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Do you use Boxed Cake Mixes?


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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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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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      First a little history. I'm a semi-burned out pastry chef who transplanted herself from the "big city" (Seattle) scene to a tranquil and liberal, artistic, intellectual, granola chewing, Birkenstock wearing, marine and tourist trade Victorian Seaport......also known as Port Townsend, Washington. I love this place. I affectionately call it Tinytown. In Seattle I spent a lot of years doin' the PC thing in various bakeries and specialty shops, but mostly I was employed as a high-end cake artist. I loved the work I did (and do) as a cake artist over there, but the long hours and snotty brides took their toll, and I wanted to walk away from it for a while. After a couple of years living here in Port Townsend and establishing a life with my new husband and love of my life, I decided to get back into doing cakes just a little. I'm only doing the ones I want to do, and only the ones that make it worth my while. But sometimes I'm so inspired to do a cake, I do it for nothing just because I want to do it, and I love to see the look on people's faces when I present it to them. Usually, that's all the payment I need. Such is the case with this cake. A side note: I do have a regular job baking for a cute progressive little deli (Provisions) and a cookie wholesale outfit. I love that job.....it fulfills my need to bake. Not only that, the people I work for are so freaking nice as to let me use the kitchen for my cakes also. I only have to pay them 10% of whatever I'm charging for the cake.....but anything under $100 is free. I also get to order all my ingredients wholesale on their account. Sweet, huh?
       
      Here's a picture of Provisions, Port Townsend's source for gourmet European ingredients, and the best take-out on the Peninsula!

      Since this town is small enough that everyone seems to know everyone else, I heard that one of my boss' wife's friends was getting a baby shower on May 1st. Of course, the boss' wife, who is a chef in her own right and runs the deli, offered to do the food. So I chimed in and said I'd do the cake. The person giving the shower, Lily, showed me the invitation and told me that she was going to do a May Day theme with lots of flowers. When I offered to to the cake, I was just going to do a simple round cake....but when Lily told me the details I had this epiphany. Into my head immediately popped one of those Anne Geddes babies that is coming out of the flowerpot. I immediately started forming this vision of my cake, and this is what I sketched:

      Now, I knew I would be putting in a lot of work for no monetary gain, but what the hell.....it would be fun. Once I get a bee in my bonnet, there's no stopping me.
       
      A week before the day of the shower, I started all my prep work.....which included:
      making the flowers, out of gumpaste making modeling chocolate and kneading in all the colors I would need making the umbrella out of gumpaste baking the cakes making the buttercream making simple syrup kneading all the fondant colors I'd need buying chocolate cookies and liquor cutting and covering my bottom board dying bamboo skewers green with vinegar and food color I did a little each day. I had to fit that in between my regular job and family-care duties.
       
      On Saturday, the day before the shower, and one of the days I'm off from my regular job, I went into the kitchen to build the cake. I'd had a nutritious breakfast of Oreo Mint Creams thanks to my stepson who'd been eating them the night before as he was watching TV. Gulped down a little coffee, and packed up all my equipment in the back of my truck. Only 4 minutes to the kitchen......man, I don't miss commuting!!!
       
      The night before, I had filled and stacked the cakes, so they would be ready for me to carve, first thing. The top cake is a lemon cake with raspberry buttercream, and the bottom cake is chocolate cake with mocha-toffee buttercream. All the cake layers are soaked with simple syrup; the lemon was soaked with lemon syrup and the chocolate, soaked with Kahlua syrup. I prefer to use buttercream as a filling in sculpted cakes....it sets up firm and makes carving a cinch. Mousses and jams and curds don't set up enough and are also very slippy-slidy. When you are carving out a cake, you don't want your layers sliding around on you. Here is my top cake.....I baked off two 8 inch rounds and 1 10 inch round. Cut them all in half and filled. Ready to carve!

      Here is the rough cut:

      I just used my long serrated knife to get a general pot shape. Now for the fine tuning:

      Lookin' like a flowerpot! Mmmmmm......look at all those cake scraps on the table. Yep, a few went in my mouth (quality control you know) but the rest went into the garbage......Next it's time to put a layer of buttercream on there, for extra smoothy goodness:

      I snapped the pic with one hand as I was holding the pastry bag in the other. Not easy. I like to use the giant pastry bag with the giant tip for applying icing....makes for less work later.

      Ok, here's a pic for folks that wanted to see that "paint masker thingy" in action. Tried to snap a pic myself, but just couldn't muster up the co-ordination. Luckily, Amber, the front deli counter girl, took a pic for me. I hadn't meant for her to include ME in the pic (Gawd!) but I wanted more of a close up of Mr. Smoothing Tool. Oh well, you take what you can get. See that I have my sketch on the reach-in behind me....along with all my other wacky magnets. Hey, I like to decorate my workspace.....Notice I hold the "pint masker thingy" by the bottom when I am smoothing the sides. If I don't, and hold it by the handle, it tends to kind of bend. I hold it by the handle when I go across the top. See how nice and smooth?:

      Now it's really starting to look like a flowerpot. But wait! It's upside down! Why is that, you ask? Because it's easier to carve and ice that way, and most importantly, much easier to apply the fondant. Into the walk-in it goes, to firm up. Now for the second pot:

      This is going to be the bottom flowerpot. It's going to be larger, and a slightly different shape than the top flowerpot. I baked off 2 10 inch rounds and 1 8 inch round for this one. I only ended up using half the 8 inch round, as you can see. I have the saran wrap underneath the cake and on top of the board, so it will be easier to flip over later. Here it is all carved out.....mmm....more cake scraps.....into the garbage they go.....

      Below, here it is, with a layer of buttercream. I didn't use the "paint masker thingy" on this one because of the curvature of the cake. I just piped the icing on and then smoothed it out with my offset spatula as best I could. After I refrigerate it, I will do the final smoothing.

      So now I'm waiting for my pots to set up. Time to do some other stuff, like:

      "Cuiz" my chocolate cookies to make the "dirt" for my pots. And......

      start dusting my flowers and leaves with luster dust to add a little depth and realism to them. For this project I just made "whimsical flowers" in that they really aren't any particular flower....they're just cartoonish and colorful. Well, the roses are, well, roses.....gotta have a few roses. In the background there, you can see sort of how I did the gumpaste umbrella. I happened to have a dessert cup at home that was well suited for it. I filled out the top with gumpaste and added "ribs" with gumpaste, then put some saran on the top of that and put a gumpaste disk on it. I then cut out the rounded parts between the ribs.....and voila....umbrella! This was the first thing I made because I wanted it to have the maximum amount of drying time. Now if I were really smart, I would have made not one, but two or even three umbrellas because stuff always breaks. Always. No matter how careful you are. Especially in a commercial kitchen.....not only do you have to worry about yourself but everyone else too. I make more flowers than I need because I always manage to break quite a few. But, as it was, I only made one umbrella since I was so cocky and sure of myself. Turns out I was lucky......this time! Ok, time to roll out some terra cotta colored fondant!

      Dust the table liberally with cornstarch and roll away. I've done this so much I can just eyeball how much fondant I'll need to cover a certain sized cake. When rolling out fondant, waste no time from the time you're done rolling til you get it on the cake, because it starts drying out right away. Drying out means yukky little cracks, and me no likey little cracks! So I race to walk-in, retrieve cake, and cover it quickly.

      Then I take my trusty little pizza wheel and cut the excess away. This excess will get kneaded back into the remainder of my fondant so that I'll have enough to cover the other pot. So I take the rounded pot out of the walk-in, and, after washing my hands like a surgeon, I use the warmth of my hands to smooth the buttercream out so I have a perfect surface on which to cover with fondant. I tried using latex gloves for doing smoothing, but they are too much of a barrier to my body warmth. I need that warmth to lightly soften the buttercream for the proper smoothing. And here we have a nice smooth surface for the fondant:

      Into the reach-in it goes to set up while I roll out my fondant.......and here it is covered, with the excess trimmed away. Notice that I trimmed off my plastic wrap quite a bit before I covered it. Otherwise I would have gotten into a wrestling match with it and the fondant.

      So back into the walk-in they go to stay firm while I take me a little breaky:

      This is the view out the back door of the kitchen. We look over the Kai-Tai Lagoon and the Olympic Mountains. Unfortunately you can't see the Olympics in this picture because it's cloudy. But man, on a clear day......it's outstanding. Off to the right, beyond the trellis thing, is a large garden full of culinary things....a la Chez Panisse. We've got rosemary, bay, basil, fennel, oregano, chervil,onions, squashes (in the fall), thyme, decorative flowers, arugula, and more. Whenever we need herbs....just go out back. We get most of our produce from local farmers who come to our back door. One of the things I LOVE about Tinytown. It really beats the in-city large mass produce vendors. As I look out the back door, I sip on a latte that I made myself from our aging and undependable espresso machine. Luckily, today, I managed to pull a pretty good shot. Ok, break time over! Back to work! My next step is to turn my pots over. I will turn the larger pot over first. I slip my offset spatula underneath the saran wrap and lift the cake off, and set it aside on the table. An important thing to note: If I'd used a mousse, curd, or jam filling, I wouldn't have been able to do this so easily. With a refrigerated buttercream filling, the cake doesn't flex at all as I lift it. I managed to nick a little of my polyfoil covering with my spat when I went to lift the cake. Nuts. Oh well, I'll cover that with a flower later. I melt some white chocolate and smear some in the center of my board. I need to anchor the bottom pot so it doesn't slip around.

      I flip the bottom pot over, place it on top of my melted white chocolate, make sure it's centered, and peel the saran wrap off.

      My next step is to mark where I'm going to place my top pot, then insert straws within that area to support the weight of it. I decided to place the top pot slightly off center, and traced a circle with my paring knife to mark it. For most cake supports I use straws. They're easy to cut to fit, cheap, and they work. The only time I use wooden dowels is when there is an UNGODLY amount of weight or a weird center of gravity involved. I used to use regular heavy duty bar straws, until I discovered.......bubble tea straws! They are super heavy duty and very large.....they have to be for people to suck up that lovely bubble tea. I don't really think that fad is going to catch on here much in the states, but as long as I can get the straws I'm happy. I get them from an asian novelty wholesaler in Seattle. I think it's Viet-Wah, but can't remember for sure.

      Anyway, I insert the straw, mark it with my thumb where it's flush with the top of the cake, then pull the straw out and cut it. I use that straw as a measure to cut the rest of my straws. In this case I will use 5. One in the center and four around.

      Now I'm all ready to place the top pot on......oh, wait, except for a swirl of buttercream on top of the straws to anchor it a bit. Next, I use my melted white chocolate to adhere an appropriately sized round cardboard on the bottom of my top pot.

      Once that's set, I flip over the top pot, and place it on my bottom pot.

      Voila! Now, I really have to make sure that the top pot won't slide around, so I stick a few bamboo skewers down through the middle and through the cardboard til it hits the bottom board. I use the side of my needlenose pliers to pound the skewer down through. Now starts my very favorite part of this whole thing.....details! I figured that using my silicone lace impression molds will make great detailing on the pots. Here's the one I'm going to use to detail the bottom pot:

      I dust the inside of the mold with cornstarch........then roll out a quick piece of fondant, and roughly press it in:

      Then I place the top piece of the silicone impression on top, and roll it like crazy with a rolling pin. With the top part of the impression still in place, I pull off as much of the excess as I can.

      Then I remove the top piece, and pull all the ragged edges back in......

      Then I brush a little water on the back of the piece, and adhere it to the pot. I keep making them until the pattern has gone all the way 'round.

      I use a different lace mold to make a pattern on the top pot. Now it's time to do the rims. When I did the lace impressions around the pots, I used fondant, because I needed the stretchability of it to conform easily to the shape of the pot. A little stretchiness in this case is good. But when it's time to do the rims, I don't want ANY stretching going on whatsoever.....I want uniformly thick and perfectly straight strips, so for this I'm going to use modeling chocolate, which of course has been colored the same color as the fondant. See the neato embossing on my strip? I found that little embossing wheel at Seattle Pottery Supply, believe it or not, and it was cheap too. The embossers are interchangeable and it came with about 10 different patterns! I rolled out my strip, then embossed the pattern twice (one next to the other) then used my pizza wheel to cut nice straight even edges. I made two top strips and two bottom strips....the bottom strips are just plain.

      And here are the pots with all their details.....

      These guys are going into the walk-in for a while while I work on the other details. Gotta make the baby! First I start with a styrofoam core. The reason for this is for stability and less weight. There was a time in my career when I thought I shouldn't use ANYTHING that wasn't edible, but talk about making life hard. I've made things out of solid modeling chocolate, but they were very heavy and hard to support. Then over the years, I realized that people really don't eat the decorations anyway (except for a few overzealous kids), so I decided to reduce my chocolate expenses and weight by using styrofoam to bulk things out more and more. I pat out a disk of flesh colored modeling chocolate, and place my styrofoam ball in the middle.

      Then I bring the edges up around the ball and squeeze the chocolate together so that no seams show. I stick a couple of skewers in it so that I can hold it in one hand and model it with the other. Then I manipulate it in my surgeon-scrubbed hands to model the face, add a little nose, eyes, mouth, ears, hair and of course, a dimple. The baby head needs to go somewhere while I work on other stuff.....oh, here's a good place.....right in the edge of my equipment box.

      I've been so good about taking pictures at nearly every step! But here's where I fail you.......when I get "in the zone"......meaning that I'm so intent on my little details....I sort of forget about the camera! Here's what I did in between this picture and the next two:
      *made the baby's shoulders and neck and arms out of modeling chocolate
      *sprinkled my cookie dirt inside the pots
      *dusted the centers of my flowers with luster and color, made the calyx's (sp?) and mounted *them on my green skewers
      *rolled modeling chocolate onto a skewer to form the umbrella stem
      *made the bottom banner and wrote on it
      *made the baby's flower bonnet
      I modeled the baby's neck and shoulders, then stuck that right on the top pot. Then I cut the skewers that are coming out of his head to the right length and pushed it down through the neck and shoulders.

      I placed the arms and formed the hands. I stuck my umbrella stem through the arm and down into the cake so there would be adequate support......but darn, I wasn't watching carefully, and the skewer came out of the side of the pot because my angle was a bit off. Oh well, I'll cover that up with a leaf. At least you can see where the umbrella stem is on the skewer. On top of the umbrella stem is a little half dome of modeling chocolate, to support the gumpaste umbrella. I dab a bit of melted white chocolate on that, and stick the umbrella on top. Now all I have to do is place my flowers, mount the banner, and put his little bonnet on.

      And here we have the finished product. It's sort of hard to read the banner....it says, "May Showers Bring Adorable Flowers". One thing I always seem to to do.....I'll shoot the picture of my finished cake and I'm always tired.....so I'm too lazy to find a good backdrop. Then I curse myself later when there's that yukky kitcheny background. God, in one picture I took, my cake had a dirty mop bucket behind it! All I can say is, thank god for Photoshop......I can always "fix" it later.
      It took me 8 hours to put this together and that's not counting all the prep I did the whole week prior. I don't think a whole lot of people realize the time that goes into this stuff.....and it's also why you don't see it very often.
      Anyway, the girl that's getting the baby shower has NO IDEA this is coming. Surprising her is going to be the best part!
      Fast forward to the next day. My boss's wife and I are bringing the box inside the house, then removing the cake from the box. Kids are dancing around us....."is that a CAKE? Is that a CAKE?" People gather round, and the girl who's getting the shower sees it and starts crying. She gives me a big hug and says "I don't know how to thank you!" I told her she just did.
      The shower went on, presents were opened, food was eaten, champagne was sipped.......and then.....it was time......the part that the kids almost couldn't wait for.....time to eat cake! Which of course, means, time to cut cake. And guess who gets to do it. Yep. Me. I don't have to cut my own cakes very often, and that's a good thing. Usually I'm nowhere in the vicinity when my cakes are cut and consumed.....I have only the memory of a photograph and my labor. This time I also do the deconstructing.....and I gotta say it was bittersweet. Especially since knowing it took me 8 hours to build it and only 15 minutes to take it apart. May I say.......wah? Yes. Wah. Luckily I'd had a couple glasses of Mumm's so my "pain" was numbed a bit.......
      Hope you all have enjoyed this bit of cake sculpting. Now back to our regular programming.......
    • By Nn, M.D.
      I'm very excited to share with you all a recipe that I developed for a double crust apple pie.  I had been inspired a few weeks ago to come up with a series of 3-ingredient recipes that would focus on technique and flavor but still be simple enough for the unseasoned chef.  I decided to make an apple pie as a challenge to myself--never having made one before--and as a way to show those who might find pastry intimidating how easy and adaptable it can be.
       
      Basic Shortcrust Pastry
      Ingredients:
      - 300g flour
      - 227g salted butter, cold
      - 2 lemons, zested with juice reserved
       
      1. Cut butter into small chunks.  Beat butter, zest of the 2 lemons, and flour together with an electric mixer OR combine with pastry blender OR rub together with fingers OR blitz in a food processor until it resembles sand.
      2. Add just enough water to bring the mix together into a dough (about 20g for me).  You'll know your pastry is ready when you can press it together and it stays in one piece.
      3. Divide dough in two and wrap tightly with plastic.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
      4. When ready to use, roll out each portion to 13 inches in diameter. (I do this between two sheets of parchment paper.  Don't worry too much if the parchment sticks to the pastry. I periodically placed mine in the freezer to help keep everything cold, and the butter will separate from the parchment when frozen.)
      5. Take 1 portion of rolled dough and place it in a 9-inch tart tin with a removable bottom.  Gently press into the sides to ensure even coverage.  Place in the freezer for 30 minutes.  Freeze the other portion of dough in-between the parchment pieces.
       
      Apple Filling (and Assembly)
      - 1 kg apples (I used about 7 apples for this recipe.)
      - 220g dark brown sugar, divided
      - 1 egg, separated
       
      Making the apple butter: 
      1. Cut and core 500g of your apples, but do not peel.  Add cut apples, juice of the one lemon, about 100g or so of water, and 170g of sugar to a large saucepan.
      2. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer and cover.  Let the apples cook for 20-30 minutes or until tender.
      3. Remove from heat and blend until smooth.
      4. Return puree to saucepan and simmer uncovered over low heat, stirring occasionally, for an hour.  Color should deepen and the mixture should thicken slightly, but do not allow it to scorch.
      5. Remove from heat and refrigerate until cool.
       
      Apple filling:
      1. Peel, quarter, and core the remaining 500g of apples. Slice on a mandolin to about 1/8th inch thickness. Place sliced apples in a large bowl of cold water while slicing remaining apples.
      2. Once apples are sliced, drain water and add the juice from the remaining lemon, as well as the remaining 50g of sugar, over the apples. Stir to coat.
       
         
       
      Assembly:
      1. Remove pie base from the freezer.  Dock with a fork and brush on egg white.  Place back in the freezer and allow to set for for about 5-10 minutes.
      2. Pour the entire recipe of apple butter into the pie base and even out with an offset spatula.
      3. Arrange apple slices over the apple butter.
      4. Remove remaining pie dough from the freezer and cut designs in while still cold. Transfer to the surface of the pie and seal overhanging edges.  Trim excess dough.
      5. Brush top pastry with egg yolk (beaten with any remaining egg white) and bake in a 365˚F oven for 60-70 minutes.  Crust should be shiny and golden brown.
      6. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before removing from tin.
       
      Some notes:
      The reason for using salted butter is I think the flavor incorporates a little better into the mix than if I were to use unsalted butter and added salt.  That being said, you could do that instead, though your recipe would then have 7 ingredients The addition of apple butter here takes the place of the normal apple pie filling, which is usually thickened with cornstarch and is typically quite sweet.  By using the apple butter, I push the flavor of apple forward beyond what you would find in a typically apple pie.  Also, the apple butter acts as a glue of sorts so that my slices are always clean, so no need to resort to adding thickeners or extra sweeteners. I'm always looking for a way around blind baking, and using an egg white seal has worked out very well for me. The egg white creates a water-tight layer between the crust and the filling, so no matter how wet my filling is, the crust will always bake crispy and won't get soggy for as long as the pie is around. Feel free to change this up as you see fit.  Obviously you can spices to this (I recommend cinnamon, clove, and cardamom) but the beauty of this pie is that it's really not necessary.  Although at first blush it may seem one-noted, the harmony between the flaky, almost savory crust and the bright and refreshing filling is one that doesn't need any help, in my honest opinion.  

       
      So there you have it! My 6-ingredient apple pie, sure to become a go-to for me, and hopefully for you as well!
       
    • By ResearchBunny
      Posted 6 hours ago Dear EGulleters,
      ResearchBunny here. I've just found you today. I've been lolling in bed with a bad cold, lost voice, wads of tissues, pillows, bedding around me. I spent all of yesterday binge-watching Season 2 of Zumbo's Just Desserts on Netflix from beginning to grand finale. I have been a hardcore devotee of Rose Levy Beranbaum since the beginning of my baking passion -- after learning that she wrote her master's thesis comparing the textural differences in cake crumb when using bleached versus unbleached flour. I sit up and pay attention to that level of serious and precision! While Beranbaum did study for a short while at a French pastry school, she hasn't taken on the challenge of writing recipes for entremets style cakes. That is, multi-layer desserts with cake, mousse, gelatin, nougatine or dacquoise layers all embedded in one form embellished with ice cream, granita, chocolate, coulis. After watching hours of the Zumbo contest, I became curious about the experience of designing these cakes. Some of the offered desserts struck me as far too busy, others were delightful combinations. I was surprised that a few contestants were eliminated when their offerings were considered too simple or, too sophisticated. So I'd like to hear from you about your suggestions for learning more about how to make entremets. And also, what you think about the show. And/or Zumbo.
      Many thanks.
      RB
      ps. The show sparked a fantasy entremet for my cold. Consider a fluffy matzo ball exterior, with interior layers of carrot, celery, a chicken mince, and a gelatin of dilled chicken broth at its heart!
    • By TexasMBA02
      After batting about .500 with my previous approach to macarons, I came across Pierre Herme's base recipe online.  After two flawless batches of macarons, I've been re-energized to continue to work at mastering them.  Specifically, I want to try more of his recipes.  My conundrum is that he has, as far as I can tell, two macaron cookbooks and I don't know which one I should get.  I can't tell if one is just an updated version of the other or a reissue or what the differences really are.  I was hoping somebody had some insight.  I have searched online and haven't seen both books referenced in the same context or contrasted at all.
       
      This one appears to be older.

       
      And this one appears to be the newer of the two.

       
      Any insight would be helpful.
       
      Thanks,
       
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