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Monday, March 30, 2015

Comparing the price of cake to pie

We've had a run of cakes lately. I do love a good slice of cake. But, after totaling the cost to make a layer cake, it just seemed expensive. I also a big fan of a good slice of pie. So, I was thinking, just how do the two compare, price wise.

My layer cakes cost me about $2.75 per whole cake (if using cocoa powder, for chocolate buttercream frosting). One cake is enough for dessert for 5 of us, on 3 nights (slim slices of cake). That's about 92 cents per family-dessert.

I get 2 dinner's worth of dessert for 5 of us from a pie. (Again, slim slices of pie, drat those kids had to grow up and eat more! Now my slice of pie had to shrink!) But what does a typical pie cost me to bake?

My pie pastry recipe makes enough pie dough for 5 single crusts. The whole batch costs about $2.15, for my ingredients, so 43 cents per single crust.

If I make rhubarb custard crumb pie (garden rhubarb), my additional ingredients of eggs, sugar, flour and butter cost about 75-85 cents. So, my rhubarb-crumb pie costs as much as $1.30 per pie, or 65 cents per family-dessert.

If I make 2-crust blackberry pie (with free blackberries, they're everywhere, here), I double my cost on the crust to 86 cents, but only add 15 cents of additional ingredients (sugar, flour, salt), for a pie costing $1.01 total, or 51 cents per family-dessert. Apple pies, made with home-grown apples compare similarly to the blackberry.

Pies for which I have to buy filling ingredients (like lemon meringue, banana cream or chocolate cream) can be considerably more expensive to make. Of the store-bought filling choices, lemon meringue comes in at about 80 cents for the filling (using bottled lemon juice and skipping the lemon zest), or $1.23 for a whole pie. A banana cream pie costs about $1.10-1.20 for the banana, whip cream, and scratch-cooked vanilla pudding, or $1.65 to $1.75 including the crust, or almost 90 cents per family-dessert (close to the cost of scratch-baked cake with buttercream icing). And chocolate cream pie is a sheer indulgence, at over $3 per whole pie.

So, my conclusion with this analysis, if I'm counting pennies closely, then a simple pie made with home-grown fruit is most affordable, and more nutritious than cake.

This past week, I was wanting a frugal pie for dessert, meaning no eggs and less sugar. We are now entering rhubarb season. Rhubarb will be my most economical fruit for the next 2  1/2 months. But, "regular" two-crust rhubarb pie does not thrill me. So, I scrounged the freezer and found a few bags of frozen blackberries from last summer's harvest. I used half blackberries, half chopped rhubarb in this pie. I flavored the filling with some orange zest, and used about 2/3 cup sugar, and a pinch of baking soda (to reduce tartness, without adding more sugar), plus some flour for thickening, and a dash of salt. It was delicious, satisfied my hunger for pie, and only cost about $1 for the whole pie.

However,  there is 7-minute frosting, which brings the cost of layer cake way down . . .
Hmmm, I may need some more calculations, and a bit of baking and tasting :-) .



  1. We're not huge dessert eaters so we never eat pie and rarely eat cake. We might have a dessert once every three months and then it would be sponge cake with strawberries (from Dad's garden!). The sponge cake is from scratch but I always have the ingredients in the house since it takes such few ingredients.


    1. Hi Alice,
      My husband loves sponge cake! With garden strawberries sounds delicious.

  2. Pie almost always wins in my house. Unlike you, I love me a good tart rhubarb pie, straight up. Fruit pies are my favorite--for the most part, I'm not a fan of cream pies.

    When I do make cakes, I don't always frost them. Sometimes a few chocolate chips or nuts are sprinkled on top, maybe powdered sugar or a dab of zip whip, or maybe just plain. Just a taste preference, but it probably saves us money (although I am often thinking of the calories it saves, as well!).

    Interesting cost comparison! Have you ever made a chocolate pudding cake? That's a favorite around here, and sooooo inexpensive to make--uses 1 tablespoon of butter and some cocoa powder--great when we need a chocolate fix.

    1. Hi Kris,
      By chocolate pudding cake, do you mean a cake that bakes it's own pudding in with the cake? We call that hot fudge pudding cake in our house. And yes, that's a favorite quick dessert for us! Sometimes I add blackberries to the bottom of the dish before adding the batter and hot water. I like that berry-chocolate flavor.

      Oh you eat much healthier cakes than we do! Although I do sometimes bake snack cakes which don't have any frosting. Do you remember a product called Snackin' Cake? It was a mix that you combined everything right in the pan and baked. I have my own recipe for that. Pumpkin-chocolate chip is a favorite, here.

    2. Your hot fudge pudding cake sounds like the same idea--you put the batter in a pan, sprinkle sugar mixed with cocoa powder on the top, and cover it with hot water. Never thought about adding anything else, but I bet your blackberries are good.

      I think I remember Snackin' Cake. I don't remember using it, myself, but my brother-in-law used to buy it and make it (apparently my sister didn't bake enough cakes for him ... ).

  3. Target has eggs for .99. With the cartwheel coupon makes them .94. To bad I live an hour away from any Target.

    1. Thank you so much for this!!!! I forgot to check Target's ads online. I've got to go by there on Wednesday, anyways, so I'll pick up my eggs then. Again, thank you!!

  4. Interesting price breakdowns...I too would favor a pie made with homegrown fresh fruits over other kinds of pies and cakes, also more nutritious. We don't eat dessert often, but we do snack throughout the day. Since keeping a daily food journal, I have limited my snacks to an occasional piece of Dove chocolate, usually only one piece per day. (Woohoo lost about 5 lbs, not exactly sure since I hardly weigh myself, but I am this weight only when I am sick lol) Next month, I will do a price breakdown of ingredients (similar to your pie prices) so I can calculate the cost of ingredients used per recipe, and depending on how many meals made, the cost of food consumed per day. To meet my $300 per month food budget goal, I don't want to only tract food that is purchased, but actual price of food that is consumed. The breakdown at $300/mo is approximately $7/day for husband and me, and $3/day for my dad. He doesn't always eat the same foods we do. That way, some months I may spend more to restock our pantry when there is a good sale (prices below my unit price point), and thereby increase our food stock inventory, whereas other months sales are fewer and our spending lower but our inventory will be used up too. I told my husband that our food budget in particular is where I want to spend the most amount of time tweaking...this is our mindless chronic (bad) habit category...other spending categories like clothing, furnishing, entertainment, etc. are pretty much at will and in control (sort of), and we can at least make conscious decisions, rather than get stuck in a mindless groove as with eating.


    1. Hi YHF,
      Great job on losing 5 lbs!!!

      Yeah, I think it's important to isolate the areas of your budget that you feel could be improved upon. As you said, your other budget categories are fine, but you want to tweak just the groceries.

      I play a little game at dinner some nights. I calculate what the dinner cost to make, just in my head. It's kind of fun for me. And when I hit upon a meal that is super cheap to make, for us, then it gets repeated on regular basis.

      Good luck on your process.

  5. We don't have access to fruit and buying it can run the cost of pies up quickly. However, I do find that my family likes quick breads as a dessert so whenever I can do pumpkin, zucchini or things like that at low prices they're my best bet for the budget. However, hands down baking cinnamon rolls seems to be my best cost saver. I can add eggs or not. I can use whichever sugar I have most of. I can buy cinnamon in bulk to cut costs. It's kind of a win win for me because my family considers them (fresh from the oven) to be the ultimate treat.

    1. Hi Shara,
      You're right about that, you have to find what works for your own household. We've been pretty fortunate for the last 27 years, we've always had fruit trees, both at this house and the previous one. Buying fruit could make pies rather expensive to bake.

      I love cinnamon rolls. For a long while, I would take 1 portion of the sandwich bread dough and make a batch of whole wheat cinnamon rolls for the next day's breakfast. Yum, yum, yum!

  6. Lili, Does your family have a preference between pies or cake, if they have a choice?

    1. Hi live and learn,
      we seem to be equal opportunity dessert lovers, here. Pie, cake, pudding, ice cream . . .whatever we have, that is our favorite! But I do think we follow some kind of calendar with cakes and pies. We seem to eat more cakes in winter and early spring, and more pies mid-spring through autumn. Likely due to the availability/unavailability of pie ingredients in the garden.

  7. Interesting post. I love fruit but hate cooked fruit, so fruit pies are a no go for me, And that is precisely why I make them sometimes. They are no temptation to me. We all love cake, but I usually make just a one layer cake so we will have little left over. Cakes do tempt me and I usually succumb to temptation. I guess I need to factor temptation into the price as well. Looks like I need to make fruit pies!

    1. Hi Anne,
      I think I understand the not liking cooked fruit, as I feel that way about cooked strawberries, as in strawberry-rhubarb pie. It's a texture thing. But other berries, and pie, yum! Have you ever made a fresh strawberry pie?


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