Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Say Goodbye To Cake Mixes

Say goodbye to 18 ounces...
Since I don't generally pay attention to cake mixes, I wasn't aware that they were the victim of retail downsizing. But people who use them have been screeching about it on cake message boards for the past few months.

First Betty Crocker (I think) reduced the size of their cake mix box from 18 to 16 point something ounces, and now *gasp* Duncan Hines has apparently followed suit! Oh, the tragedy! Will Pillsbury be far behind? I tremble with fear waiting to see what transpires.

Well, actually, I don't, because I don't buy cake mixes.

I suggest that if you're emotionally devastated about this, you should back away from the cake mix aisle and learn to bake from scratch. And yes, a lot of people will probably have to learn.

Baking is a learned skill, just like learning how to cook a perfect steak is, or learning how to make pasta from scratch. I don't know why people who use cake mixes are so determined to pretend that it's the same as baking from scratch, when it clearly isn't.

"Oh, but I add things to the mix, so that's it's not just the straight mix, it's scratch baking" they say. To that I reply "Would you like a pair of blinders with your rationalization?"

If I take a frozen lasagna out of the box (which I wouldn't do because they're gross, but that's a different story) then add cheese to it, I don't claim to be an Italian chef, and I don't claim that I made it from scratch. Adding things to a cake mix doesn't remove the fillers, gums and additives that are put in there to keep a consistent result, so no, it isn't baking from scratch.

Anyway, if I might suggest some books for the person who would like to be set free from cake mix bondage, they would be the following:

The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum. This is a pretty basic book that has a lot of recipes and charts. Some of the things in it aren't really necessary and I've heard some people say that they had trouble with some of the recipes, but the best part of it is the explanation of WHY the recipes work the way they do. If you're not experienced with changing the balances of ingredients, this book will help you to figure out how to do that to get a result that you want. It also includes a section on wedding cakes, with charts for batter and filling amounts that you'll need to bake and assemble each tier.

Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri. Again, a good book to see why recipes work the way that they do. Basic recipes and a good starting point.

Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. A James Beard Foundation award winner, this one has more good info for the beginner.

The Professional Pastry Chef: Fundamentals of Baking and Pastry, 4th Edition If you want to go hardcore, here it is. This is my go-to textbook for basic pastry info and reference. The recipes aren't formulated for home bakers, but the information is worth the purchase. This one is for someone who wants to make an effort to learn.

If you want to get tips from people who really bake, maybe you should change message boards and start hanging out at Real Baking With Rose's message boards. You can get tips on baking, ingredients, and why recipes do what they do from the members there.

 Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at www.acaketoremember.com and www.acaketoremember.etsy.com

6 comments:

BrynnCody said...

I've recently stopped baking from mixes and I'm liking the learning process - as frustrating as it is. It's so much cheaper and I feel a lot better taking credit for cakes if I make them myself. I like to decorate cakes and when people compliment the way they taste and it's from a box, I feel like I'm lying if I don't fess up!

Brynn
brynncody.blogspot.com

Sonia Mehta said...

I regularly read your posts, mainly because I enjoy your straight-forward, no-nonsense, practical approach/perspective. (Could be because I'm like that too - or at least I like to think that I am like that :-)). Thank you for your writings!

Canterbury Cakes said...

It never ceases to amaze me how many people use mixes. I was shocked recently when someone asked if I did & explained she assumed I would because when she worked at a professional bakery they did - I had always assumed, naively, that proper bakeries worked from scratch!

Ultimate Cake said...

Oh hear hear!

"Blinkers with your rationalization" *snort*cough*choke*laugh*

Salixbabylonica said...

Thanks for the list of baking books. Although I never use mixes, I've been wanting to refine my baking skills beyond the slavishly follow the recipe point. This is just what I've been looking for. My Cake Bible arrived a few days ago, but any practice cakes will have to wait until after Lent!

Kara Buntin said...

No cake for Lent? Ouch! Until Easter, then, you can read the book for the informational parts. That way when you do make something you can adjust the recipe if it doesn't come out the way you like it!