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pam claughton

Do you use Boxed Cake Mixes?

231 posts in this topic

I had never seen a "box cake" until I came to Canada in 2001.

I guess there *must* be insta-cake available in South Africa, but I have never come across it. I was raised on scratch cakes and even cakes that were bought came from a local Dutch bakery that made from scratch. The "tuis nywerheid" ("home industry" - small co-op stores) offerings that were especially helpful for the 7am Mom-I-forgot-I-need-cake-for-school-today emergencies, were also all made from scratch by women whose families had been doing so for generations.

Generally I don't like the taste or texture of box cake. I find it too sweet and the texture is spongy and weird in my mouth. There's also the sameness of flavour that is disappointing. Don't even get me started on the idea of icing/frosting from a can!  :shock:

That said, since going gluten free in April 2005 (celiac disease) my tune has changed. I'm getting the hang of baking without that wonderful, evil protein, but there's a white/yellow mix by Celimix that I would go so far as to say is better than any regular mix I've tasted. Goes together in a snap, always bakes perfectly, has a great texture - even more so for being gluten free - and lasts for days.

How the mighty have fallen  :rolleyes:

Great first post. Welcome to egullet.

It goes without saying but I'll say it anyway that nobody has to like cake mix. But you all do recognize the greater disparity between the unjustified disdain for those of us who use a mix* and those of us who use other culinary shortcuts**. Phyllo dough is very very easy to make. With a tail wind one can get it stretched out in ten minutes. I've got a pictorial on it :biggrin: for whosoever wants to***. But I love packaged phyllo dough too. It's so pretty and versatile.

I would ten thousand times more rather have good old cake mix any day than taste that dang freaking nasty egg white mumbo jumbo in a wayward scratch cake. Barf barf barf. Weddings are infested with them. "Oh it's all scratch cake, no toxic waste here." Yeah, no kidding, where's the trash can.

*Or are thought to use a cake mix. Cake mix almost always will take a bad rap for unfortunatley made scratch cake more often than not.

**Umm, some of us add so many ingredients to cake mix sometimes, it's hardly even a shortcut anymore.

***Honestly, whenever you might get a chance, make some strudel dough. It truly is a rush. I'd suggest you do it slowly over time, gather up the different tools. Find a suitable table and a suitable flat sheet or tablecloth. Then try it when you can--just honestly a rush like no other. <highfive>

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I believe New York has already started and burned its way through a cake mix trend -- it was called the cupcake craze and was based on a Sex in the City character visiting the Magnolia Bakery, bastion of cake mix and sugared Crisco offerings.


I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

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I believe New York has already started and burned its way through a cake mix trend -- it was called the cupcake craze and was based on a Sex in the City character visiting the Magnolia Bakery, bastion of cake mix and sugared Crisco offerings.

But I thought those didn't taste good. We need a trend with good tasting stuff. See, cake mix takes another one in the gut. Are you sure they use cake mix? Most people will not divulge that information. Just because it tastes bad it's cake mix? Methinks you've proved my point.*

My sister-in-law has been married for 30 years to my brother. God bless her. But anyway. Anytime any place her wedding comes up, the fact that the cake I baked her was so amazing is still being reported and recounted 30 years later. The marriage like I said, not so much. :rolleyes: But the cake the cake!!! :raz:

*From the introduction, "The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook"

In an age of microwave, quick-and-easy, freeze and defrost, the Magnolia Bakery takes us back to a time when we simply did everything the old-fashioned way: using the best and freshest ingredients, mixing them with lots of love, and taking the time to produce delicious homemade treats. Customers often request to lick the bowl as we prepare our desserts in our open kitchen format.

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Um, Magnolia is a very sweet from scratch cupcake, with a very sweet American style buttercream frosting, made with butter. I can't stand their flavor profiles, but it IS all from scratch! Oh, and me, on cake mix? I don't know, I've never made one, but my sister makes them, and hers are awful. I think the fact that she doesn't care to bake has a LOT to do with it.

I've had a peanut butter frosting iced chocolate cupcake once, at a school bake sale, it was pretty good; the frosting was from scratch, the cupcakes were a mix. I don't know the brand, but it was a bit oily, and you could just 'tell'. I liked it! I thought that the addition of raspberry preserves in the center of the cupcake would be phenomenal.

I don't make wedding cakes, but I have made my share of cake, and it's such a simple thing to make a basic cake, or isn't it? I'd think that cake mix would be best for specialty cakes, like Dr.Oetker's brand is. I have nevert tried them, but they look tempting!


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Oh, and I would completely trust a passionate baker to make me a 'mix' cake, and have it be delicious! That's what they do, make delicious food, and I wouldn't care WHAT the provenance of ingredients would be. Well, no brains, I'm thinking. Or kidneys. But the other stuff, yeah, sure, hit me with it! It's cake, which is a food group all it's own, and I just want a delicious end product. :wub:

I LOVE A GOOD CAKE!


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Why dont we have an egullet bake-off. Let's test some doctored cake mix recipes.

Here is one I use often. I've had so many requests for this. Not one person has ever guessed that it starts with pre-measured ingredients( cake mix)

NEVER-ENDING CHOCOLATE BUNDT CAKE

1 (18.25 oz) Chocolate cake mix ( I use duncan hines choc. fudge or devils food)

1 (3.9 oz.) pkg. dark fudge instant pudding mix

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp. pure vanilla

1/2 cup chocolate syrup

1-2 Tablespoons instant coffee crystals

4 eggs

1-2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325°F. In large bowl, combine cake mix, pudding mix, milk, oil, syrup, coffee crystals, and eggs. Beat on low speed to blend, then beat on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes. Gently stir in chocolate chips and pour batter into greased and floured 12-cup capacity Bundt cake pan. ( I make cupcakes instead)

Bake for 55 minute to 1 hour (mine was about 58 minutes) or until cake tester comes out clean. Let cake cool in pan for 10 minutes, and then turn out onto cooling rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar for garnish or drizzle with Chocolate Glaze. (I used Chocolate Glaze)


Edited by CaliPoutine (log)

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Cali, Great Idea. And that formula sounds awesome. I think almost everything tastes better with coffee in it.

I do one that's endlessly brilliant. It's straight out of The Cake Mix Doctor and I used it in my son-in-law's grooms cake. I wanted to post the formula with the demo I did so I wrote for permission to use it. I did get permission but I never did post it on there for whatever reason.

So I'll just give it from memory with full credit to her. It's one box of cake mix and one pint of melted ice cream and three eggs. Make sure that the ice cream melts down to a full 2 cups. Some ice creams are whipped so the extra air needs to be replaced with milk or cream. Just mix it up and bake it. This is a great batter to bake up in any of those molded pans you can get now, like the fancy nordic type bundt pans, castles, roses, floral etc. There's a stadium one now.

I mean it's a BRILLIANT recipe. Just think of the never-ending possibilities. The cake comes out a bit more dense and it's just a fabulous formula. I guess the only problem with it is that I didn't think of it first! :raz:

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Kate,

I have both cake mix doctor books( the choc and the original book). I was very active on that message board for awhile before I discovered Eg. I've seen that recipe you mentioned, but never tried it.

As you know, the first dessert I made for the seniors was a doctored up mix( the finger lickin good cake from The Cake Mix doctor).

I dont have the time or the budget to bake for them from scratch and I dont feel bad about that. In fact, I bought 4 more cake mixes( duncan hines choc. fudge) yesterday for 1 dollar each. That ice cream cake recipe sounds good for the next meal I cook for them.

Btw, has anyone in Canada tried the PC organic cake mixes? They only come in Choc. or Vanilla and they are very good.

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I made the cakes for our winter carnival supper this weekend. All except the carrot cake were doctored cake mixes. Since I added a simple border to the cakes, a friend of ours thought they were from a store. He found out I made them when he commented that this was the best store bought cake he ever had. I was given no name cake mixes to make the cakes so I was happy that doctoring them up made them tasty. I can make an awesome chocolate cake from scratch but it does cost more than a mix and they were on a budget. (although I just could not use the canned no name frosting I was given to use)

Sandra

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I use both scratch and 'premeasured', lol, cake mix. I agree with most in that a basic plain box mix is ok, but when you add more ingredients to it, it changes it completely, depending on the amount of ingredients.

I only have 3 scratch cake recipes that come out the same just about everytime...pound (YUM), carrot and date nut. The rest, for the most part are mix. Now, I am perfectly capable of making a scratch cake, and enjoy doing so from time to time, but when you're a lone baker trying to get 700 servings out and they have to be the 'same', I stick to the mix. All our cookies and most of our pastries are scratch. Many of our fillings are scratch as well.

I do find it very interesting, though, at how hot the debate can be. The end result, in my opinion, is what really matters. Clients dictate what you make. There are scratch and mix bakers all over my area, and there is a definite market for both.

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I dont have the time or the budget to bake for them from scratch and I dont feel bad about that.    In fact, I bought 4 more cake mixes( duncan hines choc. fudge) yesterday for 1 dollar each.  That ice cream cake recipe sounds good for the next meal I cook for them. 

I don't understand how using mixes saves any money. The mix part is basically only the cake flour, leavenings, flavoring and sugar. You still need to add eggs and oil. I'd venture to guess that from scratch wouldn't cost any more than cake mix, if you were using an oil-based cake (if using butter, it would cost more). Then again, when I use a mix, I use butter instead of oil so for me it's never a money-saver.

Let's see: cake flour $.75/lb (although I can often get it for 40 cents/pound), usually use about 9 ounces, so about 42 cents, sugar $.50 /lb, use about 12 ounces, 38 cents, plus some leavening and flavoring, probably equals about $1.00 or thereabouts.

To me that has always been a specious reason for using a mix. Also, for the time factor, it probably only takes 5 minutes more to make a cake from scratch (esp. if using the hi-ratio method) than use a mix. Or maybe that's just me...I use a scale which goes a lot faster than using measuring cups.

I'm not saying this to poo-poo using a cake mix, but just that to me these arguments for why one uses a mix don't hold up.

Also, I'm not picking on you, CaliPoutine, you are wonderful and your cakes and desserts look great!!! Just responding to the arguments you raised, also touted by many others...

edit fer grammer


Edited by Darcie B (log)

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Hey, K8, I work in publishing and I can vouch for the truth of the statement that you can't believe everything you read in books.

:biggrin:

What interests me about the quote is that everyone wants to lick the bowls . . .

What a concept. Magnolia is a very chaotic place, very tiny and crowded, the cupcakes are serve yourself (as in who touched it and coughed on it before you grabbed it) and there are staff members sort of chaotically using their Kitchen Aids in the middle of everything -- the thought of adding unwashed fingers into the bowls on top of it kind of sets me over the edge . . .

You may wonder why I indulge if I feel this way. I love cake. Sometimes I break down and eat inferior cake in a pique of cake need.

I've been baking to use up the Nuts and Fruits of Christmas past and last night I made a nice pumpkin cake, I'm sure, due to cake fantasies induced by this thread.


I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

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atCake, you are from Avon -- do you remember Hough's Bakery?


I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

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I dont have the time or the budget to bake for them from scratch and I dont feel bad about that.    In fact, I bought 4 more cake mixes( duncan hines choc. fudge) yesterday for 1 dollar each.  That ice cream cake recipe sounds good for the next meal I cook for them. 

I don't understand how using mixes saves any money. The mix part is basically only the cake flour, leavenings, flavoring and sugar. You still need to add eggs and oil. I'd venture to guess that from scratch wouldn't cost any more than cake mix, if you were using an oil-based cake (if using butter, it would cost more). Then again, when I use a mix, I use butter instead of oil so for me it's never a money-saver.

Let's see: cake flour $.75/lb (although I can often get it for 40 cents/pound), usually use about 9 ounces, so about 42 cents, sugar $.50 /lb, use about 12 ounces, 38 cents, plus some leavening and flavoring, probably equals about $1.00 or thereabouts.

To me that has always been a specious reason for using a mix. Also, for the time factor, it probably only takes 5 minutes more to make a cake from scratch (esp. if using the hi-ratio method) than use a mix. Or maybe that's just me...I use a scale which goes a lot faster than using measuring cups.

I'm not saying this to poo-poo using a cake mix, but just that to me these arguments for why one uses a mix don't hold up.

It doesn't for me either. It's most definitely more expensive for me to use a mix, even if I used European-style butter, organic flour and eggs and sucanat.


May

Totally More-ish: The New and Improved Foodblog

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Also, I'm not picking on you, CaliPoutine, you are wonderful and your cakes and desserts look great!!! Just responding to the arguments you raised, also touted by many others...

I didnt think you were picking on me!! But, for me when I cook for the seniors, it is cheaper and less time consuming. I dont use mixes for myself or when I work at my other job. Case in point, the mix cost 1 dollar. I'm using oil which is 2.97 for 3 liters. Its also not so much the cost, but the time factor. I can throw everything in the KA and walk away. I dont have to cream butter and sugar, etc. When I started this cooking job, I said I would not use bottled dressings, margarine, or preparared sauces. So, I dont feel so bad about using cake mixes. I do however, refuse to use canned frosting.

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I recently had a nostalgic moment at the grocery store and picked up a Duncan Hines mix and a can of frosting; just like mom used to make.

Yuck... I actually chucked most of the cake. It was inedible. Obviously the brown crisco didn't help any but the texture was way off and the cake itself also had off or artificial flavors that I was not able to identify.

I think I'll try the "doctored" recipe that Cali posted and report back.

As stated above I grew up with mix cakes and canned frosting but have been baking/eating scratch food since college. Even if the doctored cake works I can't imagine there is anything salvageable in that putrid plastic can.

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Also, I'm not picking on you, CaliPoutine, you are wonderful and your cakes and desserts look great!!! Just responding to the arguments you raised, also touted by many others...

I didnt think you were picking on me!! But, for me when I cook for the seniors, it is cheaper and less time consuming. I dont use mixes for myself or when I work at my other job. Case in point, the mix cost 1 dollar. I'm using oil which is 2.97 for 3 liters. Its also not so much the cost, but the time factor. I can throw everything in the KA and walk away. I dont have to cream butter and sugar, etc. When I started this cooking job, I said I would not use bottled dressings, margarine, or preparared sauces. So, I dont feel so bad about using cake mixes. I do however, refuse to use canned frosting.

Yeah, the canned frosting is a whole 'nother category.

Have you tried the hi-ratio (at least I think that is what it's called) method for scratch cakes? It works much like a mix. You beat the butter, a little of the liquid and dry ingredients for a couple minutes then add the rest of the ingredients just to incorporate (30 secs). It's probably not *quite* as quick as a mix, but definitely faster than creaming butter and sugar, and adding the liquids and dry ingredients alternately, like in a standard cake recipe. I use it for pretty much all the cakes I make because it is easier and also much more consistent results.

Dang it all, now I want to bake a cake and I don't even like cake that much! Hmmm...I have a bunch of whites in the fridge, so I guess I'll be making white cake tonight. Maybe cupcakes b/c then I don't have to level and trim and feel obligated to decorate LOL. Now that's where it gets REAL time consuming...

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Actually, I grew up all over the place, so although I've heard about Hough Bakery, they were gone by the time I came back to the Cleveland area. I keep hearing people talking about how good they were (and sometimes how gross they were, lol), but didn't they use the all shortening icing too?

Forgot to mention too, :) that I do make my icing from scratch too. I like to sometimes eat the canned frosting, but the longer I go without it, the less I like it. Can definitely taste the chemicals in that! I will not use it on a cake though.

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Re the High-ratio thing, if you dig through RLB's blog archives, you'll find a post in which she explains to you which recipes will work using the High-ratio method.

For those of us who are exclusively homebakers and use mixes, can you explain why?

I know why I don't. I'm not looking for short-cuts, because baking is my hobby, and I'd like to become a skilled amateur.

That and I look at the ingredients...Well, basically I started baking partly because I wanted to avoid excess additives--I'm no nutrition nazi, I just think that less is better.


May

Totally More-ish: The New and Improved Foodblog

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I think if I were just baking for my family, I'd probably do scratch, although they like the cakes I bake for clients. I think part of it is a matter of what you're used to. My mom is a good scratch baker, but boy oh boy has she had some dumpers in the past! LOL

For me, I think it's more a case of the 'uncertainty' of some scratch recipes, rather than convenience. I need to make sure that my cakes come out the same everytime. I'm sure with more practice, and more recipe experimentation, I'd probably come across a host of good scratch recipes to work with, but at this point, my clientelle is asking for what I'm providing.

Personally, I don't think there is any right or wrong in the decision to go box or scratch. A lot of bakeries go mix because as LFarkas said, you need to have something that anyone in the bakery can make in a pinch. If you had only scratch, that could present a problem. Of course, if you had the resources, you could have only PCs on staff, thus eliminating that issue...sort of.

All PCs, although probably similarly trained, still have their own methods, thus creating different results. That is probably why some fabulous scratch recipes bomb for some people and not all. I've used some that work well for me, but others said they've tried it and failed, and vice versa.

If I could use only pound cakes for my cakes, I'd be a happy lady! LOL

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...

Personally, I don't think there is any right or wrong in the decision to go box or scratch.  A lot of bakeries go mix because as LFarkas said, you need to have something that anyone in the bakery can make in a pinch.  If you had only scratch, that could present a problem.  Of course, if you had the resources, you could have only PCs on staff, thus eliminating that issue...sort of.

...

Thank you for sharing your experiences. It is interesting to hear this reason for a professional bakery to use cake mixes. Typically the reason I *would* buy a cake from a bakery would be because they could make something I could not easily replicate. I think this is why I usually buy pastries from bakeries if I find a good one. I don't usually make many pastries at home.

Some professionals have mentioned price as being a factor in the reason they use cake mixes. Are they really cheaper and why? Is it because oil rather than butter is used in the cake batter?


"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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I think the exact cost to cost comparison has to factor in the risk of flops when you do scratch. You can hit it on the money each time with a mix. You can consider the cost of all the testing too.

edited to say: and the cost factor of a 14" cake flop is huge not to mention how it throws you off your game. The security of using mixes is worth risking the stigma, cake clique issues. You are 'in the shoot' the roller coaster has left the gate, the game is on and tossing out cake is upsetting. And it upsets the flow. I am referencing tier cakes and high end work. There's so much more to it than creating the canvas on which you will paint.


Edited by K8memphis (log)

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I honestly don't understand just what is so hard about making a cake from scratch... my mother taught me a basic cake recipe that you can do ANYTHING you like to, and when we got a microwave I modified it to make

it even easier (I hate creaming butter, and I have NEVER sifted flour in my life) It takes one bowl and about ten minutes to mix. You can have the cake in the pan by the time the oven's heated up...

Mama's version that she taught me:

BASIC SANDWICH CAKE

INGREDIENTS: 1½ cups flour

¼ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

3 oz. butter

½ cup sugar

1 larg egg

½ cup milk

Vanilla essence

METHOD

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Cream butter and sugar thoroughly. Add unbeaten egg and beat all together very well. Add vanilla essence. Add dry ingredients to egg mixture alternately with the milk.

Bake at 375° to 400° F. in two eight-inch tins for about fifteen to twenty minutes.

VARIATIONS

To make slice in lamington tin, use 2 cups flour and 2 eggs.

COCONUT CAKE: Use coconut essence instead of vanilla essence, add two tablespoons of coconut to mixture and bake in square or rectangular tin. Ice with butter icing and sprinkle with toasted coconut.

SULTANA CAKE: Add one cup sultanas and bake in loaf tin.

ORANGE CAKE: Add grated rind of one orange, 1 tablespoon orange juice instead of 1 tablespoon of the milk. Ice with orange icing.

SPICE CAKE: Add ½ teaspoon mixed spice and ¼ teaspoon cinnamon.

APPLE CAKE: Add 3/4 cup cooked apple puree instead of milk and ½ teaspoon cinnamon instead of vanilla.

***

MY VERSION

BASIC SANDWICH CAKE

1 stick unsalted butter (2 if you like it more buttery)

1 cup sugar

3 or 4 eggs

3 cups SR flour (or plain flour and raising agent)

1 cup milk or juice

Flavouring (vanilla, cinnamon, spice, raisins etc.)

Dump butter and sugar in a large microwave-proof bowl and nuke until the butter is very soft/melted.

Beat in the eggs.

Add desired flavouring/s and raising agent.

Add one cup of flour and mix well. Add some liquid if it's getting stiff. Add another cup of flour (ditto). Add the last cup of flour and liquid if it's too hard to mix.

Dump the cake into a large greased pan and bake at 370F for 30 minutes or until it's set in the center.

DONE.

Also works great as muffins/cupcakes/loaf cakes etc.

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Awwww, Jeeez Edith, I thought this thread was dead already!

Who cares? If you like cake mix, eat cake mix. If you like scratch cake, eat scratch cake. Gah.

However, once more with feeling..... cake mix isn't just premeasured ingredients, it includes emulsifiers which retain the moisture and hold the texture. Emulsifiers are usually silicon based, although I do believe there is a mix out there which includes a petroleum based sort of emulsifier. Vaseline, in layman's terms. Now neither silicon nor vaseline are actually harmful if ingested; at worst they'll just give you the scoots if consumed in large quantities, and who among us really couldn't use a good cleaning out?

Having said that, emulsifiers have a smell. Those of us not used to eating them on a regular basis can smell them, so we think the foods containing them taste like hand cream. Enough said. I prefer scratch bread over wonder bread for the same reason.

I think what we're saying without saying it is that cake mix is a class issue.

If you're a foodie, well...At some level, you're a snob. There will be things you'll refuse to eat on the principle of it, even though you think you don't want to eat it because you don't like it, which might not be the case. Cakes from mixes are a prime example.

I can't speak for anyone else but I can say with certainty that I'm not confused about not liking the taste/smell and I haven't managed to brainwash myself into disliking mixes because of any superiority complex, either. I just don't like it. You like it, you eat it. I don't care.

Then again, I also think actual cheese tastes better than the powdered orange stuff that comes in the kraft dinner box, but I'm just crazy like that. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to get F O O D S N O B tattooed across my knuckles.

:raz:

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Making a tier cake, which has always been my point of reference in this discussion, takes more consideration than the choice of ingredients, a whirl in the mixer bowl and a few minutes in the oven.

It must fit with your flow. It need to be easy enough to not consume you in planning and execution. It's a small fraction of the work.

It needs to handle and torte well.

It needs to be like a helicopter able to hover in quality and performance at every stage of preparation.

It needs to exist several days in advance of the event in the frige, or in the freezer and still be great tasting with great texture. Or hold at room temp and still be great.

Needs to take icing well. Needs to hold up under fondant.

Needs to sit pretty while it's decorated. Releasing the least amount of gas so it stays the same as long as possible.

Needs to travel well.

Needs to slice and serve with pinpoint accuracy and freshness. No glopping, no excess of crumbs, no crumbling.

It needs to not go stale and not grow a crust while sitting out on the plate for an hour or more.

You sweet talker Betty Crocker! Actually I use Duncan Hines but Betty has a pithier little saying there. Sure anybody can toss a sweetened flour mixture into the oven, but there's just a little more to it than that.

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      What was it that tugged at my heart, telling me to delve deeper into the meaning of the Cakewalk? Why did I sense that there was an underlying truth I hadn’t discovered as a child? The only way I could unveil the mystique behind my relationship with this odd little dance to win a cake would lie in retracing the footsteps of my childhood, setting forth on a quest to discover the history of the Cakewalk.

      + + +
      We moved to Salem, Oregon from The Dalles, in the Summer of 1964, when my Father, Edgar Ross, accepted a position at the Oregon Department of Agriculture in the Commodity Commissions Bureau. My parents settled on a ranch-style, three-bedroom home on the corner of Ward Drive and 46th Avenue in the new community of “Jan Ree” Gardens. Our lot was bordered by new homes on two sides and to the East was a field of Blue Lake bush beans that would soon be consumed by the encroaching development. Mother and Father shared a few details about our new home. It had a second bathroom, a wood-paneled living room and an unfinished family room that my father promised would have a metal wood stove. But they kept one little secret from my sister and me until we were a block from our final destination on the day we drove to Salem -- our new house was next door to the grade school. I didn’t know whether to feel good or sick at the thought of living next door to the school where I would spend the next five years.

      Hayesville Elementary School was typical of the architecture of grade schools built in the early 1960’s-an L-shaped, non-descript building painted in drab green and grey. The assembly room, cafeteria and administrative offices anchored the building with the classrooms jutting out from the principal’s office. I started the school year in Mrs. Rhonda Sample’s second grade class. She was young, blond and attractive, totally unlike the spinster vision I had of the teacher that awaited me at my new school. The highlight of the school year was the annual “Open House at Hayesville.” Students showcased their talents, dazzling parents with displays of frogs and snakes in aquariums, samples of cursive writing on paper chains hung over the blackboard and paper mache busts of historic American figures like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Mothers and fathers could take a tour of the gleaming, stainless steel kitchen where Mrs. Fox prepared our hot lunches each day-warm, billowing cinnamon rolls dripping with powdered sugar frosting and her buttery, oven-fried chicken. But the most anticipated event of Open House at Hayesville was the annual Cakewalk Raffle -- a silly fun dance around the classroom. The winner won a cake and the proceeds went to fund other activities at school.

      We cut footprints out of colored construction paper and pasted them in a large circle on the spotless, pink vinyl-tiled floor. Each “foot” was given a number from one to twenty. Red, white and blue streamers were tacked on the outer walls and then brought to the center of the ceiling to define the center point of the cakewalk circle. When the room was ready, Mrs. Sample turned on the lights and opened the door, welcoming a parade of Mother’s who pranced into the room carrying Tupperware cake caddies, Pyrex baking dishes, glass cake domes and disposable aluminum trays coddling their precious cake creations.

      Three long tables were placed against the wall and covered with proper linen tablecloths. The tables served as the stage upon which the cakes would strut their stuff. The chorus line of cakes went on and on through the annals of cakedom-Chiffon, Angel Food, Devils Food, Sponge Cake, Pound Cake, Marble Cakes, Chocolate Torts and Jelly Rolls. There were cakes garnished with coconut, dusted with nonpareils, frosted with peanut butter, sprinkled with peppermints, and dotted with spiced gum drops. I entered the Cakewalk over and over until I won, seemingly always at the end of the evening when very few of the best cakes were left on the table. While Mother’s “Burnt Sugar Cake with 7-Minute Frosting” was good, it would be a total embarrassment in front of ones classmates for a kid to choose the cake made by his mother. No, should I win the Cakewalk and should it still be available, I would choose the Spiced Praline Crunch Cake made by Bernie Bennett’s Mother.

      The historical importance of the Cakewalk wasn’t a part of Mrs. Sample’s second-grade curriculum at Hayesville in 1964. Living in the Pacific Northwest, we were insulated from the racial struggles of the South at that time. I was a young white boy in a middle-class American family. I led the colorful life of a kid, yet I lived in a country that saw only shades of black and white.

      Only three years before my second grade, in the Spring of 1961 the Freedom Riders set out on a campaign to test the Supreme Court Ruling that upheld the segregation of blacks and whites at bus depots, waiting rooms, lunch counters and restrooms throughout the South. The Freedom Riders were met with ignorance and violence. African-Americans couldn’t drink from the same water fountain I drank from. I never knew.
      + + + The Cakewalk played an important role in the history of America -- a long-forgotten chapter that tells the story of the struggles forced upon the enslaved, who in spite of their burdens rose above the oppression of race and found a new form of the expression of freedom.

      The seeds of the Cakewalk were sown in the segregated deep South sometime around 1850, as a parody of the way plantation owners escorted their ladies into a formal ball. The women wore long, ruffled dresses of silk and glass beads with long, white gloves that reached above the elbow. The gentlemen were outfitted with top hats and tail coats. Couples pranced and paraded into lavishly decorated ballrooms, arm-in-arm in high-stepping fashion, marching into the center of the party, often to the music played by a banjo-strumming fiddler who worked in the fields.

      The winner of the dance contest sometimes won a cake presented by the master of the house, leading many to think this is where the name the “Cakewalk” comes from.

      African-American slaves who watched the proceedings took the dance on as their own in the yards outside their shacks, mocking what they saw as the frivolous customs of the plantation owners. According to the oral histories of slaves and their descendants, the Cakewalk was a marriage of traditional African tribal dances and rhythms combined with the dance steps of the upper classes. When the land barons and ladies saw the slaves dance, they missed the satirical element entirely, but the popularity of the Cakewalk had been established among the elite and it now transcended the boundaries of class.

      Wealthy farmers went on to sponsor competitions between plantations and the dance moved to large cities in the South and then to the East where it became a staple of traveling minstrel shows and ultimately to Vaudeville, the lights of Broadway and throughout Europe.

      On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation with these humble words, “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Inspired by the renewed freedom gifted to them through Emancipation, a freedom that allowed them to express themselves openly through dance and music, African-Americans led a creative revival that would usher in new forms of dance and music that had never before been seen or heard. The artistic contributions of former slaves and their descendants would forever change the creative landscape in America.


      From this humble beginning in the sweltering, humid heat and back-breaking work of picking cotton, African-American artists penned the notes of a new from of music called ragtime that would eventually evolve into jazz. It was the Cakewalk, unintentionally and ironically, that crossed the bounds of race and class status as it burst into the popular consciousness of America By the 1890’s, African-American actors, dancers and musicians had started forming their own production companies and staged versions of the Cakewalk became all the rage.

      Scott Joplin, (1867-1917), was an early musical pioneer of the Cakewalk style of music. Known as the “King of Ragtime,” Joplin wrote and performed in the style of rag—a combination of dance and marching music entwined with the “ragged” rhythms and soul of African music. One of Joplin’s most famous pieces was “The Ragtime Dance,” (published in 1902), that included a Cakewalk:

      “Turn left and do the “Cakewalk Prance, Turn the other way and do the “Slow drag, Now take your lady to the World’s Fair and do the ragtime dance. Cakewalk soft and sweetly, be sure your steps done neatly.”

      The vaudeville team of Mr. Egbert Williams and Mr. George Walker were two of the first African-Americans to take their musical show on the road in a grand scale. Crowds packed into The New York theatre in 1903 for 53 stunning performances of song and Cakewalk dances in William’s and Walker’s new production “In Dahomey” -- the first all-black musical to be performed on a grand scale in a major Broadway venue. After its raging success in America, “In Dahomey” crossed the Atlantic, performing for seven months of standing-room-only audiences at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London before returning to New York.

      By the turn of the century, Americans were moving off farms and into towns and cities in record numbers. Ragtime music transformed into a new genre called “Jazz,” with emerging talents like Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington playing at the Cotton Club in New York.

      By 1930, the public fascination with dance theatre began to fade as America was lured by the intrigue of other forms of entertainment like talking motion pictures. But the early concepts and the heritage established by the Cakewalk endured throughout the twentieth century and into the 21st, namely, as a contest to raise money at church socials and school functions. The Cakewalk also delivered new words into the American vocabulary-“take the cake,” and “it’s a real cakewalk,” are terms used to refer to something that is “the best,” or a job easily done. Cakewalk software is a cutting-edge firm today that produces award-winning digital audio and recording software to the music industry.

      + + +
      I’m nearing my 54th birthday in November, some 46 years removed from my second-grade class. I had been lost until that Cakewalk at Yoke’s, yet now I’m found. I’ve learned a lesson in respect through the Cakewalk -- a lesson that taught me how emancipation allowed the enslaved to express themselves through music and dance. A lesson that freedom is an unalienable right bestowed upon all Americans. I’ve gained a deep appreciation for the place that this little ditty we call the Cakewalk plays in the history of America, opening our eyes to a world that was color blind.

      I found my personal truth in the Cakewalk -- a truth far richer and deeper than the dreams of a boy winning a cake.

      * * *
      David Ross lives in Spokane, but works a one-hour plane ride away. When he's not tending to his day job -- or commuting -- he writes about food and reviews restaurants. He is on the eGullet Society hosting team.
    • By JohnT
      I have been asked to make Chinese Bow Tie desserts for a function. However, I have never made them, but using Mr Google, there are a number of different recipes out there. Does anybody have a decent recipe which is tried and tested? - these are for deep-fried pastry which are then soaked in sugar syrup.
    • By shain
      Makes 40 cookies, 2 loaves. 
       
      50-60 g very aromatic olive oil
      80 g honey 
      120 to 150 g sugar (I use 120 because I like it only gently sweet) 
      2 eggs
      2 teaspoons of fine lemon zest, from apx 1 lemon 
      230 g flour 
      1 teaspoon salt 
      1 teaspoon baking powder 
      75 g lightly toasted peeled pistachios
      50 g lightly toasted almonds (you can replace some with pine nuts) 
      Optional: a little rosemary or anise seed
      Optional: more olive oil for brushing
       
      Heat oven to 170 deg C.
      In mixer (or by hand), mix oil, honey, sugar, lemon, egg and if desired, the optional spices - until uniform. 
      Separately mix together the flour, salt and baking powder. 
      Add flour mixture to mixer bowel with liquids and fold until uniform. Dough will be sticky and quite stiff. Don't knead or over mix. 
      Add nuts and fold until well dispersed. 
      On a parchment lined baking tray, create two even loaves of dough. 
      With moist hands, shape each to be rectangular and somewhat flat - apx 2cm heigh, 6cm wide and 25cm long. 
      Bake 25 to 30 minutes until golden and baked throughout, yet somewhat soft and sliceable. Rotate pan if needed for even baking. 
      Remove from tray and let chill slightly or completely. 
      Using a sharp serrated knife, gently slice to thin 1/2 cm thick cookies. Each loaf should yield 20 slices. 
      Lay slices on tray and bake for 10 minutes. Flip and bake for another 10-15 minutes until complelty dry and lightly golden. 
      Brush with extra olive oil, if desired. This will and more olive flavor. 
      Let chill completely before removing from tray. 
      Cookies keep well in a closed container and are best served with desert wines or herbal tea. 
       
        
    • By Tennessee Cowboy
      I'd like help from anyone on making the best Pistachio Ice cream.  This forum is a continuation of a conversation I started in my "introduction" post, which you can see at 
      I recently made Pistachio ice cream using the Jeni's Ice Cream Cookbook.  I love Pistachio ice cream, so I've launched an experiment to find the best recipe.  I am going to try two basic approaches:  The Modernist Cookbook gelato, which uses no cream at all, and ice cream; I'm also experimenting with two brands of pistachio paste and starting with pistachios and no paste.  Lisa Shock and other People who commented on the earlier thread said that the key is to start with the best Pistachio Paste. &nbsp;  
      Any advice is appreciated.  Here is where I am now:  I purchased a brand of pistachio paste through nuts.com named "Love 'n Bake."  When it arrived, it was 1/2 pistachios and 1/2 sugar and olive oil.   I purchased a second batch through Amazon from FiddleyFarms; it is 100% pistachios.  I bought raw pistachios through nuts.com.  The only raw ones were from California.  If anyone has advice on using the MC recipe or on best approaches to ice cream with this ingredient I'd appreciate them.  I will report progress on my experiment in this forum.
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