The Home Baking Quality Edge

Much is made in the media of the shortcomings of home cooks, and their increasing inability to compete with the quality of restaurant food. Which in and of itself is a kind of irony, since for most of the last century dining out was what people did when they didn’t have access to the good stuff, i.e. a home-cooked meal. Of course in the last three decades we’ve witnessed major change on that front. Restaurants have steadily gotten better, and dual income families have increasingly outsourced food preparation. Over the last 15 years especially, both phenomena have driven each other, producing more and better out-of-house eating.

And of course when one industry expands, it draws others to it, such that nowadays the restaurant industry has access to tools and resources it never had before. Restaurants are increasingly acquiring preparation equipment that the home cook could never hope to compete with. Factor in the prime ingredients supplied to high-end restaurants by boutique meat, poultry and produce purveyors, and you’ve got a scenario where the home cook is significantly outgunned.

But in the world of bakery and pastry the tables are turned. Here it’s the home chef who has the big advantage. Not necessarily with equipment (though deck ovens are overrated in my opinion in terms of what they can achieve vis-a-vis your Maytag), but with ingredients. Home bakers can painlessly purchase ingredients of a quality that commercial bakers can only dream of. The reason, baking is a commodity business. Even boutique bakers know that consumers will only pay so much for a loaf of bread, no matter how good it is. Which means that they’re under tremendous pressure to make quality compromises, even on a basic ingredient like flour (to say nothing of luxury items like chocolate and real fruit).

Think of that next time you’re picking up a sack of King Arthur flour or a bag of Ghiradelli chocolate chips. An extra buck for either one may be no big deal to you, but it would be enough to completely collapase the profit margin over at the Corner Bakery. So while your confidence in your ability to make sticky buns as good as theirs may be flagging, from an ingredient quality standpoint you’re already off to a significant head start.

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