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Friday, January 18, 2013

Is DIY worth it? Making Cookies

With the economy still trying to bounce back to normal, many families are feeling the pinch of a tight budget. Because of this, Do-It-Yourself kits and How-To guides have had a rise in popularity. But with companies able to mass-produce items at a cheap cost, are we really saving ourselves any money? Or are we just stretching ourselves even thinner?

I set out to discover which is better: making cookies from scratch, or buying the refrigerated cookie dough.

To make things fair, I used a refrigerator cookie dough recipe since that is the kind that you purchase at the store. It can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until you have a sudden urge for cookies, thus the term 'refrigerator cookie'.

I started out by purchasing my pre-made dough. Because this type of item doesn't usually have an off-brand available, I purchased the peanut-butter chocolate chip variety that is made by Nestle. It cost me $3.99. These cookies were pre-scored as well, and placing them on the pan only took me a couple of minutes. The package made 2 dozen cookies, and I was completely finished with making all the cookies and putting my pans away in less than a half hour. And they were delicious. I had five.

Next I made my "from scratch" cookies. I used a recipe from an old cookbook, one that I rely on when I want an old-fashioned recipe. Seriously, this book is so old there is a recipe for squirrel in there! As I glanced over the ingredient list, I realized I already had all the items available at home, so I went to the store to see how much all the ingredients would have cost me. I used +Save-A-Lot because they always have great prices, and the items I was after were all standard things - nothing I would need to turn to a 'name-brand' for. Below, I broke down the total cost of the item versus how much I needed for the recipe.

Total Item Cost                            Cost for Amount Needed
5 lb bag of flour = $1.99                               2 cups of flour = 22 cents
10 oz baking powder = $1.19                      3/4 teaspoon baking powder = 2 cents
4.25 oz ground cinnamon = $1.99              1/2 teaspoon cinnamon = 2 cents
1 lb unsalted butter = $2.69                        1/3 cup unsalted butter = 45 cents
18 oz peanut butter = $1.79                        1/4 cup peanut butter = 22 cents
4 lb bag of sugar = $2.29                            3/4 cup sugar = 22 cents
30 count eggs = $2.89                                 1 egg = 10 cents
11.5 oz milk chocolate chips = $2.19         2 cups milk chocolate chips = $2.19

The total I'd have to spend if I had no ingredients on hand at home was $17.02. Since I had everything on hand at home I only counted it as the cost for the ingredients I needed, which was $3.44. This was pretty close to the amount I spent at the store for the pre-made dough ($3.99) but I was happy to see that instead of making only 2 dozen, the recipe I was using would make 5 dozen cookies. When I took that down to the per dozen cost, the pre-made cookies came out at about $1.99 per dozen, but the homemade dough only cost me 69 cents per dozen. At this point, I was certain that the homemade cookies would win.

Unfortunately, the money spent isn't always the deciding factor in the Do-It-Yourself world. When I went to make the dough, it took me a good twenty minutes to make. It didn't come out as soft as the pre-made dough, and because it is a refrigerator dough, I had to form it into a roll and place it in the fridge to chill for a few hours. Forming the dough was no easy task. It seemed too crumbly and I wondered why there hadn't been more butter in the recipe. I ended up making a roll of dough that was about three feet long and wrestled it into my fridge. At this point, my kitchen was a floury/doughy mess, there were spilled chocolate chips on the floor, my two year old had unfolded all my laundry and my youngest was crying to be fed.

I took a break and set my house back to rights, already thinking that this recipe seemed more hassle than it was worth. I was curious to see if the homemade dough would make cookies anywhere near as good as the Nestle cookies. Finally, eager to get rid of the crumbly log of cookie dough in my fridge, I took out the homemade dough and began to cut it into slices. Many of the slices crumbled off, and I made a giant mess as I put them on the cookie sheet. I thought again how the recipe would benefit from more butter, but I wasn't in the mood to play with it anymore by this point.

I wish I could say that I baked the homemade dough and the cookies were delicious... but they weren't. They were the too-sweet type of cookies that reminded me of something that only a child would want to eat. I threw the rest of the dough away - I wasn't willing to go through more of the mess and time needed to finish making the homemade cookies, especially when they didn't even taste very good!

It could be that the recipe was just an outdated one, and I could have found a better refrigerator dough recipe. It could be that more butter would have improved the dough, or that the author of the recipe was holding back a crucial portion of it - much like my Granny did when she was writing down her secret recipes. She would give you the recipe itself, but she wouldn't tell you all her tricks to make it come out perfectly.

Whatever the reason, the homemade refrigerator dough didn't stand up to the pre-made refrigerator dough. And I know one thing is for certain: I'll never feel guilty about buying pre-made dough again!


  1. Don't forget to add in three cost of your time. Even at a modest $10 an hour you have invested way more in the time factor too

  2. I thought about that somewhere half-way through, and the it made me a little sad. I was really rooting (at the beginning) for the homemade cookies to be the winner! I think I'm going to try again using the refrigerator dough, but this time with a simple sugar-cookie recipe :)

  3. I like the premade dough, so quick and easy, no mess! I buy them all the time!

  4. I like to do DIY party supplies,clothes,purses,and crafts but NEVER food lol .The outcome is very interesting because a lot of moms mainly do homemade food because they think its cheaper/healthy.I'll give them the healthier part but not the cheaper lol .

  5. Bluecupcake, I have to agree with you there. I have been disappointed a lot lately with my DIY experiments in the kitchen. But that's why I'm doing it! At least this way I won't feel bad when I buy pre-made stuff :)

  6. I give you lots of credit for that incredible math. I'm horrible at math,lol. My family loves the store bought cookie dough. It's quick & easy. We have division between Pillsbury & Toll House. On the other hand, I prefer homemade. It's more time consuming, & if you don't have all of the ingredients on hand it can be a pain.But you do know everything that went into it. Plus there's something about baking something from scratch & your family devouring it.

  7. I made cookies once before and it was a lot of fun. I think knowing what goes into the food is a good thing plus spending quality time with family making them is fun!

  8. I decided long ago that there were two things I would never make from scratch again: chocolate chip cookies and canned foods. The cost is not that different (sometimes less when you factor in sales and coupons) and there is no mess to clean up.

    1. Gotta love the convenience of modern-day, and you're right about the cost after coupons part. I think my mom still saves a buck when she cans, but she's lucky enough to have room for a big garden. (and five kids still at home to help tend it!)

  9. I make my cookies from scratch, only because I make like 12 dozen at a time... I have to mail them off to kids in college, etc.. The other plus that I like about making from scratch is that I can control the ingredients, omitting or adding where I like, and I can keep a lot of the preservatives and such out. That being said... I ONLY buy the sugar cookie premade dough in rolls, or the powdered mix when I have to make sugar cookies...mine always come out nasty and weird...lol.. So, I don't want to come off as a pompous bag by saying you only get good cookies from scratch...I just do it because I have about 20 tried and true recipes that I can make from memory, and I always have the stuff on hand. :)

  10. I have always said this! This was a great breakdown. I stopped making cookies from scratch a while ago. Well, I sometimes make them if we happen to have the ingredients on hand but for the most part I find it MUCH simpler to buy the frozen dough.