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Do you use Boxed Cake Mixes?


pam claughton
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Because a tier cake for a celebration does have so many other justifiable requirements besides taste I'm not sure it is a general example of what some are discussing on this thread. (Well, I guess I can't speak for other but as a consumer it wasn't my point of reference, anyway!) I don't mean that it is not a valid topic, but that perhaps it is a separate topic; i.e. "Tier Cakes: Best made with mixes?" (I am not literally suggesting another topic; I think it all fits in here but I wanted to make a distinction.)

I am not being snarky in the slightest, but taste is just not the only and maybe not even the main requirement for a tiered celebration cake. For me, so many other factors were important as you point out--that it looks good at the time of presentation, (i.e. surviving transport, being made ahead, etc) and that is cuts neatly, etc. The taste requirement was just that it tasted "good enough" or "as good as possible". We did find a great bakery to make it. It looked great, tasted pretty good as far as I can recall and I don't know whether or not it was a cake mix.

Edited by ludja (log)

"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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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.

Personally, I don't think that you have to use a mix to achieve all of the above. I make tier cakes frequently (in fact that's about the only kind of cake I make!), some that have to travel many miles, I use fondant and/or buttercream, the cakes sometimes sit for awhile unrefrigerated, they sit in the fridge sometimes, etc., etc. These were all made from scratch cakes.

I don't, however, do this for a living so if I had a flop it wouldn't make or break me. Therefore I am willing to take the chance. I have had to do over one or two layers, but that was when I strayed from my proven recipes.

So I think I can have my cake and eat it too! :raz: Maybe I'm just lucky. I dunno. But I think that weighing the ingredients accurately has helped me with the consistency of my product. That and having the ingredients the same temp (yep I stick a thermometer in the butter - 65 degrees!) Remember, cake mixes are sold by weight, not volume!

Again, this is not to knock someone who uses mixes. But I find that I can get the results I want, and my clients want, without using mixes, and I prefer to do it that way.

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Personally, I don't think that you have to use a mix to achieve all of the above. I make tier cakes frequently (in fact that's about the only kind of cake I make!),

I agree with you. You don't have to use a mix. But those are the reasons for the times when I do use a mix. It works wonderfully. And in particular for white cake which is the most requested flavor in this part of the world.

My rhetoric question is, why the heat & drama about cake mix (not to Darcie B, just in general)

Honestly, to me, the cake is canvas for the icings and fillings and splashes and especially the decor. The cake has to be good but it's actually the component on the bottom of the list for the wow factor of the cake. If it's crummy, that's a problem. If it's ok, I can make it sing high notes.

The fact that the cake is the focal point of the reception dynamic and the focal point of the food and the fulfillment of traditon is overwhelming compared to the mixing methods. Then spatula on to that some butter rich icings and sharp snappy fillings. The cake is a vehicle for the rest of the procession.

So I'd love to hear the anthropology of our cake cliqueing about this subject. How it got to be so dramatic. But a continuing clean clear discussion without the drama. That reveals the basis of the drama.

Like Patrick said earlier in this discussion, the ingredients we use in scratch cakes are all chemicals. We have easy common names for them like flour and sugar but they are as highly refined as the maligned mixes.

Edited by K8memphis (log)
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There's so much more to it than creating the canvas on which you will paint.

I guess if the assumption is that the cake is a lesser component to the finished dish than the icing and decoration then you could justify using just about anything.

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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:

AMEN

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OK, I think that the outrage (although I think it probably doesn't quite rise to that level, but I can't immediately think of a better word) expressed is probably at least one of four things, and for some it is a combination of these things:

1. Superiority - made from scratch is "better" because you sourced the ingredients, spent the energy, blah blah blah

2. Class - only poor people use mixes (whatever)

3. Health - fewer "chemicals" and yada yada yada. Of course, health claims when talking about cake are dubious.

4. Taste - Some think scratch cakes taste better. Others don't or don't perceive a difference. (I do!)

I think it is different things for different people, but all fall within one or more of the above categories.

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...

My rhetoric question is, why the heat & drama about cake mix (not to Darcie B, just in general)

...

I don’t see that much heat or drama on the thread regarding people’s opinion on others who want to use a cake mix.

But, since you have asked several times, I will pass on one aspect of the rise in cake mixes that does impact me in a negative way as a consumer.

As evidenced by quite a few posts on this thread, many people don’t like or prefer the taste, mouthfeel and texture of cakes made from mixes. Sugarella recently outlined some of the extra ingredients in typical cake mixes besides flour, sugar, baking powder and how they affect taste and texture.

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.

The more bakeries that switch over to cake mixes the less and less each generation will even know what a scratch cake tastes like. Cakes made from mixes will be the gold standard and it will be increasingly difficult for someone to purchase a prepared non-mix cake without access to a higher-end patisserie or bakery. The tail wags the dog, so to speak.

I am not crying doomsday, but I think these factors can slowly and over time erode the quality of baked goods generally available to consumers as the majority lose knowledge of what a scratch cake even tastes like.

Not a perfect analogy, but my mom has had kids at her house that don't like the homemade cookies because they are only accustomed to the taste of store bought cookies made with artificial ingredients. On various threads throughout eGullet I have seen many people post about bringing a homemade (and wellmade) baked item to a potluck and it is overlooked as the cake mix or supermarket-purchased items are eaten.

Luckily, one can choose not to purchase cakes and can instead make them at home. It’s just sad that if you don’t happen to have time or enjoy baking yourself or want a cake that is more professionally styled or decorated, it may be difficult to purchase a scratch cake from a professional baker at a commercial bakery! This does impact me because while I like to bake I do not have any experience in professionally decorating a cake and would sometimes consider paying for this talent.

Why keep insisting to people that prefer scratch cakes based on taste, texture, mouthfeel or other reasons that there is no difference between scratch and mix cakes?

"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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For me, the cost factor of a scratch cake is in making a chocolate cake. When you use good quality chocolate, cocoa, butter, etc-it does add up. Also, it does take longer to chop and melt chocolate and other things involved in making my usual chocolate cake.

A few years ago, I only made scratch cakes for a while. When I did make a cake mix again, I did notice the difference in taste and smell of the cake mix. Not that the cake tasted bad or anything, just that I noticed the difference.

Can we start on the icing now-those who use crisco and those who don't LOL. :wink:

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OK, I think that the outrage (although I think it probably doesn't quite rise to that level, but I can't immediately think of a better word) expressed is probably at least one of four things, and for some it is a combination of these things:

1. Superiority - made from scratch is "better" because you sourced the ingredients, spent the energy, blah blah blah

2. Class - only poor people use mixes (whatever)

3. Health - fewer "chemicals" and yada yada yada. Of course, health claims when talking about cake are dubious.

4. Taste - Some think scratch cakes taste better. Others don't or don't perceive a difference. (I do!)

I think it is different things for different people, but all fall within one or more of the above categories.

Fear is a good word for it too. I've worked for people that hide cake mix for fear a customer will see it and...and then what?

Good points. But I bet there was triggering incident somewhere. Or cake mix became the poster boy for lazy housewifing or something like that. Umm, Mrs. O'Learys cow kicked open a box and the whole thing caught on fire. Something happened.

Edited by K8memphis (log)
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...

My rhetoric question is, why the heat & drama about cake mix (not to Darcie B, just in general)

...

I don’t see that much heat or drama on the thread regarding people’s opinion on others who want to use a cake mix.

Why keep insisting to people that prefer scratch cakes based on taste, texture, mouthfeel or other reasons that there is no difference between scratch and mix cakes?

Yes, no in general in the country, box or scratch is more polarizing than fois gras or no fois gras, or even the trans fat debate. I am not insisiting that there is no difference in scratch or mix. I'm asking why is there such a polarity. There is a big difference between the two and unless one is a very good cake baker, one cannot duplicate the qualities of a mix with scratch ingredients. Great cake can be made. But so-o many wedding cakes taste like so much sweetened egg white poo. The learning curve is high to make great scratch cake that performs right for weddings.

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Great first post. Welcome to egullet.

Thank you, K8. Now I just need to get over my habit of lurking and join in!

FYI, The Gluten Free Pantry makes a brownie mix that produces one of the best brownies I've eaten, including scratch.

I haven't tried that mix; we're somewhat limited to what's readily available here and the product lineup changes frequently. I will keep an eye out though, or see if one of the health food stores here can order it in.

Can we start on the icing now-those who use crisco and those who don't LOL. :wink:

Crisco is... unnatural. I can taste it from across the room and it's not a taste I enjoy. Again, I didn't grow up with it, so my palate isn't accustomed to that particular flavour sensation. My husband made a couple of pies one afternoon as a special treat, only to have me wrinkle my face up and stare accusingly at this blatant attempt to "poison" me :laugh: I ate the filling, but just could not get over the Crisco taste.

I know, I don't deserve nice things.

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...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...

THAT'S what my sister's cakes taste like! Hand cream! O/T: Tonight we celebrated sister's birthday, she had a Carvel ice cream cake. My kiddle must be missing my cooking, at least a little, dont'cha think? Kiddle ate the crunchies out of the center of her piece, she said they tasted like Hydrox. Which we miss, dearly. :laugh:

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Of course Kiddle misses Mom's cooking. Me too, gonna get me some pate.

Shortening has a place in baking but maybe not for long with all the trans fat controversy going on. But I like to use shortening in some cookies like snickerdoodles and in my tea-ring dough because the filling is so rich and caramelly. But I don't use shortening in cake. I do use it in icing that I would use to make decorations out of. Like piping roses or something like that. Just depends although I do use butter for that icing also.

Umm, but Wilton is using the smelly stuff in their fondant. It's horridly awful. However I do not detect it in the cake mix I use.

Now when I worked for Seessel's here in Memphis their cakes tasted horrible without icing. So I can detect the taste and the smell. Every cake mix probably has emulsifiers but not all of them stink with it.

Edited by K8memphis (log)
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Actually plain shortening has no taste. It has other properties but the taste is flat which is why it's useful in some applications.

It does have taste--I've been using health-food, non-hydrogenated shortening for the last few years, and I've gotten so I can taste (and dislike the taste of) regular Crisco in things. I got some of the non-hydrogenated Crisco, thinking it would save money on my Xmas baking, and it tasted just like regular! I gave it to a friend who actually likes Crisco flavor.

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"The primary reason you make cookies at home instead of picking one of the hundreds of packages off the shelf at the grocery store is that you can make a cookie that tastes a lot better than store-bought. From the perspective of taste — in our opinion — butter wins, hands down. Vegetable shortening adds nothing to the flavor of a cookie, but virtually all store-bought cookies are made with it. Some people prefer the taste of margarine, however, and this is a democracy, after all. "

from Ochef

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Fear is a good word for it too. I've worked for people that hide cake mix for fear a customer will see it and...and then what?

Good points. But I bet there was triggering incident somewhere. Or cake mix became the poster boy for lazy housewifing or something like that. Umm, Mrs. O'Learys cow kicked open a box and the whole thing caught on fire. Something happened.

If there was a Mrs. O'Leary's cow, I think it started with oleo in WWII and worked up towards ever more processed foods. There were processed/shortcut foods before WWII, but with the rationing and substitutions of ingredients (esp. butter), I think it was the biggest catalyst. Also, the boys coming back from the war had a 'taste' for the rations and whatnot, and it was also a big consumerism thing to buy stuff like that because, well, finally you could buy stuff. Then it just snowballed from there.

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It has snowballed. Good point.

Umm, I have some advice for scratch cake bakers of celebration cake. It's purely cafeteria style, take it or leave it. No worries. But consider using one cup of a good mix for one cup of flour or whatever ratio to get a bit of those particular finely honed chemicals into your brew so that scratch cakes can increase the hover quality needed to improve texture and fluff and most importantly that holding quality necessary to have several days in which to birth the baby.

Scratch cakes take a beating at weddings. If they are not dense or rubbery or egg whitey they are invariably dry. Simple syrup does not mask dry scratch cake. Good scratch cake needs to just about be baked the day before because the cat is out of the bag. There may yet be debate about fluffy texture preferences but nobody likes dry.

Not all of them, but way too many.

Edited by K8memphis (log)
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"The primary reason you make cookies at home instead of picking one of the hundreds of packages off the shelf at the grocery store is that you can make a cookie that tastes a lot better than store-bought. From the perspective of taste — in our opinion — butter wins, hands down. Vegetable shortening adds nothing to the flavor of a cookie, but virtually all store-bought cookies are made with it. Some people prefer the taste of margarine, however, and this is a democracy, after all. "

I think that's saying that shortening makes no positive flavor contribution (like butter and even margarine do), not that it has no taste at all. I can taste it, and I don't think I have a peculiar sensitivity.

Edited by beccaboo (log)
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"The primary reason you make cookies at home instead of picking one of the hundreds of packages off the shelf at the grocery store is that you can make a cookie that tastes a lot better than store-bought. From the perspective of taste — in our opinion — butter wins, hands down. Vegetable shortening adds nothing to the flavor of a cookie, but virtually all store-bought cookies are made with it. Some people prefer the taste of margarine, however, and this is a democracy, after all. "

I think that's saying that shortening makes no positive flavor contribution (like butter and even margarine do), not that it has no taste at all. I can taste it, and I don't think I have a peculiar sensitivity.

I understand what you're saying. But that's what I meant. It's flat, not flavorful, doesn't add to anything. And you're saying it subtracts, yes I get your point.

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Ok, back to cake mix.

I was watching Martha this morning and she featured a recipe Mrs. Milman's frosting. 24oz choc. chips, 4 cups cream, 1tsp light corn syrup. Supposedly the best choc. frosting Martha ever tasted, blah, blah, blah.

But, Mrs. Milman herself was on TV and she said " I only use cake mix". LOLOLOLOL

As an aside, Martha continually refered to the cocoa she was using as unsweetened, isnt all cocoa unsweetened?

the devils food cake Martha made looked pretty good.

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Scratch cakes take a beating at weddings. If they are not dense or rubbery or egg whitey they are invariably dry. Simple syrup does not mask dry scratch cake. Good scratch cake needs to just about be baked the day before because the cat is out of the bag. There may yet be debate about fluffy texture preferences but nobody likes dry.

Not all of them, but way too many.

I find my cakes don't get dry when I substitute oil for some of the butter in scratch cake recipes. I made a white cake and left out some scraps, uncovered, overnight and the next morning ate some. The scraps were still moist, except for the very edges.

I can't stand dry cake either. Blech. It has taken some time for me to come up with recipes for scratch cakes that have a desirable texture in tiered applications. I'm not sure many other people would go through such measures when they can have the ease and consistency of a mix. I just don't like the taste of most mixes so I went out of my way to find (invent) scratch recipes that work. And of course I could just be deluding myself that these cakes aren't dry and tasteless, but I like to think they are good :blink: .

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Ok, back to cake mix.

I was watching Martha this morning and she featured a recipe Mrs. Milman's frosting.  24oz choc. chips, 4 cups cream, 1tsp light corn syrup.  Supposedly the best choc. frosting Martha ever tasted, blah, blah, blah.

But, Mrs. Milman herself was on TV and she said " I only use cake mix".  LOLOLOLOL

As an aside, Martha continually refered to the cocoa she was using as unsweetened, isnt all cocoa unsweetened?

the frosting sounds like a take on ganache so even with choc chips, it was probably good. enough.

Ghiradelli has a sweetened chocolate that is boxed similarly to cocoa but the box is clearly labelled "sweetened chocolate" as opposed to cocoa. I didn't see the show but maybe the cake mix quip rattled things so she kept saying unsweetened when she meant to say dutched?! :wink:

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