Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Cooking for a Crowd: Episode 4 - Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars {Recipe Included}

Here is it! My first dessert-themed Cooking for a Crowd episode. It has been a few months since I've been on the dessert rotation, but I'm back at it full time again. I realized as my turn approached that I have never calculated the actual cost going into my crowd desserts before. Baking often uses expensive ingredients such as butter, peanut butter, chocolate, nuts, fruit, or molasses, so it can be challenging finding a recipe for something sweet that doesn't make your budgeting attempts turn sour. Not knowing where to start, I figured a $5 budget sounded like a great goal. I had barely began running figures before I realized what kind of challenge I was up for. Both Aaron and my tastebuds agreed on cookies, and for you blog readers I wanted to stay in the realm of more traditional desserts, so you're not left feeling like you have to turn to something exotic in order to bake within your budget. 

Well what's more traditional than a chocolate chip cookie? I looked up a bunch of different recipes, but none of them were quite what I was looking for. I did find some great ideas though, and finally made my own recipe by comparing notes and adding some of my own touch.

Technically for a pan this size, I needed to use a 3 sticks of butter, which would've meant a cost of $2.25 for one ingredient! That would take up half of my budget. I needed to cut costs somewhere, so I decided to substitute half the butter for oil. But wait -- before you raise your eyebrows at the thought of oil in cookies, let me remind you of every other mouth-watering baked good that calls for oil. Cakes, muffins, brownies.... I hesitated at the idea at first (mainly because I knew I'd have to tell you all what I did), but recalling that most baked goods use oil instead of butter eased my mind enough to go ahead with it. By substituting 1.5 sticks of butter, I saved 64 cents. That may not seem like very much, but it's equal to the cost of a stick of butter. Plus, when you're working on a recipe with a final cost estimated between $5-$7, that's a 10% savings, which is pretty significant.

Another area I saved money was with the eggs. I found lots of recipes that had you divide them and only use the yolks, which I think is a waste of a perfectly good whole egg. If you're like me, whenever you have to divide an egg, you stick the other half in the refrigerator to use somewhere else only to end up forgetting about it. So in this recipe I only used whole eggs, which saved me another 18c. 

And finally, the other area where I cut my expenses was in chocolate chips. This might be a huge no-no for some of you chocolate lovers out there, but for those who are truly trying to reduce their grocery spending, you could save yourself quite a bit of cash by using less chocolate.

I bought the chocolate chips at our local bulk food store the day I did my baking, so I didn't have time to search for the best deal in town. They had regular-sized chips for $2.91/lb or mini chips for $2.62/lb. I chose the mini chocolate chips for two reasons: first, because they were obviously cheaper per pound than the regular size, but also because they would spread better throughout the pan, making it look like there are more chocolate chips than there really are. 

Comparing recipes again, I was "supposed to" use 4 cups of regular sized chocolate chips. The bag of mini chips that I had bought cost me $3 for 1.15 pounds, or 2 1/2 cups. There again, if I used the whole bag it would've been a huge cost for just one ingredient, so I decided to only use half, putting my chocolate chip expense at $1.50 for this recipe. Looking back, I feel like that was a good amount, but I would be hesitant to go any less than that. By using 1 1/4 cups of mini chocolate chips, there was just enough in each bite, but it didn't give you that extra gooey, loaded chocolatey center. So in my recipe below, I upped the amount to 2 cups to keep everybody happy. In being frugal, you don't want people to feel like you're ultra stingy or that they're being gypped. 

For serving, I cut them into 2" squares, making 48 pieces total. The one sheet pan was enough dessert for everybody (I was serving 40 people, for those of you who didn't catch that). They're such a great grab-and-go snack that we didn't bring home any leftovers. This amount would be perfect for a potluck, but if you're planning on serving them individually on plates, like as the main dessert for an event, I might recommend cutting them a little bit bigger. You'll have to decide what fits your needs best.

My total cost into the dessert was about $5.24. My original total would've been $9.36 if I hadn't cut expenses in butter, eggs, and chocolate chips. By looking for ways to reduce cost, I ended up saving a total of $4.12. That's 44% saved! What an exciting amount! 

For cost per serving, the total equaled 11c per square (and would have been 19c before savings). 


  1. "I knew I'd have to tell you all what I did"... this made me laugh! Also the part about the chocolate chips. Esther, I think only a small segment of the population even cares whether you use oil or butter for a potluck dish.

    As to being stingy or not, I think it's more of a heart issue than a chocolate chip issue. Stingy would be skimping on chocolate chips for the potluck so you can eat more yourself. Skimping because you have to fit the dessert for 40 people into a small budget isn't being stingy, in my opinion. Some people think that the more money you spend, the more generous you are. Spending more money to make people think you're generous isn't much different than spending money to make people think you're rich. It has more to do with pride than generosity.

    Last year someone noticed that I calculate my recipes down to the penny, and they commented "she probably brings the very cheapest dish she can find to a potluck, and then eats the most expensive food that other people bring". They only said that because I keep track of how much everything costs. Dumb. But if people want to think that, let them think that (especially if they're just random people on the internet).

    By the way, what kind of oil did you end up using?

    1. Having to find ways to save money is a very serious thing for many people with tight finances, and food is an area that is easy for all of us to spend more than we really need. As a stay at home mom, this is one area that I am in control of (more or less) in the budget, so it's my area to help our income - by controlling our outgo. Maybe counting our pennies is leaning toward the extreme side, but it's a great way to keep yourself accountable in kitchen.

      In this recipe, I used canola oil. I'm curious how much it would've cost you to make it with your not-in-the-middle-of-nowhere prices on groceries?

    2. I finally got around to making these!! My cost ended up being about $4.55, but I only used 1 c. of the mini chips (that's all that was left in the bag!). Had I used another 1/4 c. of chips, the cost would have been closer to $5.00. Still, no complaints and everyone who tried them thought they were delicious! Thanks for sharing your recipe!