to the test against some of the more premium products available.
I decided on a good, basic recipe – a Victoria Sponge. A staple in every bakers arsenal. I would bake two cakes and compare them side by side, and to make it completely fair, request the assistance from friends and loved ones in a blind taste test!
I will be making both cakes using the same recipe, baked in the same tins at the same temperature for the same amount of time. Every part of this experiment has been carefully controlled to get a fair result. All prices are from my local Tesco and are correct as of the date of this blog post.
I, myself in my every day kitchen tend to use a mid-range flour and Stork in sponge cakes, butter in most other things and always free-range eggs. This review is simply a baking comparison between the cheapest and more expensive baking ingredients I could find in my supermarket, and the results I found when I did it.
How much difference can there really be in the ingredients? Is the old saying true of ‘buy cheap, buy twice? Do you really get what you pay for? Let’s find out!
8″ Victoria Sponge baked in two sandwich tins;
- 200g self raising flour
- 200g butter
- 200g caster sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix all ingredients together, split into two sandwich tins and bake at 170C for 20 minutes.
- 100g butter
- 200g icing sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream the butter, add the icing sugar and vanilla and mix until smooth.
This is the total cost of ingredients to buy for everything in the picture and the icing sugar (which I genuinely forgot to put in the shot!). At over £10 more expensive, the ‘premium’ selection, coming in at £16.44 includes household names like Homepride and Lurpack, while the ‘budget’ range at £6.61 is mostly supermarket brand with a few exceptions where the supermarket didn’t stock a name brand alternative. These prices are for the ingredients in total and not the amount of ingredients in the cake. Let’s break it down a bit and see the differences.
Let’s start with flour. My Victoria Sponge recipe calls for Self Raising. One major difference between these two is that they look the same size but in fact, the Homepride box weighs in at 1 KG for £1.50 whereas the Tesco Everyday Value is a larger 1.5 KG for 45p. The Homepride flour looked a lot finer and more powder-like in texture.
Ok. So the ‘budget’ option for this isn’t strictly butter, but it was the cheaper alternative available in my local Tesco, coming in at 55p for 250g versus the Lurpak butter of £1.70 for the same amount. I chose the spread for two reasons. One, someone on Twitter said that’s how they made their buttercream and I was curious and two, it was the cheapest product and that’s what I was going for with this one. For a little extra cost you can use supermarket own unsalted butter.
For a box of 6 eggs, there wasn’t much in the price. The Everyday Value eggs from caged hens at 70p and the Happy Eggs at 89p. This one is more of a moral issue for me I think. I would rather bake with free range eggs in the knowledge the hens were happier. I would pay 19p extra any day for that.
There was only one choice of caster sugar available in my Tesco and that was good old Silver Spoon. A firm favourite of mine and a bargain in anyones book at 99p for 500g.
As with the caster sugar, there was only one option for baking powder too, and that was Dr. Oetker. Available to buy in a pot or sachets. However, my local store had sold out of the pots and so sachets were my only option. Not bad at £1 for 30g which works out at 6 sachets of 1 teaspoon of baking powder.
This is the biggest price jump at £4.29 difference between the Neilsen Massey Vanilla Bean Paste (£5.59 for 118ml) and the Tesco Madagascan Vanilla Extract (£1.30 for 60ml) They are visibly different in quality, with the Neilsen Massey being a thick paste with visible vanilla flecks and the Tesco extract being watery in consistency.
Silver Spoon to the rescue once more with the icing sugar. Again, this was the only option available to me but one to suit all budgets at 78p for 500g.
Lastly, the jam. The tart and tasty strawberry jam filling that makes a Victoria Sponge stand out from the rest. This was the second biggest price difference and one that shocked me as I bought the ingredients for this post. With the Bonne Maman Strawberry Conserve coming in at £2.29 for 370g and the Tesco Everyday Value Strawberry Jam at just 29p for 454g. I usually buy a mid-range jam so I’m interested to see how these two fair against one another.
The budget sponge was up first. I made the recipe and split into the two lined 8″ sandwich tins and baked for 20 minutes at 170C. Once out of the oven, I transferred them to a cooling rack. I then repeated this exactly using the premium ingredients. The only differences I saw at this stage were the premium ingredients made for a more yellow coloured mixture.
Once both sets of cakes were out of the oven and cooled, you could already see a difference. The ‘premium’ sponges on the left and the ‘budget’ sponges on the right. It’s clear that the ‘premium’ sponges are darker in colour, haven’t shrunk away from the pan as much as the ‘budget’ sponge and have risen a lot more. The sides also look crisp and even, while the ‘budget’ sponges have ‘crumbed’ around the edge and top.
To make the buttercream, I mixed the butter/spread on it’s own for 1 minute then added in the icing sugar and vanilla and mixed on a fast speed until it was smooth. I could tell a difference in consistency when transferring into bowls with the Lurpack buttercream (left) being much firmer than the spread buttercream (right). Visually however, there wasn’t much in it, with the only obvious difference being in the specks of vanilla in the ‘premium’ filling.
I spread the buttercream over their respective sponges and then spread a layer of jam. I then sandwiched the cake and finished them both with a dusting of icing sugar indicative of a classic Victoria Sponge.
Let’s see how they compare.
They both look pretty tasty if I do say so myself. Separately, I don’t think I could tell any difference. It’s only when you sit them side by side that you can see the rise in the ‘premium’ sponge sits a lot higher.
These prices have been worked out for the amount of ingredients you need out of the packets bought in the top pictures. This cost doesn’t include the tins, baking paper or the electricity to bake it.
The Curve Ball
I wanted to add a third cake to my blind taste test, a shop bought cake. I found a Tesco Value Raspberry Flavoured Sponge cake for 58p. FIFTY EIGHT PENCE. I simply had to add it to my line up. I know it’s raspberry and not strawberry but it was the closest I could find to a Victoria sponge in the value range and I had to know the witchcraft how they could make a cake for 58p. It’s a lot smaller than the others, hence the different plate, so I will be cutting it up into slices for the taste test.
The Blind Taste Test
My partner Tim was understandably excited when I called him to tell him he had not one, not two, but three cakes to taste when he got home. However, I needed a few more opinions so I invited a few friends round and thrust some cake at them. I will take part in the test also but as I know what cake will be what, I don’t have the ‘blind’ element on my side in this comparison.
Slicing them really gave me an indication of how they would be. The 58p Supermarket cake felt like sponge… but not cake sponge, washing up sponge. The two home-made ones were a lot nicer to cut with the ‘premium’ ingredients cake slicing the best.
I noted down some comments from my friends when they were enjoying the cakes:
58p Supermarket Cake
- “Very sweet… really dry.”
- “This tastes like the flour has been swept off the floor.”
- “It’s just too small! Not very aesthetically appealing.”
- “If someone gave me this cake, I’d think they didn’t like me.”
Budget Ingredients Cake
- “Better sponge, the buttercream has a weird aftertaste though…”
- “Not as sweet as the first one but in a really good way.”
- “This is a lovely cake!”
- “Perfectly alright. A nice cake for a Sunday afternoon.”
Premium Ingredients Cake
- “Wow. You can a actually taste the quality is better…”
- “The texture and colour of the sponge and buttercream is so much nicer than the last two.”
- “There’s a wider difference in the taste of this and the second (budget ingredients) cake than there is to look at them.”
- “This cake is a different league.”
So, having baked two cakes and tried all three, here are my thoughts.
The 58p Supermarket cake was a waste of time, I knew it wasn’t going to be amazing but I was surprised at just how fake it tasted. It was a bit like eating a washing up sponge with sugar on it. Considering I’ve shown you can actually buy the ingredients for not much money, I would 100% advise you to always home bake your cakes.
The ‘budget’ ingredients cake was nice. If I was served a slice of that with my afternoon tea I would be very happy indeed. It goes to show you can bake a lovely Victoria sponge cake for less than £3.50. It was an even bake, spongy in texture, not too sweet and nice to look at. The buttercream, however, wasn’t for me. I think buttercream should be made with real butter.
The ‘premium’ ingredients cake was awesome. I’ll be honest with you, I’ve been baking for five years and I thought I knew my cakes, but the results of this test surprised me. Having baked with all manner of ingredients from when I started to now, I had always known that you can taste quality and sometimes if it was on offer, I would buy posh flour or more expensive butter, but this is the first time I have used all premium products on one cake and you can really taste it. It’s light, it’s baked beautifully, it’s the perfect balance between sweet enough to enjoy and not so sweet you need to go to the dentist after. The buttercream is thick and velvety and the jam is tart and compliments the rest of the cake fantastically.
If you are baking a cake for your afternoon tea, there is no reason not to use budget ingredients. It produced a fine cake great for any table, but if you really want to impress someone and want to go all out, the premium products are the way to go.
If you want to turn your baking hobby into a career, check out my ebook How To Start A Cake Business From Home for everything you need to know about running a successful baking business, including pricing, marketing, insurance and much more!
Thank you for reading. Give it a try and let me know how you get on either on Facebook or Twitter and Instagram.