wellness program how to budget

wellness program : Top tips for baking on a budget 2/2

This post is a guest post from Joanne Ng

Part 2 (read the part one here) of the follow up on our wellness event Let’s talk around a cake on Saturday 27 August.  We used baking a cake to discuss clever ways to work within a budget.

For budget baking, it is a good idea to have a base recipe that is not just low cost, but also forgiving enough that you can modify it based on your preferences and what is readily available.  For Let’s talk around a cake, an event part of our wellness program, we used this base recipe:


I chose this recipe for a few reasons:
Low cost- it uses no eggs and much less butter than typical cake recipes.
Fool proof- it is a simple mix-wet-ingredients-with-dry-ingredients recipe, with very little room for error
Adaptable- it is a good base recipe to have, because it is very forgiving. This means that can easily be substituted.
Top 5 tips for baking on a tight budget
1. Shop smart


The imported flour on the left costs 65000vnd; the Vietnam-produced flour on the right costs 16000vnd. I tried both, and could not discern one from the other.

2. Use vegetable oil instead of melted butter.

Note that it is only okay to replace butter with oil if the recipe calls for melted butter. If the creaming method is used, oil cannot be used as a substitute.

3. Make use of local and seasonal produce

• In the wellness event I replaced the peaches in the original recipe with mango. Fresh peaches are not readily available in Vietnam, and tin of peaches would have cost me 80000vnd. A whole kilo of ripe, juicy mangoes only sold for 20000vnd. Local, seasonal fruit tends to not just be cheaper, but also better quality.
• Use soy milk instead of milk. A carton of milk in the supermarket costs 30000vnd, ten times the cost of fresh soymilk from the market.

4. Using leftover ingredients you have at home, that will otherwise go to waste:

• Thin coconut milk with water as a substitute for milk
• Thin yoghurt with water as a substitute for milk
• If you have a jar of jam that never seems to be eaten, omit fresh fruit from your cake and instead, spread jam on top of your cake after baking. Sprinkle coconut if you have any.

5. Trying variations of the recipe

Baking should be a hobby that you enjoy, but if you can only bake one type of cake then it will quickly get very boring.
• Use different types of fruit:
• Caramelised banana. Arrange sliced bananas on the bottom of the tin, and pour over some caramel. Pour the cake mix on top and bake. Serve by flipping cake upside down so the bananas are on the top.
• Apple and cinnamon
• Pear and chocolate.
Adjust how much sugar you use depending on how sweet your fruit is. Avoid fruit with too much water, like watermelon.
• Use brown sugar instead of white sugar. Brown sugar gives a lovely caramel flavour that will go particularly well with bananas and apples.milk-cake
• Add ground cinnamon, vanilla, grated ginger or lime zest.
• Add a small amount of strong coffee.
• Tres leches (“Three milks”) is a type of cake popular in South America. A plain cake is baked, sometimes with cinnamon, and when it is still warm the cake is pricked with a fork
and a mixture of fresh milk, evaporated milk and condensed milk is poured over the cake. I like coconut milk, so I use coconut milk instead of evaporated milk.
With more practice, you will gain intuition about which substitutions will work and which will not.
Why are my cakes not turning out well?
I did suspect that baking in Vietnam is not as accessible a hobby as baking in Europe or America, and several young women I spoke to confirmed this to be true. As such, I’ve put together a troubleshooting list that I hope beginners will find helpful in understanding what their bakes have turned out disappointing.

Troubleshooting baking disasters

• Getting to know your oven
Not all ovens are created equal. If your cakes never turn out like they should do even though you’re certain that you have followed instructions word-for-word, then maybe your oven is the issue. Due to inconsistencies in calibration, some ovens are hotter and some cooler than others. For example, the oven in the Tay Ho volunteer house is cool, so I adapt to that by setting the oven to 195C even though my recipe calls for 175C. In contrast, the oven in my family home in England is much hotter than it should be. For the same cake recipe, I baking-powderwould set that oven to just 140C.

• Checking the expiry date of your baking powder
If your cakes are not rising as they should be, it might be because your baking powder is not longer active. To keep your baking powder from degrading, store it in an airtight
container and always use a clean, dry spoon.

• The importance of salt
If your cake tastes bland, then try adding a pinch of salt into your batter. Most people do not realise that salt is just as important in baking as in savoury cooking. Of course, your cake should never taste salty. What salt does is to bring out the flavours of your other ingredients.

• Not overmixing
When flour comes into contact with liquid and is stirred around, proteins in the flour combine to form “gluten”. Gluten strands are very elastic, so if your cakes are rubbery rather than light and fluffy, you are probably overmixing your cake mixture. Sometimes this is desirable, such as in bread making where the bread dough is kneaded to encourage gluten formation. But if you want your cake to be light and fluffy, make sure that once you add flour into your mixture, stir gently only until “just combined”. This means that once you can no longer see dry pockets of flour, stop mixing.

• Testing the cake
Ten minutes before the end of the recipe cook time, stick a knife or a toothpick into the centre of your cake to check if your cake is done. If your knife comes out clean or with a few dry crumbs, then your cake is ready! You should remove it from the oven regardless of the time given in the recipe instructions, or your cake will be dry and overbaked.
Likewise, if the you test your cake after the recommended cooking time is up but your knife still comes out wet, then your cake needs more time in the oven no matter what the recipe says.

Happy baking!

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