Saving energy in the kitchen when bread and pasta making

I’ve written up some ideas, some more practical than others depending on your individual situation, to help make sensible, frugal use of your oven or hob for some potential cost savings. These are ideas aimed at people who, like me, still want to bake bread and make pasta but want to be ‘a bit careful’.

NB. This isn’t a read for those who are really poorly off. I don’t claim to have enough information for that. I have some understanding, I do write about frugal food occasionally and I have had times in my younger life when I worried if I could feed the meter, but for full-on low-cost living advice you need specialist advice.

If you are struggling then you’re unlikely to be baking and making pasta anyway. So, these simple ideas are aimed at those who need to be a bit more careful, rather than those who are facing down fuel poverty and food banks.

Need more acute help? Please go to a site with greater practical advice, such as:

For those still here… I have a few quick wins and some bigger ideas to share and a one-pot, simple (but still incredibly delicious) pasta recipe below.

Final notes: I will add more to this resource if I can (I’ll date any new items). If you have useful resources I can embed in here please do let me know in the comments section and also if you think this article might be useful please do share it. 

Quick wins

Put a lid on it. You should always use a lid on any saucepan or stock pot to minimise heat use. A lid keeps the heat in, enabling you to keep the temperature lower and minimise heat loss. If you haven’t got a lid that fits, a plate will do. The only reason to not have a lid is when you’re stirring or you want to reduce the volume.

Swap expensive flour for shop label. It does make a difference to your bread and baked goods to have the highest quality, artisan made flour. In fact, I have to underline here that I do believe the price of these flours is actually reasonable and justifies the milling process and none of the prices are ridiculous. 

However, if you are counting pennies swapping to supermarket own label or other cheaper branded packs will eventually add up. 

That difference in loaf quality I mentioned above I do believe is true, but bread made with the very cheap flours is STILL good! I’ve used almost all the supermarket own brands myself in the past when I’ve need to buy a pack quickly. You don’t get terrible bread, just bread which has slightly less rise. You can always just compromise a little and go for one of the mid-price packs. Plus you can give the cheaper flour an extra kick in your loaf by adding a teaspoon of sugar or honey. 

A caveat here: I’m suggesting this kind of frugal approach to swapping out expensive artisan ingredients for those who really need to save. If you’re lucky enough to be able to afford to carry on buying from artisanal mills, please do – the farmers and millers that provide the wheat and flour are probably small, family run places and need your financial support too as energy costs are also hitting them. We don’t want them to disappear.

Example on prices (date:1.9.2022) for strong white bread flour.

Notes: 

Currently none of the budget supermarkets are stocking strong white bread flour to make a comparison.

All packs are 1.5kg.

Asda Own label: Strong White Bread Flour £1.10
Tesco’s Own label: Strong White bread flour£1.10
Sainsbury’s Own label: Strong White Unbleached Bread Flour £1.30
Homepride Strong White Bread Flour£1.65
M&S Canadian Very Strong White Bread Flour £2.00
Marriages 100% Canadian White Very Strong White Bread Flour£2.15
Wessex Mill Strong White Bread Flour £2.30
Allinson Premium Very Strong White Bread Flour£2.40
Matthews Cotswold Flour Churchill White Strong White Bread Flour £2.50
Shipton Mill Strong White Bread Flour £2.50

Use up what you’ve got. Normally I’m swayed by shiny new ingredients to try in my bakes and for my pasta. I know full well I’ve got a cupboard full of things; I’m just attracted by the new. If you’re the same, stop with the buying of new things until you’ve used up what you have in the fridge and cupboards. It will also minimise wastage as you’ll have more chance of going through ingredients by their use-by date. Replace rather than buy extra.

Bake bread late – or early. Have you got an overnight energy tariff? Such as Economy 7 or 10? Use your oven for baking bread and cakes etc during the cheaper hours.

What hours the cheaper tariffs are will differ between energy suppliers, so do double check on the website for your supplier, but typically it’s between 10pm to 8am. 

What hours the cheaper tariffs are will differ between energy suppliers, so do double check on the website for your supplier, but typically it’s between 10pm to 8am. 

In the UK, see the Compare the Market site webpage Is Energy Cheaper at Night? 

Turn your oven OFF. Do you really need the little clock on the oven? That’s all it’s providing when you’re not using it. When you’re not using it, turn it off at the wall socket/isolator switch. Modern ovens (post 2013*) are not draining that much when they are on standby, however older models can be draining a reasonable amount of electricity over a year. I’ve found it difficult to find a true £ representation of this as models vary so much, there’s age of the appliance to consider, the wattage and the energy provider tariff. 

*The reason newer appliances aren’t as vampiric as their predecessors is that there was EU legislation brought in to ensure new build appliances did not use more than 0.5 watts in standby or off. 

Boil the kettle for pasta. Don’t bring the saucepan to a boil by itself. Kettles are actually efficient, even though they do draw a lot of energy. A top tip here is fill your saucepan to the right level of water and tip that into the kettle, so you’re not heating additional water you don’t need.

Use a little less water for pasta. It’s typical to bathe pasta in a lot of water whilst it’s cooking, but you can reduce it by 25-30% and the pasta will still cook. Don’t go further than this or your pasta will soften unevenly and may clump. You’ll need to circulate the pasta by stirring more to reduce the chance of it sticking together, but also you’ll end up with more starch concentration in the pasta water to add to your final dish (if called for). Less water to heat: less energy used.

Make homemade pasta. Ok, so I forgive you for thinking I’m just using this as an excuse to extend my mission to get people making pasta themselves, but there’s a good reason I’m listing this. Homemade pasta, eaten on the day it was made (that is, not fully dried) can take just THREE minutes to cook. That’s just three minutes of energy on the hob as opposed to the 12+ minutes for dried pasta. For small/thin handmade shapes (such fusilli al ferro) you can actually pour over boiling water from a kettle, cover and leave it for 12-15 minutes and it’s done without extra heat, rather like an instant noodle pack.

See my post on making your own homemade pasta.

Break long pasta in half. Don’t wait for long spaghetti etc to soften and fall into your saucepan, that’s a waste of cooking time. Snap it in half (or whatever it takes to get it to fit neatly into your saucepan) and get it all cooking throughout from the start.

A bit of myth busting. I’ve seen it mentioned before that sourdough is cheaper to make because you’re not buying fresh or dried yeast. Whilst that’s true, you will be using more flour to build and feed/maintain your wild yeast. So, comme ci, comme ça… it doesn’t really make much difference here. Make sourdough because it’s a glorious thing.

gas flame

Bigger ideas

1. Batch bread baking combined with freezing

The idea behind it. If you have a freezer and provided you have the space, batch cooking in advance will be cheaper in the long run. This method allows you to make full use of your oven whilst it’s on and minimises the times you need to turn on your oven to bake.

Potential issues / caveats. The downside of this method is that you will need to prepare a large quantity of dough(s) to proof and be ready for baking at the same time. If you’re baking all the same dough recipe it’s simpler – so perhaps decide on your favourite or most versatile recipe for that week and concentrate on that. 

One other issue is the sheer volume of dough that this may require: a real problem if you knead by hand. It also might prove problematic if your mixer isn’t very big.

Positives and easy plus points. To liven it up a little, bake the same recipe as tin loaves, rolls, shaped loaves etc., and also you could add some inclusions, like nuts or seeds (see my post here for ideas). This will mean you need to alter the time that each item is taken out of the oven. It’s better to put them in together to minimise heat loss and maximise oven spring and take them out at their different baked times.

Takeaways / conclusions. Ideally, to maximise savings, you’d want to fill your oven and have the right amount of space free in the freezer. However, in reality is this really convenient? There is a good halfway house:

Make just one or two extra loaves to freeze. You’re still saving on putting the oven on that extra once or twice and a) you don’t have to make up an enormous batch and b) it uses a practical amount of freezer space.

2. Oven sharing

The idea behind it. Got a friend or family member that likes to bake too? Take turns to bake in each others’ ovens. This provide the benefits of the batch bake method mentioned above but you don’t have to try to fill the entire oven as best as you can on your own and you only put your oven on every other baking session. 

This is especially useful if you’re a single household as the price of baking the amount you want to for yourself is a ridiculously high ratio. 

It’s reminiscent of the community ovens of the past, where one central oven would be used by everyone, or where a baker would open his oven up at certain times (for a fee) for the neighbourhood.

Potential issues / caveats. Finding someone nearby to bake with, especially regularly, is easy for some and nigh-on impossible for others (I don’t have anyone like this myself). Coordinating baking days might be tricky.

Positives and easy plus points. You don’t have to plan to bake a large amount yourself, you’re just trying to fill half an oven (or less if there’s more than two of you). You’re sharing the energy costs by taking it in turns to bake.

Takeaways / conclusions. If you’ve got friends or relatives that bake as much as you do, go for it. For others without bakers around them it’s an impossible ask.

3. Combination cooking

The idea behind it. Can’t share an oven with others? Too tricky to plan to batch bake? This could be a more sensible approach to maximising the use of the energy in your oven and reduce the number of times it’s on. 

This is cooking several different types of food at the same time as your bake: so a loaf, a casserole and a pudding.

The other things with this is there are some items that need lower heat that can be put in the oven to use the residual heat after main cooking. This means the oven doesn’t need that time to get up to heat for the other foods, and in some cases rather than turning down the heat you can turn it off. For example, a meringue doesn’t actually need to cook, it just really gets dried out, so small meringues can be popped in a turned-off oven for an hour (note: large pavlovas etc probably would need longer so could go in a lowered oven for a while, then turn the oven off).

Potential issues / caveats. Needs a certain amount of planning in advance. You’ll need to cook food that have the same temperature requirement, for instance it’s no point burning a cake that needs 170C whilst you’ve got a loaf in there at 220. 

You may think that a one-pot dinner in the oven is a real blessing, but actually that only saves on the washing up and any energy used on the hob too. It’s still only one thing in an entire oven – get some more things baked in there!

Positives and easy plus points. Many things can be baked lower and slower than their usual temperature so can be also considered. Some breads do well at 200 and kept in for longer (whilst others need a high temp to get the oven spring). Do some research or for a couple of weeks jot down what you cook regularly and at what temperature: you should be able to work out what will cook with what.

Different cooking times are not a problem – just stagger when you put in or take out each item.

Takeaways. With a bit of planning this is a great and easy win to make the most of your oven. The basics rule of this approach is don’t just put the oven on for a single food item if possible (it’s not always going to be appropriate, but sometimes it’ll help).

4. All in one on the hob for pasta

The idea behind it. A non-traditional, but works, method for an all-in pasta dish. Use the energy and water that your pasta is cooking in to also cook the other ingredients.

Potential issues / caveats. There’s only so many ingredients that can be tossed into the cooking water with the pasta, so this has its limitations.

Positives and easy plus points. Oh this is easy and a bit cheeky! It mostly works for veg. Throw in some peas (frozen or fresh), chopped green beans, carrots etc and they cook along with the pasta. It also means the pasta water is a bit stock-like so don’t simply tip all the water away at the end, do use it for thickening any sauces.

Takeaways. Simple to do. Some may say that old Italian grandmothers are turning in their graves about this method, but I’m not so sure about that. Most Italian food has developed from ‘cucina povera’ or poor food, so being frugal with your energy seems actually in keeping with the whole Italian cuisine methodology. 

Once you start cooking this way you’ll realise many other ingredients that can be added in such a way. For instance, even chopped up sausage can be cooked like this.

Mushrooms and spaghetti - for the recipe in this post - Ink Sugar Spice

Red pesto and mushroom spaghetti

Don’t be fooled thinking this frugal and easy pasta dish will be mean and uninspiring. It’s utterly delicious and I frequently make this especially for my own lunch.

Notes:

  • Can be easily scaled up for more persons
  • Use a vegan pesto to make this dish fully veg-only (traditional pesto uses cow’s milk parmesan)
  • You can use traditional pesto (the green variety) but for some reason, it just works even better with a red pesto
  • Preparation time: 5 minutes
  • Cooking time: 12 minutes
  • For TWO people

Equipment

  • Small saucepan with lid
  • Knife and chopping board
  • Teaspoon
  • Wooden spoon
  • Sieve or colander

Ingredients

  • 160g of dried spaghetti or linguini
  • 80g of fresh mushrooms (approx.)
  • ¼ jar of red pesto, such as Filippo Berio’s Sun Dried Tomato Pesto
  • Teaspoon of salt

Method

  1. Boil enough water in a kettle to half fill a small saucepan
  2. Finely chop the mushrooms
  3. Pour the boiling water into the saucepan and add the salt. Bring up to a simmer and pop the pasta in (break it in half to save cooking time, see above).
  4. Gently agitate the past to ensure it doesn’t stick, place the lid on and lower the heat so it’s just bubbling
  5. After the heat calms down a bit, about 2 minutes into the cooking time, add the mushrooms
  6. Cook to the pack instruction time, which is probably around 10 minutes
  7. Drain the pasta and transfer back into the saucepan
  8. Add in the red pesto and give it a swirl round
  9. Service whilst still hot 
  10. If wanted, you can add a little extra pzazz by grating parmesan over it or adding some chopped olives

one-pot, easy, frugal pasta dish (see recipe at the end of the article)

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