Supermarket Challenge: The ‘Most Marvellous’ Chocolate Cake Bake Off on BBC Radio Northampton

For a little while, Vanessa Kimbell had been pondering a few very good questions.  For example, do more expensive ingredients make a better tasting cake? What is the difference in price between the supermarkets when it comes to the cost of baking a cake overall? If you buy your ingredients at a ‘budget’ supermarket versus a ‘higher-end’ supermarket, can anyone tell the difference? Does quality equal cost?

Just before Easter, I was asked by Vanessa to take part in an experiment live on BBC Radio Northampton’s Kitchen Garden Show to put supermarkets’ own-brand ingredients to the test in the ultimate supermarket challenge.  A group of enthusiastic bloggers and bakers were each assigned a supermarket and were tasked with buying own-brand ingredients needed to bake Vanessa’s own Chocolate and Raspberry Cake, to her same method and recipe. The cakes were to be blind-tasted by William Sitwell, writer and editor of Waitrose Kitchen, and top UK blogger Helen Best-Shaw of Fuss Free Flavours (with a couple of little helpers).  The results were to be announced live on air from Nana’s Kitchen café located in Most Marvellous in Northampton.

Since I hardly need a reason at all to bake a chocolate cake, I was certainly up for the challenge, and spending the morning in an emporium filled with chocolate cake, vintage kitchenalia and a lovely group of fellow food bloggers seemed like the perfect excuse to me!

We were each asked to make our cake using a stand mixer, bake it in advance and bring the finished cake to the Most Marvellous café, ready for judging.

Despite this really being the biggest excuse to eat a whole load of decadent chocolate cake in fashionable surroundings, the judges took their task very seriously. On the day, as each cake was presented to the judges by the baker, they tasted the cake and assessed it in terms of overall appearance, flavour and texture. One by one, the slices were demolished – at times, a second slice was requested. The judges were very fair and were critical only to taste, meaning that they were actually very complimentary of our baking skills and efforts!

Here are the bakers and the supermarkets we were assigned in alphabetical order, with a round-up of what we spent per cake and the cost per slice – very helpfully calculated by Rosie. Give a girl a chocolate cake and a spreadsheet…

Supermarket Baker Cost Per Cake Cost Per Slice (10 slices per cake)
Aldi Jayne from Made by Jayne £6.78 68p 
Asda Karen from Lavender and Lovage £7.14 71p 
Co-op Ren (me) from Fabulicious Food! £10.32 £1.03 
Lidl Rosie from Freycob’s Cakes £7.03 70p 
M&S Rachel from Mozart’s Girl £12.50 £1.25 
Morrisons Most Marvellous Coffee Shop £9.61 96p 
Sainsbury’s Carmella from Carmella’s Kitchen £8.63 86p 
Tesco Vanessa from Goddess on a Budget £11.71 £1.17 
Waitrose Fleur from Homemade by Fleur £9.39 94p 

The Winners…

A silver medal for me!

1st Place – Morrisons Baked by Nana’s Kitchen coffee shop This was the 4th most expensive cake at £9.61 per cake
2nd Place – Co-op Baked by me, Ren! This was the 3rd most expensive cake at £10.32 per cake
3rd Place – Sainsbury’s Baked by Carmela This was the 6th most expensive cake at £8.63 per cake

Other ponderings…

Based on the statistics alone you can see that if you shop at Aldi you would be able to make the cheapest cake, whilst buying the same ingredients at Marks and Spencer would mean spending the most. This, we could have possibly guessed, but some of the other supermarkets’ positions were definitely more of a surprise to me.

I think that the experiment did demonstrate that if you bake regularly, whether for blogging, personal enjoyment or say, perhaps, for the school cake sale, you could be adding up to £12.50 to your shopping bill to buy the very basic ingredients of a chocolate cake.  Even higher, if you consider that you cannot purchase packets of ingredients of the exact size required for a single cake.

If you regularly buy branded ingredients, or for example, luxury dark chocolate, the cost of your little hobby can definitely spiral! And that’s to say nothing of buying organic, free range eggs, other organic ingredients or perhaps speciality flours. 

I shopped at the Co-op for the challenge and was particularly impressed by their own-brand dark chocolate, which is £1.09 for 100g and is Fairtrade. In future, I will think twice about buying more expensive chocolate bars for cake baking as the taste of the Co-op own brand chocolate was clearly good enough to stand up to rigorous judging and tasting and make it to second place!

For home baking, I would never consider switching to cheaper eggs and will always buy organic, free range eggs.

This little challenge has certainly convinced me to reassess where I shop for ingredients as well as to think about what I buy. It probably is worth stocking up on own-brand ingredients from a supermarket you are happy with whilst looking out for offers on the more expensive items such as dark chocolate.   

Costing up the cakes in this way also put buying a slice of ‘homemade’ cake in a cafe into perspective, given that you also have to take into account their time, electricity and shop overheads.

Finally, perhaps most interesting of all, was the discovery that shopping at higher-end and more expensive supermarkets does not necessarily mean that you will end up with the best tasting cake!

I really enjoyed taking part in the challenge and it is always a pleasure to make one of Vanessa’s recipes. I have used a version of this cake for Chocolate, Vanilla and Black Pepper Cupcakes, which adds beetroot to the cake mix and produces a really moist cake that lasts for days.

My chocolate cake making tips – for a flatter top, flip the cake over onto its bottom and pour the ganache topping over the top before it starts to set. Also, check the cake regularly after 40 minutes to check when it’s ready.

Thank you to Vanessa for inviting me to take part and to our lovely judges who were very kind. It was also lovely to meet up (in some cases for the first time) with such a lovely bunch of chocolate-cake-fuelled fellow food bloggers! Of course, we all had to have a little browse and a shop, too…

 And I made Vanessa’s lovely cake again for Easter!

Were you surprised by these results? What was the best chocolate cake you’ve ever made?

A write-up of the event also featured in the Northampton Chronicle & Echo, too.

 

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Comments

  1. says

    A brilliant and informative post. The supermarket results are indeed surprising. I spend a LOT on baking ingredients and paraphernalia. I tend to use branded chocolate or flour but buy free range eggs and butter as it really makes a difference. Your cake looks amazing!!

    • Ren says

      Thanks Ros! The butter is interesting, I’m sure that would have made some difference but I sometimes go for own-brand butter – depends really what’s on offer. Agree on the free range eggs! And yes, it does add up rather quickly!

    • Ren says

      Thanks Jayne, sorry, got there with your blog name in the end. Lovely to see you again, too.

  2. Magnolia Verandah says

    What a fabulous experiment. What great chocolate cakes! What a fun afternoon. This was a great write up.

  3. says

    This really is a very interesting experiment with, as you say, some surprising results where costing are concerned. Most importantly though I now know what to be when, or if, I grow up, a chocolate cake tester. What a fabulous feast, well done to you all.

    • Ren says

      Indeed, one of the great perks in life! Wouldn’t we all love to test chocolate cakes?!

  4. says

    Interesting points about price, quality and top range supermarkets…Happy to learn that I am not the only one trying to save money…I still think that quality is important and you can taste it, but I wonder how much you can save shopping for products rather than brands and fashionable supermarkets…ah..great cakes,congratulation!

    • Ren says

      Hi Rita, I think lots of people are trying to save money by the sound of these comments! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  5. Jennifer says

    Wow – that’s very interesting, all the cakes that are visible in your photographs look fabulous, would have liked to have been a judge (purely to taste all those lovely chocolate cakes!).

  6. Caroline Partridge says

    oops,completely forgot to mention my congratulations on your own much deserved placement!My apologies,well done indeed.Caroline

  7. says

    Really interesting and thought provoking post-and you got to eat lots of yummy chocolate cake-what more can a girl want…and well done for the ‘Silver’ Ren!!

  8. says

    Chocolate cake heaven! I have to be honest here and say that though I generally do our weekly shop at Sainsbury’s I use a lot of economy range products. We’re on a tight budget and need to make it stretch as far as possible. When it comes to the likes of flour I haven’t noticed a difference between the basic range and the more expensive ones. Others may disagree but that’s been my experience. I love to shop at Waitrose on the rare times I can get to one and have a little bit extra cash but it’s not feasible for everyday. Like you though, I won’t compromise on eggs. Luckily though our weekly market has a stall that sells the most fantastic quality free range eggs at £1.90 per dozen.

    Sorry Ren, I seem to be writing a bit of an essay! All the cakes look delicious and your photos are stunning as always x

    • Ren says

      Thank you Sian – we are all essaying!!! A couple of people mentioned, interestingly, that in any case, most supermarkets source flour from the same place etc so there probably isn’t that much between generic/basic own-brands, but I do think the chocolate would have made a difference.

      Weekly fresh eggs are wonderful, or even chickens in the garden…as I see is becomming more and more popular!

      Thanks for the lovely comment x

  9. says

    wow that is A LOT of chocolate cake in one room!

    “shopping at higher-end and more expensive supermarkets does not necessarily mean that you will end up with the best tasting cake!” > I agree, and being a student living on a very limited budget, I’ve learnt to search for the cheapest options without compromising quality! I like to go to the farmer’s market for my fresh groceries, they really are cheaper and last longer, but for store-cupboard essentials, I tend to visit asda or tesco’s!

    • Ren says

      Hi Shu Han, it amazes me that you are a student living on a budget producing food of such inspirational and excellent quality. I agree, farmer’s markets are great for fresh produce. Seasonal raspberries or locally grown strawberries would have made this cake extra-amazing!

  10. says

    Lovely write up & great to remember a very interesting & special morning, Ren! I usually use Sainsbury’s as it’s within walking distance…so it was great to know that they were up there. I must confess that it was a surprise to not even be placed as the M&S cake…only because I think we are so conditioned to believe that expense MUST equal superior taste/texture. But then, perhaps it was my baking skills…!! So good to meet you & put the beautiful face to the fabulous blogger! Hope to see you again before long. x

    • Ren says

      Thank you Rachel, it was lovely to meet you, I’m so glad you made it. I loved your cake and can’t believe it didn’t make the top three. Nothing to do with your baking skills – we were all equal! If anything, perhaps the shop had an advantage not having to make it travel! Hope to see you again soon, too.

  11. says

    What a beautiful write up Ren, as well as stunning and very delicious photos. Great to have met you and well done for bagging 2nd place!
    Carmela x

    • Ren says

      Thank you Carmela and it was so lovely to meet you. Congratulations, too. I loved your hair!! Such a beautiful colour – a lovely pic of you in the Chronicle write up x

  12. says

    This was such an interesting challenge and one that is so useful for me as I tend to make chocolate cakes more than any other!
    I am happy that you came in second place and I do use Co-Op regularly as there are quite a few little ones near where I live.
    What a lot of fun it must have been too. I don’t know that I have a particular favourite chocolate cake recipe, but I do love using Annie Bell, David Lebovitz and Mary Berry’s recipes! xx

    • Ren says

      Thanks Laura! I am so surprised at all the comments! It really was interesting. I used a tiny corner-shop co-op so I did feel slightly limited, but other branches I have seen are much bigger.

      Haven’t tried any Annie Bell recipes. I do love David L and I also love Ina Garten.
      x

  13. says

    Congratulations Ren for coming up second.
    Your insight into the budgeting and the whole baking business is really thought provocative. In India it’s really hard to find certain ingredients necessary for baking, and I have to constantly search for substitutes, replacements or, whenever possible, make my own (so far I’ve made my own cheeses, corn syrup etc.). I can get things at high end super markets (where they have a waitrose counter or so) but then the prices are exorbitant. So far whatever I’ve made, using easily available local produce, has always been appreciated and loved by everyone and like you said makes one wonder that using high end expensive ingredients in your bakes really makes a difference? I certainly think not.

    • Ren says

      Hi Anuja, gosh, we take it for granted how easily available everthing is here. Simple, local ingredients are always the best and I can imagine that speciality items must cost a fortune. I think the most important thing is the passion you put into baking?!

  14. Caroline Partridge says

    Hi Ren,really interesting write up.Certainly made me stop and think.I do often shop at Morrisons(I’m def not a snobbie food shopper!)and quite religiously go between the supermarkets in search of cheapest,well certainly between Co-op,Tesco and Morrisons.With a large family (6 of us)it is what I have to do.I bake often for us,family and friends.I often get cake orders and I also gift lots of cake…..so price is important,as long as taste,appearance etc is not comprised….and this is what I found interesting in your write up.Really makes you think on the cost per slice and why its so important to get your price right when the dead costs(ingredients,electricity etc),not to mention your hourly rate?)can be high! Would love to do similar,let me know if you hear of another not too far away,I live in Bucks.Made Vanessa’s Caraway soda bread yesterday,speedy and delicious…I did tweet her!,bought ‘Prepped’ last week.Thankyou for the interesting read again.Caroline(I tweet under my own name)x

    • Ren says

      Hi Caroline, thank you so much for your comment. Wow, a family of six, that must be a challenge. I admire your committment to seeking out the most economic ways of feeding your little team! We have a flag-shop Morissons near-by, though its not my closest. Their fresh produce is really quite remarkable, like a market. I think it is probably worth travelling a bit further to get more for your money on a large food shop. I will listen out for more challenges and keep you posted! Vanessa often sets interesting challenges! Many of us tested the reciped in her book so we know they always work well!!

  15. Ren says

    It’s funny, I have realised that I am really not a loyal shopper. I can flit from one to the next depending on what I need and where I am. I am encouraged to venture over more to Morrisons though, as you know, the St Albans branch is amazing. I loved your cake, and your bucket!

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