Bread - I learned to make no-knead bread a few years ago: and it was a revelation and has been a fun ongoing project. So I will make bread - but not always. Some types of bread I prefer to buy, some I haven’t gotten “right” yet, and often I just don’t want a loaf sitting around waiting to be consumed.
Butter - sounds odd, but my mom actually makes fresh (white) butter at home (from milk-top cream collected over a period and cultured). This butter is delicious but is mostly used to make ghee. We buy salted butter for all the other uses.
Cake , brownies, cookies - once I got the hang of a few reliable recipes, I much prefer to make cake than to buy it. Ditto brownies - I much prefer my own to anything I can buy. Cookies I could go either way on.
Yogurt - I vastly prefer the taste and texture of homemade yogurt (mild, light) but am very lazy about making it daily (which is how I like the flavor best, at its mildest). So I’m much more likely to buy greek yogurt, which I consider a different product.
A lot of it comes to time for me…if I can spend all day making something and have it be only marginally better than the storebought, I won’t bother. Pie pastry is an example…I can make really great pastry from scratch, but Pillsbury has lard, so is tender and flaky and garners lots of compliments…and is ready in minutes rather than an hour or more.
Ricotta (in my dairy tolerant days) was really good, but not good enough to justify the fiddle factor.
When we lived in Europe, we were walking distance to seven boulangeries…so I think I made bread once!
(John Hartley - a culinary patriot eating & cooking in Northwest England)
I’m not a good cook so I would always prefer to buy. That said, my companion in life enjoys baking so there’s usually a ready supply.
Fun question. I think my curiosity and enthusiasm to make something from scratch is mostly time based.
Since baking anything is a fairly new hobby, especially following recipes, I have enjoyed learning as much if not more than eating the results. We have shared a lot of what Im fixing with family, friends and neighbors.
I still purchase plenty of baked goods, small brands, etc.
For me another factor is curiosity - sometimes I want to know the how and why behind something, and that makes it interesting. But time as an added factor can mean I don’t bother again once I feel like I’ve “figured it out.”
For example - char siu. I’ve made very good versions, but once they tasted right and I had satisfied myself I could, the total time (marinade, slow cook or sous vide, then broil and baste and flip till lacquered) made it not something I want to make.
One additional factor that just struck me from the char siu example is ingredient quality - as I’ve gotten pickier with sourcing etc, sometimes I do have to make something myself even if the time goes against my instinct.
Make: I prioritize anything vegetable-based for my cooking from scratch. About seven months of the year we’re able to source most fresh produce from CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm shares.
You don’t get to choose what’s in your farm share, or how much. While the farms do their best to balance out the harvest, ultimately Mother Nature makes the call. So this keeps me plenty busy—like this week we have a pile of end-of-season greens. I need to make a greens pie ASAP, probably a soup, and I already dried celeriac leaves to use as you would a dried herb.
Buy: I’ll happily take shortcuts to balance the time it takes to process/cook/store the CSA goods. For example, I’m glad to buy things like a container of prepared meatballs (our butcher makes nice ones), frozen pizza or pie dough, fresh pasta, mezze items (Lebanese bakery), dumplings, and so on to augment from-scratch cooking.
I buy most condiments, with the exception of salad dressing. I made mustard from scratch once, and that was just dumb, because jar mustard is fine (my mustard greens went to seed and I figured what the hell).
I buy short pasta like penne, and other pastas - rice noodles, soba - which require special flours, as my cabinet space is limited. And I don’t can my own tomatoes or tuna, or make yogurt or butter.
I’m pretty sure most of what I make to eat at home is from scratch, although I can buy better fried rice and hand rolls and soondubu than I can produce myself, for sure.
I also want to mention the irony of participating in a food forum. If I spent as much time baking/cooking/prep as I do reading HO and the hundreds of reading rabbit holes it leads to-I could probably tackle many more recipes. Imagine!
That brings up a point…I’ve found a lot of cool things to make when I’ve lived places where I couldn’t buy certain things, and my dairy issues have led me down a path of plant-based subs for traditional dairy-filled recipes.
I did a lot of baking last year… this year, not so much. The local Safeway’s bakery does a fine job with breads and cakes (although I’m not a big cake guy, except for German chocolate). I still do pita and pizza crust ‘cause what’s in the store is sub-par. I also do corn bread. Used to make cheesecake too, but the ingredients have gotten so expensive I can buy a really nice one for about what It costs to make… then I’ll just make the toppings for it if I so desire.
And while I always keep a box or two of pasta in the pantry, I usually make it fresh.
One thing I don’t do (but would like to) is soup. Mostly because I rarely have ingredients for a great protein stock… and making soup for one calls for a lot of freezer space.
This is slightly tangential to the topic, but I have developed some real opinions on what to buy vs what to grow. For instance, I am astonished at the difference in quality between a grocery tomato and grape than a home grown one. You can of course approximate the home grown by shopping at farmers markets, but in terms of what I can create in my house - vs buy - that makes a big difference - those are 2. Whereas I really would not grow something like broccoli or cauliflower. I find the grocery ones to be absolutely fine and the flavor profile is quite similar to garden. But growing them is hard, takes a long time, and lots of potential insect or other problems.
And so I’m not that delinquent that didn’t really answer the question, for me it generally comes down to time and curiosity. Whether I can get something easily and whether I feel like that product could be improved. I know some people make their own ketchup, but that’s a head scratcher for me. What’s wrong with Heinz? And then there is the matter of whether I like something but it can be hard to get. So I tried a few times to make red bean baked buns, because I’d have to drive 100 miles otherwise to get them. And when we were all quarantined, I experimented with making a few Thai dishes (like pad thai) which I normally would just order or dim sum (shrimp rice noodles). Again, not because mine is better at all. But at the time, it was learn to make it or don’t have it. We bought Thai tea powder to make Thai iced tea at home, because it is much cheaper than buying it out.