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Cake mix vs. scratch

While I am a pretty accomplished baker, I find that a cake mix will give me overall better results when making a frosted cake or cupcakes. I've made plenty of scratch cakes and some are a lot better than others, but for moistness and consistent results in baking times, I find myself turning to a box mix more and more. I'd rather invest the time spent in making scratch frosting, filling, decorating, etc. Opinions? Let the cake-mix bashing begin...I can take it. :)

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  1. I won't bash you, but I don't like the flavor of most cake mixes. I seem to be able to detect all those ingredients that aren't in the from scratch version, giving a cake mix cake a distinct artificial flavor. With a from scratch cake, I taste wheat, milk, eggs, sweetness, and most of all, butter. (Hounds will be aghast, but I don't bake chocolate cakes any more, due to an allergic individual in the family. No brownies either, boo hoo. Just too much of a lasting scent. Chocolate is obtained outside the home these days.)

    There is a notable exception, and I may have the spelling wrong, but Oetker cake mixes are pretty darned close to from scratch and come in different flavors. They're more expensive than Duncan Hines, but I have found them on sale, and they're worth the extra money. One other thing I'd like to mention is that if you bake regularly, it's entirely possible to make homemade cake mix. You can do it on the weekend, when you aren't pressed for time, then during the week use your homemade cake mix. It can be less expensive, too, though butter cakes will always cost more than a cake mix cake. You just have to use the homemade cake mix in a timely way, so the baking powder is fresh. I like this recipe, because it uses butter rather than shortening, but if you prefer shortening, those recipes are all over the web: http://suzannemcminn.com/blog/2009/04... Just google "from scratch" or "homemade cake mix recipe." There are even recipes to make cake mix in bulk for storage in the freezer. It helps to have a scale for portioning those. If you do want to make a foray into homemade cakes, I highly recommend recipes from Rose Levy Beranbaum and Maida Heatter, whose recipes are reliably tested. But, again, if mixes work for you, I say live and let live.

    5 Replies
    1. re: amyzan

      Thanks for the suggestions and info. Please, don't misunderstand...I have made many, many scratch cakes in my 49 years; it's just that I prefer the ease of a cake mix (and I actually like the taste, too!) so that I can spend a lot of time on the frosting and decorating part. Also, I always doctor cake mixes with milk, buttermilk, fresh juice, different pure flavorings, mix-ins, etc.. depending on what kind of cake I am aiming for.

      Thanks again for your response!

      1. re: amyzan

        All I taste in kit cakes is sugar. Blech. I'd rather risk making a cake that doesn't turn out than make a kit cake and *know* that it'll be a one-flavour sugar bomb.

        1. re: Indirect Heat

          I was at a wedding recently and the fondant covered cake was made with mix. I immediately went from excited for cake to pushing it around my plate and throwing most of it out. I know that many people either don't notice or don't mind the difference between cake mix and from scratch cakes, but i guess I'm a bit of a snob and believe that especially for special occasions, the extra effort of making a real cake is worth it.

          1. re: LaureltQ

            I'm with Laurel. I have not made a box cake in my adult life, probably not since I was a teenager.

            1. re: LaureltQ

              Could you tell from the taste that it was mix, or did someone tell you? Was this a commercially made cake or home made?

        2. I'm not going to bash you either, but I'd say it's a choice between texture and appearance (cake mix wins) vs. flavor (scratch takes it). It's harder to make a butter cake rise to a perfect even height, and the texture can turn out heavy or gummy, but like the previous commenter I can taste the fake eggs, icky shortening and the preservatives in a cake-mix cake and it just doesn't work for me.

          The one exception is angel-food cake: sometimes I crave it (in summer, with whipped cream and raspberries) and there's no way I'm going to make something with 12 egg whites from scratch. Plus, as this is a favorite holdover from childhood, I actually like the plasticky-sweet fragrance of the boxed mix in this case. And the add-ins more than make up for any off-flavors.

          5 Replies
          1. re: csdiego

            I'd like to suggest a remedy for baking a butter cake in round pans, to give more even, higher layers. You can buy magic cake strips which you soak in water and then wrap around the pans, securing with velcro, or you can make a version of them at home with newspaper folded, wetted, and paper clipped around the pan. Both of these will allow the batter to rise at the edges of the pan without getting baked quickly. You get maximum rise and a more even layer that doesn't require leveling/waste before frosting.

            If you make the homemade version with newspaper, just be sure the paper is folded thickly and such that there are no single ply edges exposed or sticking out. I don't want to be responsible for anyone having a kitchen fire! (I've never heard of it happening, as butter cakes in 8, 9, or 10 inch pans don't have long baking times.) But, let's be careful.

            1. re: csdiego

              When using a cake mix, subbing melted butter for the oil improves the flavor considerably.
              The Cake Doctor books' recipes are designed to elevate cake mixes to a higher level. The author points out that the mixes are made to be very forgiving of technique, reliably turning out well-risen, even-textured cakes. And they won't turn stale as fast as scratch cakes, which in some circumstances may be a consideration.

              1. re: csdiego

                I have to disagree. Scratch cakes have a MUCH superior texture to box cakes. That is, I suppose, if you consider a fine, even grain to be the mark of superiority. If you're getting a heavy, gummy cake when you bake from scratch, try another recipe.

                And...why is baking something w/ 12 egg whites a problem? Actually, my current favortie angel food uses 16 whites...its a monster ;-) I know what you mean about that sugar-smell from bought angel food, but you don't have to abaondon eating those when you feel like to enjoy the glory of scratch angel food.

                1. re: csdiego

                  My 18-year-old son made me a from scratch angel food cake for my b-day this year. It was fantastic and not difficult at all, he said. I can't eat store bought AFCs since we started making them from scratch; the difference is remarkable.

                  1. re: Stricttime

                    Congrats to your son!!

                    I've probably told this story before....but ... My Mom refused to let me have 12 eggs to risk when i was a kid wanting to make angel food. In a weird coincidence, i won a dozen eggs in an essay contest in 7th grade. The resulting angel food turned out well, and she and I have made a WHOLE lot of angel food since then. After my dad had a heart attack 20 years ago, angel food cakes went into heavy rotation at her house.

                    Perhaps your son would enjoy the chocolate angel food from the Cake Bible for his next adventure.

                2. Why bash? If it's what you prefer, it's what you prefer. I don't like the chemical taste and gummy feel of box cakes. My kids can tell right away when they have it out and don't like it either but I've told them it's rude to ask ahead of time. But, for people who like the taste and texture of it and don't like it from scratch, why bother? I have to say 90% of the people I know like box cakes.

                  1. We..(mostly DW) are scratch bakers...I can think of only one cake that is baked at Uncle Bob's that we use a box cake as a base.. but that's us...not you. What "saddens" me sometimes is how many young (not kids) people think a "homemade" cake is one that is put together at home...out of a box, with icing coming from a can...Just the other day I heard a young mother exclaiming to her mother that she had been up and down the aisle at the grocery store...back and forth several times, and could not find cup cake mix!!! :))

                    Fun!!!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Uncle Bob

                      Oh my....(shakes head from side to side). It amazes me how little some people know about baking cupcakes or any other type of cake. Last week I was called twice by two different people asking if they needed to grease the cup cake papers after they placed them in the tin...

                      1. re: cookieluvntasha

                        In my scenario above.. after I stopped chuckling.. I couldn't decide what was worse...The fact that the daughter was looking for cup cake mix or the fact that her mother hadn't taught her diddly....then again maybe the mom tried.

                    2. I too can detect box mix the instant it hits my tongue. It has a chemical/industrial taste to me. I make some fussier cakes but generally my basic cake recipe takes about 5 minutes longer than box cake mix. Measure a couple of ingredients and use the stand mixer to speed the process. Since boxed mixes are so pervasive and set the standard for many people of what a cake tastes like, many are unnecessarily impressed with my cakes (brownies too). Maybe it is just me but I don't find it to be very hard or time consuming.

                      But hey, if you prefer the taste of the boxed stuff it's OK by me. I grew up on Duncan Hines boxed mix and frosting so when I am served the boxed stuff it is a bit of nostalgia for me.

                      59 Replies
                      1. re: mels

                        I'm not getting this chemical taste so may people refer to. Again, I have baked many years and have a very discerning palette when it comes to food...especially baked goods. All I taste when I eat a cake made from a mix is sweet, cakey goodness. lol

                        1. re: ttoommyy

                          Cake mixes generally contain added gums, cornstarch, flow agents like maltodextrin, and artificial flavor and color. I can taste those ingredients, plus I don't care for the blandness that partially hydrogenated shortening lends. Butter may be full of saturated fat, but I'll take it over trans fats in the shortening, even for something that's a treat, like a cake. Then, there's the whole issue of cake mixes being overly sweet for my taste, but that's a matter of personal preference. But, seriously, ttoommyy, you don't taste the difference between a butter cake made from scratch and a cake mix cake? Well, okay then, everyone's different, and to each her own.

                          When and if I make a cake during the week, it's more often an oil based carrot or apple spice or applesauce cake. Baking with a scale makes weeknight baking and clean up faster, too.

                          1. re: amyzan

                            "But, seriously, ttoommyy, you don't taste the difference between a butter cake made from scratch and a cake mix cake?"

                            Of course I do. But I still do not really believe people can pick out the taste something like an added "gum, cornstarch or maltodextrin." These things are found in many other food products we eat every day without notice. Interesting debate. I think we could go on forever. I'm glad I posted this topic. :)

                            1. re: ttoommyy

                              i will not debate that i'm uncertain what maltodextrin tastes like, however, i don't eat processed foods. ever. so the flavor of a box-cake is to me very different than a from-scratch. and canned icing is so sweet it makes me sick.

                              i think it was ruhlman who actually did a stopwatch test to see if boxed mix was really that much of a time-saver. the difference was a minute or two.

                              this reminds me of wedding cakes--they usually look beautiful and taste terrible. i don't enter my cakes in beauty contests, lol.

                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                Point taken; but I would venture to guess that most people do indeed eat processed foods. Those who don't, like yourself, are in the minority.
                                BTW--I made a cake froms scratch a few weeks ago and by the time I creamed the butter and sugar (which I do for 2-3 minutes), alternated the wet and dry ingredients and folded in the whipped egg whites (not to metion all the measuring I had to do), there definitley was more than a 2-minute difference from making a cake-mix cake. Remember, all cakes are not created equally...even some basic yellow cakes.

                                1. re: ttoommyy

                                  I think since the Chowhound population is heavy with serious home cooks you'll find more of us (myself included) that mostly eat real food, not processed junk, as opposed to the typical person. Granted I will eat junk food from time to time but on a daily or even weekly basis? No way. This may make many of us more sensitive to that weird boxed mix taste.

                                  1. re: mels

                                    I am 49 years old and have been cooking and baking since I can remember. I have had my own baking business in the past (no, I did not use box mixes). I make a home-cooked meal at least 5 nights a week. I do not raise my own fruits and vegetables; raise my own livestock; grow my own wheat; etc. That said, it is impossible to get around using some sort of processed food product during the course of a week. Or even eating one while dining out.

                                    1. re: ttoommyy

                                      i wasn't casting aspersions on your ability as baker, i do not even know you, so please do not find offense where none was intended.

                                      if you're saying that flour is a processed food, you are correct. for that matter so is butter, since i do not own a cow. however, i do not use any convenience foods, i no longer eat grains (only bake for others) or legumes and only eat in from-scratch restaurants. my lifestyle is very possible, lol.

                                      1. re: ttoommyy

                                        Turning this question back to you with your home cooking since you make your own home cooked meals...this would be similar to someone telling you he/she can't tell the difference between Sara Lee frozen lasagna and something home made. Obviously people have different tastes. Why the need to defend a box cake or a frozen lasagna, if that's what a person prefers?

                                        As processed foods go, there are obviously varying degrees of it but obviously, as boxed cake, made with chemicals, is far more processed than using flour, butter and eggs to make a cake. We all choose where we draw the line whether it's using frozen dinners or boxed cakes or using flour.

                                        1. re: chowser

                                          So there are no chemicals in a home made cake?

                                          What about baking soda or baking powder? Do you stick with genoise to avoid using those? Technically salt is a chemical as well. White flour and white sugar get their share of industrial processing.

                                          A cake made with the muffin method (combine dry, combine wet, the combine together) is nearly as easy as using a mix. The cake method (creaming butter and sugar etc) produces a finer crumb, but also takes more work. I believe mixes aim to replicate that texture, using various starches and conditioners. Don't some recipes use corn starch to reduce the gluten concentration when using unbleached AP flour?

                                          Genoise predate all of these, since they don't rely on chemical leveners. But they also are a lot more work, especially if you don't cheat and use modern technology (like electricity).

                                          I rarely use mixes, not because I object to 'chemicals', but because my tastes lean toward the less sweet and hearty cakes and quick breads.

                                          1. re: paulj

                                            Thank you so much paulj for saying what I have been thinking.

                                            1. re: paulj

                                              this is becoming a hilarious splitting of hairs, i'm sorry. when is the last time you put dicalcium phosphate, sodium stearoyl lactylate or partially hydrogenated soy or cottonseed oil in your cake? all of which are in a box of betty crocker.

                                              salt, btw, is a mineral.

                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                I use monocalcium phosphate all the time - it's the acid in Rumford baking powder. However the dicalcium version is mainly a calcium supplement (according to the Wiki article).

                                                Another chemical acid on my spice shelf if potassium hydrogen tartrate.

                                                Sodium stearoyl lactylate is an emulsifier, apparently a quite effective one.
                                                http://sci-toys.com/ingredients/sodiu...
                                                Lecithin, found in egg yolks (or derived from soy beans) is another emulsifier.

                                                Some people still use Crisco in the baked goods. I don't.

                                                How is a mineral different from a chemical?

                                                1. re: paulj

                                                  I remember years ago going through the list of ingredients with my Dad who is a dairy chemist (now retired) - most of them were natural food compounds or the chemical name of common ingredients. I think many of the cake mixes produce quite acceptable products (the butter recipe yellows for example) when used for simple recipes like sheet cake with broiled icing, however much depends on the frosting - the commercial stuff is hideous. For a serious cake I much prefer the best scratch recipes (for example from the old Betty Crocker baking book etc. for American recipes, which are the recipes the box cakes were formulated to replicate.

                                                  1. re: jen kalb

                                                    Thanks for a very diplomatic and educated reply jen. it's just what this ungodly thread that I started needed! lol ;)

                                                2. re: hotoynoodle

                                                  Here are the ingredients in Calumet baking powder, which I am sure many people use: baking soda, cornstarch, sodium aluminum sulfate, calcium sulfate, monocalcium phosphate. Some of these are the dreaded chemicals that so many people swear they can taste in a box mix. We could go back and forth all day. But let's not...haha. :)

                                                  1. re: ttoommyy

                                                    After my nephew started eating solid food, my sister once told me how she had spent all afternoon driving from store to store to find babyfood (pears, to be specific) that didn't have dreaded ascorbic acid in it. She didn't want "a chemical" in her son's food.

                                                    Ascorbic acid is added to preserve the colour in the pears. It is also commonly known as vitamin C.

                                                    1. re: Indirect Heat

                                                      um... I don't mean to be a smart-ass but why did she not poach fresh pears for him????

                                                    2. re: ttoommyy

                                                      It's not he leavening agents that I object to - it's the icky chemical taste most on this thread have cited plus the hydrogenated oils (implicated in both heart disease and cancer) the BLEACHED flour (has been exposed to a number of hazardous/carcinogenic chemicals and is in fact inherently oxidized; on the other hand, one could argue bleached flour goes "bad" less quickly; one could also argue it can't "go bad" because is is ALREADY BAD, i.e., oxidized). I lso don't like the various emulisfiers- PROPYLENE GLYCOL MONOESTERS cited by chowser (below), for one, or the artificial flavors, which are generally chemical products of a wildly unregulated industry. Also, in addition to ll the various chemicals cited on ingredient labels, "processing agents" in packaged foods are not required to be divulged- ammonia, for instance, in pink slime. HAPPY FRIDAY EVERYONE!

                                                      1. re: demitasse04

                                                        @demitasse04
                                                        Do you use sugar in your "from scratch" cakes? Isn't sugar linked to a host of health problems as well? White flour? That too. Maybe we should just not eat cake at all.

                                                        No one is suggesting we make and eat boxed-mix cakes every day. Once in a while is harmless, in my opinion, and I will continue to do it. People love my "from scratch" baking and they love my "boxed mix" baked goods as well. They know the difference and judge each on their own.

                                                        1. re: ttoommyy

                                                          So, your logic is that if sugar and white flour are already bad for you, it's O.K. to add a whole bunch more bad stuff and make it even worse? Plus, demitasse04 is right about the icky chemical tastes and textures of box mix cakes. It is very sad that the current and previous generations have come to accept these mouthfeels and flavors as good food.

                                                          1. re: sandylc

                                                            "the icky chemical tastes and textures of box mix cakes"

                                                            I don't taste or feel these. Many people do not.

                                                            That said...As I have tried to explain countless times in this thread since I started it over 2 years ago, a boxed mix once in a while is not the end of the world. It has its place and will not kill you. I know full well how to bake a cake from scratch and have done so countless times in my over 40 years of baking. I never once said a boxed mix replaces a "from scratch" cake. I have eaten in Michelin star restaurants on 2 continents; make a home cooked meal on average of 5 nights a week; and I know more about food than all of my friends and family put together. I know "good food." But, I don't live in a world that is beyond eating a boxed cake, a McDonald's hamburger or canned soup. Once in a while a convenience food is just that: convenient. And to me, it can taste pretty darn good.

                                                            1. re: ttoommyy

                                                              It may sound a little snobby but I honestly believe that people who do not taste/recognize the chemical tastes/weird textures of things like boxed cake mixes... just haven't experienced enough scratch baking.

                                                              I have had to stop buying so many common processed foods once I made/tasted the homemade version. I just can't tolerate the low quality alternative anymore. Things like: cake mix, canned frosting, whipped cream, chicken stock, pizza dough, rolls, biscuits, pie crust, American cheese, etc.

                                                              I didn't realize they were bad until I realized they were bad. ;)

                                                              1. re: Becca Porter

                                                                most of the products you mention are being made with the crappiest of craptastic seed oils, making them even worse, in flavor and in health dangers. most use hfcs or something other than cane sugar for sweetness.

                                                                it's not your imagination -- these products have gotten worse.

                                                                1. re: Becca Porter

                                                                  @Becca Porter
                                                                  Have you not read anything I have written? I've been baking from scratch for over 40 years. I had my own custom cookie business where I made hand decorated from-scratch cookies to order. I have certainly experienced scratch baking. I cannot taste "chemicals" in a cake baked from a cake mix. Yes, it tastes different, but I do not detect a chemical taste. Sweeter, yes. Overly moist, yes. Too much vanilla, yes. But the taste is not horrible to me. Just different.

                                                                    1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                      There is NO vanilla in a standard cake mix. Zero. None.

                                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                                        Of course there is no true vanilla extract in a cake mix. I should have said "too much vanilla flavor.' There certainly is imitation vanilla flavoring in a cake mix. I stand corrected.

                                                                  1. re: sandylc

                                                                    I grew up listening to my grandmother complaining about the lack of flavor in American produce and thinking she was just terribly old fashioned (and everything else a dumb kid assumes about his grandparents) while blissfully eating mountains of Cheetos and Big Macs. It's interesting to think about he number of factors- sensory, economic, cultural, educational, political and more-- that play into the development of a person's tolerance for processed foods...

                                                                    1. re: sandylc

                                                                      The thing about dessert is that it used to be a special-occasion, even "HOLY DAY"-only food. It's only in the past several decades that TV started enjoining us to indulge ourselves because we're worth it EVERY DAY and because Nestlé and Hershey need to make fortunes while the county wallows in obesity. Though I maintain my college weight I do indulge in giant slices or three of cheesecake or a vat of ultra-rich ice cream but I do this as a once-every-couple-of months type event. Given this, I have no interest in anything but the best and that jes don't includes xanthan gum, bromated flour or partially hydrogenated fats. It is of course everyone's personal decision- and the original posted invited bashing but it seems he actually can't take anyone else's personal preference. Protest much?

                                                                      1. re: demitasse04

                                                                        Of course I can demi; but I like sticking up for my own preferences as well. It's called good old fashioned conversation. No animosity on this side whatsoever,

                                                                        1. re: sandylc

                                                                          >>> It is very sad that the current and previous generations have come to accept these mouthfeels and flavors as good food.<<<

                                                                          I have two friends, maybe more, who prefer box/supermarket chemical cakes to the point where they actively dislike scratch cake, which they invariably describe as "too dry."

                                                                          1. re: Jay F

                                                                            I grew up with church potluck scratch cakes, and got in the habit of eating most of the cake first, so I could enjoy the frosting without all that dry cake (save the best for last philosophy).

                                                                            One of the few times when I made a genoise, the ultimate no-chemical cake (no sodium bicarbonate), I was disappointed in how dry it was. There's a limit as to how much butter you can add to the beaten eggs without deflating them. I also learned why genoise is often served in triffle - to moisten it.

                                                                            1. re: paulj

                                                                              The high-quality pastry shop trick is to always soak each cake layer with a flavored sugar syrup before frosting. Usually with something like rum in it.

                                                                              1. re: sandylc

                                                                                It's a really hard cake to get right.

                                                                                1. re: buttertart

                                                                                  Yes, genoise can be very difficult and can take practice to get right. The other difficult cake to make is a cake with dacquoise layers. I'm currently being challenged by my husband to make one. He claims that it's his most notable failure in cooking/baking.

                                                                                  1. re: roxlet

                                                                                    Speaking of sponge cakes, I should try a chiffon. That was my mom's favorite special occasion cake (as opposed to the potluck sheetcakes). I don't have a tube pan, but apparently it can be baked in a half sheet pan, and rolled. It's more moist than other sponge cakes because it uses oil, and not as tricky because it uses baking powder (a dreaded chemical).

                                                                                    1. re: roxlet

                                                                                      I think a dacquoise is among the easiest cakes to make, it's very odd that he of all people would find it a challenge. Not big on egg white whipping? Please tell me he didn't try to do it by hand.

                                                                                      1. re: buttertart

                                                                                        I'm sure he didn't since he was the one who owned the Kitchen Aid, not me. I used to say that I married him for his KA!

                                                                                        1. re: roxlet

                                                                                          Hell, I would marry him for his Kitchen Aid!!

                                                                                2. re: paulj

                                                                                  scratch cakes that are dry could simply be over-baked. just because people bake doesn't necessarily mean they are good at it. there are plenty of serviceable home bakers and cooks out there.

                                                                                  i have overbaked a cake more than once -- i moved almost 2 years ago and had a dickens of a time with my new oven. we finally have achieved detente and now all is well, lol. :)

                                                                                  eta: those misbegotten cakes and cookies went in the trash, btw. i wouldn't think of serving them.

                                                                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                    Box cakes are meant to be fool proof, hence the addition of all the things that give it a moist/gummy texture. I watched a show about box cakes and the scientist working on it said they have to cater to the person who will do almost everything wrong. A scratch cake isn't nearly the same--think paint by numbers vs an artistic painting. Most people can paint by numbers and get something identifiable.

                                                                    2. re: paulj

                                                                      Yes, there are chemicals is everything we cook with but, as I was saying, there are varying degrees of it and we decide what we like or want to use. I've said all along that we do what we find most pleasing and if that means box cakes, that means box cakes and you don't need to apologize for it. But, in my mind, and you may feel differently, there is a big difference in a cake that has: flour, eggs, butter, sugar, vanilla, baking soda/powder, salt compared to a cake that has: Sugar, Enriched Flour Bleached (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Cottonseed Oil, Modified Corn Starch, Propylene Glycol Monoesters of Fatty Acids, Baking Soda, Salt, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Dextrose, Monocalcium Phosphate, Distilled Monoglycerides, Dicalcium Phosphate, Maltodextrin, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Datem, Monoglycerides, Xanthan Gum, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Aluminum Sulfate, Yellow 5&6, Nonfat Milk.

                                                                      But, why start a thread on Home Cooking, where people like to cook about the beauty of it? As I was saying, someone could easily start a thread about how frozen meals are far superior to home made ones but why? They are all made of chemicals, all processed, hence it seems to some, they're all the same. I think some of us just feel differently.

                                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                                        Do your two ingredients lists use the same standards? For example, by weight, which is greater, the flour or the sugar?

                                                                        "flour, eggs, butter, sugar, vanilla, baking soda/powder, salt"
                                                                        could be expanded to read:
                                                                        sugar
                                                                        Enriched Flour Bleached (bleached wheat flour, malted balrey flour, niacin, iron etc (taken from a package of Pillsbury AP)
                                                                        butter
                                                                        monocalcium phosphate (from Rumford can)
                                                                        bicarbonate of soda
                                                                        cornstarch
                                                                        salt
                                                                        vanilla (natural flavor? alcohol?)
                                                                        milk?

                                                                        The Home Cooking section is not exclusively about cooking from scratch.

                                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                                          RIght--as I've said, even from my first post, it's a matter of preference. I see a difference between the chemicals in a scratch cake and box cake and you see them as the same. Similarly, I guess a Twinkie is also no different from home made cake or a box cake. The Home Cooking board isn't really the place, and I regret my contribution to this, for a debate about home cooking and prepared foods. Had the OP started w/ her method to make a great box cake (and there are many threads for that), instead of a challenge, this whole discussion would probably not have happened.

                                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                                            this tangent of this thread is surreal.

                                                                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                              Yes, the idea that everything is equally processed because everything can be broken down to the elemental periodic table is a stretch. I can't tell if I'm tasting propylene glycol of mono esters, xanthum gum or what, but cake mixes just don't taste the same to me, just as a Twinkie does.

                                                                              1. re: chowser

                                                                                I just googled up the ingredient list for Duncan Hines yellow cake mix. Here's my theory on why most of us taste something in box cake we don't care for: "artificial flavor" I think they add flavorings to try to make up for the things that aren't in the cake ...mainly butter....and they use artificial vanilla flavor. I'm not turned off by "chemicals" in the cake mix, just the unsuccessful attempt to make it taste like what it's not.

                                                                                BUT...I think if I had good associations with that flavor (particularly childhood associations) , then I might prefer it.

                                                                                I have a bottle of bubble bath at home called "cupcake" it smells exactly like cake mix cake.

                                                                2. re: ttoommyy

                                                                  i'm quite sure the test was between 2 basic yellow cakes. no whipped egg whites, etc. the type of cake most frequently made from a box. some folks also move more quickly in the kitchen than others. my go-to brownie recipe takes 5 minutes to get in the oven. same with the crazy chocolate cake that is my old reliable. both of which beat the pants off anything out of betty crocker's lab.

                                                                  ever do a search on the web for cake recipes? 90% of them start with box mix. no wonder people think making a cake from scratch is too hard or "fancy".

                                                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                    I've been baking since I was 8 and I am 49 this month. I know my way around a kitchen. I can make a cake from scratch "with my eyes closed." I can bake scratch cookies and custom deorate them. That said, I still like the convenience (and yes, the tatse) of a box mix. Not all the time; but if it's just a yellow or basic chocolate cake, sure. I'm no food snob by far. I like eating at Eleven Madison Park just as much as I like a Sabrett hot dog from the corner cart once in a while. Variety is the spice of life! :)

                                                                    1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                      I can make cookies and cakes like these (see attached), so I do know how to bake from scratch. But I still like a cake mix when the job calls for it! lol :)

                                                                       
                                                                       
                                                                      1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                        On the point about processed food, I should say that like some of the other respondees, I don't eat much processed food. Of course, this is a matter of degree. I do eat rolled oats, whole wheat pasta, and don't grind my own flour unless it's unavailable, like say, millet, but I'm not eating cheetos or drinking soda, and certainly not fast food on any regular basis. I'd say the most processed food I get is probably dim sum--with the white rice flour wrappers and noodles. So, yeah, ttoommyy, my palate may be quite, I don't know, a bit more particular than your average duck? But, this IS Chowhound, so you're not quite preaching to the choir on boxed cake mixes here. Which, all of this, sounds like you realized before starting this thread.

                                                                        I'm still not bashing you, but I have to say that I can tell the difference. I daresay I could tell the difference blindfolded. If you don't, heck, don't concern yourself on our account. Life is short. Enjoy your cake mix. The cake and cookies in the photos are gorgeous!

                                                                        1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                          I know this is not relevant to the post, but would you mind telling me what kind of icing you use for those cookies in the picture? They look lovely!

                                                                          1. re: eviemichael

                                                                            I use a rolled fondant to cover the whole cookie and royal icing for piping. Thanks!

                                                                            1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                              Thank you. Everyone always says fondant does not taste good. Do you feel like it affects the flavor of the cookie? (Although it looks beautiful)

                                                                              1. re: eviemichael

                                                                                Eaten by itself, I do not like fondant (but you're not supposed to eat it by itself. lol). When it is on the cookie, you really don't notice it; it blends in with the flavor of the royal icing. I use the Rich Rolled Sugar Cookie recipe from the Joy of Cooking for my cookies. They have such a great taste that really comes through even though there is fondant on them.

                                                                                1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                  eviemichael, there's an easy marshmallow fondant recipe on allrecipes that works great for cookies. I use it for christmas cookies and they turn out (and taste) fantastic. Cheaper, too!

                                                                3. re: ttoommyy

                                                                  Water, milk, eggs, sugar, flour, salt, baking soda, butter, oil, chocolate, vanilla, rice, beans, cows, chickens, lettuce, uranium, wood, iron, hydrogen, pizza, rats, lizards, humans, universe... All made from 100% chemicals.

                                                          2. I do a lot of baking from scratch,but for some reason i find cup cakes and marble cakes( in bundt pan) are much better from the mix.I do add a pudding mix to the cake mix and also add sour cream, this makes it really moist.Apart from vanilla ,I also add orange zest or lemon zest,which takes care of all th artificial taste.

                                                            1. I'm curious... what was your desired outcome when you started this post? Did you just want to argue with people about what is clearly your preference? Defend your personal preference? Start a fight on Chowhound? Were you looking for others who shared your preference to find a group of support here at Chowhound?

                                                              I'd sincerely like to know...

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: housewolf

                                                                No, not at all! I was just curious. No one is fighting. And I pretty much assumed I would be in the minority. I think what this has developed into is healthy debating. I really am sorry if you think it is fighting. That was truly not my intention. Now I feel bad!

                                                                I am sincerely sorry if I have offended anyone. As the person who started this thread, let me now officially end it. I feel sick over this now. Jeez, I'm really sorry.

                                                                1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                  I'm sorry you feel bad, that wasn't my intention either. I just see I just see one person defending a position against a bunch of other people defending their position, and wondered what was going on. I find people's motivations to be fascinating and was curious as to what yours was. No need to apologize or feel bad.

                                                              2. I am not much of a baker but if I'm going to make a cake, I prefer scratch. The good old hot water chocolate cake I make takes only slightly longer than a mix and is way, IMO, better. When my kids were younger, I used boxed mixes since they'd inhale anything. But now, if I am going to bake I'd rather have something that doesn't have that wierd chemical taste I always think mixes produce.

                                                                4 Replies
                                                                1. re: tcamp

                                                                  That's a good point, tcamp. I don't bake that often, being a family of 2, so when I do I want those fat grams and calories to count. If I am eating something with not much nutritional value, it better taste amazing! Real butter, cream, etc.

                                                                  1. re: mels

                                                                    I think that's one of the food rules from Michael Pollan's new book. To paraphrase, "if you want to eat unhealthy food, make it yourself instead of eating it out." Like cakes, french fries, fried chicken, etc.....

                                                                    1. re: Snorkelvik

                                                                      I prefer to leave the deep fat frying to people who have the right equipment. Let someone else deal with the grease spatters.

                                                                      1. re: Snorkelvik

                                                                        "...cakes, french fries, fried chicken, etc...." are not unhealthy foods.
                                                                        Unless you eat them all the time in immoderate quantities.

                                                                  2. I occasionally make a box mix cake for small kids' birthdays -- they seem to like them better. But when I eat some, I find I like it a lot less well! Primarily, it's too sweet for my tastes, and the texture is weirdly spongy. But I also think it's hard to make a cake from scratch that has a light texture and an even crumb, if that's the style of cake you prefer.

                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                    1. re: visciole

                                                                      A lot of kids do prefer box cakes, as well as day glow mac and cheese. You have a good description of the texture of box cakes--weirdly spongy and too sweet. CI has a recipe for a cake that has a very light texture w/out the weirdly spongy texture but I prefer dense cakes anyway.

                                                                      1. re: visciole

                                                                        The time and place for a boxed cake mix is when you're tucking your little one into bed and they say in that small voice, "Mom, I forgot to tell that I'm supposed to bring some cupcakes or something to school tomorrow..." Geez! Pull out the box! One bowl, one measuring cup, and one weary half hour later, you're done. Problem solved.
                                                                        Are they better? Maybe not, but the kids are happy.
                                                                        Although I understand that they don't allow cupcakes in schools anymore. Sad.

                                                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                                                          Another time and place for the boxed cake is when you've volunteered to bake a cake for your daughter's preschool class graduation but find out the afternoon before that the director thought you meant a big enough one for every preschool class and their parents. No apologies for survival baking. I didn't love it but people kept telling me how much they did as I mumbled, "Doctored cake mix.."

                                                                            1. re: buttertart

                                                                              I have to give credit where credit is due. :-) It wasn't me, it was Betty Crocker!

                                                                              1. re: chowser

                                                                                That's my point, if they say it's good, just smile sweetly and say thank you. If they ask for the recipe, tell them it's just a basic x cake with y added. A lot of people don't even make cake mix cakes these days so you are beholden to no one!

                                                                      2. Mix vs. Scratch? I do both, it depends on how much time I have. For a quick snack/dessert – wham bam – box cake mix, but when I have the time I get a tremendous amount of gratification out of creating a cake from scratch, (and I need the practice). Taste-wise, I find a from-scratch cake to be of superior flavor and texture than that of a box mix, regardless of their respective chemical makeups.

                                                                        As for another kind of “cake” (slightly off subject), the pancake, from scratch is the only way to go. I recently had to use a generic brand pancake mix from a very popular and ubiquitous discount chain dept. store and they were *nasty* - grainy and flavorless, very unlike my from-scratch flap jacks!

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: cuccubear

                                                                          I agree! My sweetie made me pancakes (recipe from JoC) for Valentine's Day and they were awesome!!! We ate the whole batch. I was so pleased b/c he's normally more of a box guy, too. He was amazed at how much better it is than the box or even the diner.

                                                                          1. re: Snorkelvik

                                                                            Yes, and so easy! If you really want your socks knocked off, make buttermilk pancakes from scratch, separate the eggs, whip the white, and fold it into the batter. Amazing.

                                                                        2. i like the best of both worlds: i buy the box devil food cake or angels food cake and tweak it with two extra egg yolks and half a cup of honey - fantastically moist results.

                                                                          i've also heard ground almonds or hazelnuts improve texture and moisture of box cakes.

                                                                          9 Replies
                                                                          1. re: epabella

                                                                            Any boxed cake can be dramatically improved by substituting buttermilk for the water.

                                                                            If you really want to go for it, there's a book to help - The Cake Doctor - that tells how to use mixes as the basis for some really good cakes.
                                                                            http://www.cakemixdoctor.com/cakemixb...

                                                                            1. re: MakingSense

                                                                              hey, that's a great link, i'm buying some buttermilk this week and will try it out for the weekend. a friend also suggested sifting the cakemix several times to get more air into the final product but that doesn't do much for taste - just makes the whole kitchen dusty and messy. i'll stick to buttermilk, egg yolks and more butter to bring boxed cakes to life.

                                                                              1. re: epabella

                                                                                tangentially curious? is boxed mix cheaper than cake from scratch? what about the cost when it is "doctored"?

                                                                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                  Cake mixes are always on sale for about $1. That's probably about what the flour, sugar, baking powder, vanilla, whatever would cost. All the other stuff would be the same whether you're baking from scratch or adding to a mix.

                                                                                  There are a few recipes that start with box mix that are really classics, like the Bacardi Rum Cake, but then with enough booze, who cares? You could probably experiment until you duplicated it with a scratch cake but you'd have to go off to rehab. LOL

                                                                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                    Oh, yes, the rum cake. I definitely can't be bothered to figure that one out from 'scratch'. With all that booze, it's hard to notice the cake anyway.

                                                                                    1. re: Sooeygun

                                                                                      sorry but i'm inclined to think there is NO BOOZE in those cakes. same way they tell us to 'cook-off' the alcohol whenever we use wine to de-glaze the pan, they've eliminated whatever ethanol there can be on those cakes. even if some genius managed to sneak in the booze, it'd evaporate in the oven - but imagine the horrors: winos raiding the box cake aisle - it'd cause a major AAA panic.

                                                                                      1. re: epabella

                                                                                        Don't be so "inclined" until you try the Bacardi Rum Cake.
                                                                                        There's a 1/2 cup of rum in the batter which doesn't volatilize in the oven since it's mixed in.
                                                                                        Then the glaze, applied after the cake is baked, has another 1/2 cup of rum.
                                                                                        That's not enough to send anyone but small children staggering, but it's not a cake that any alcoholic in recovery should go near.
                                                                                        http://www.tasteofcuba.com/bacardirum...

                                                                                        The other notorious "cocktail cake" is the Harvey Wallbanger Cake, made with Galliano liqueur and vodka:
                                                                                        http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Harvey-W...

                                                                                        BTW, alcohol doesn't "cook off" when you deglaze a pan. Even after a fairly long simmer, there's some left. Be careful cooking with alcohol if you're serving it to guests who you know have problems with alcohol.

                                                                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                          well i'll be... i never knew two pleasures could be married into a fine package. maybe that's why my ex-girlfriend was wolfing down tons of all these strange cakes (kidding). apart from the buttermilk, egg yolks and honey, i'm going to toss in some baileys or maybe johnnie black into the next devils food cake i make (kidding again).

                                                                                          kidding aside, i can't indulge two pleasures that way, i personally compartmentalize: one pleasure in a whiskey glass and and another in a dessert plate - hardly ever together.

                                                                          2. Well, I'll say this.... while I have a definite preference for cakes made from scratch with real butter and fresh eggs, if I had to choose between a box mix that someone made and a major chain supermaket cake ---- I'd pick the one made from a box mix a thousand times over....

                                                                            12 Replies
                                                                            1. re: housewolf

                                                                              supermarket cakes aren't even cake. yuk.

                                                                              1. re: housewolf

                                                                                Faced with that choice, I would choose a nice cup of coffee, and say, "I'm really far too stuffed for cake."

                                                                                1. re: Indirect Heat

                                                                                  I have a serious love of good quality baked goods but I have no problem turning down most commercial baked goods. They just don't taste very good. The exception is the really good bakeries. Most commercial bakeries use almost all boxed mixes and the worst quality fats and flavorings.

                                                                                  1. re: housewolf

                                                                                    Aren't most cakes just an excuse for eating frosting?

                                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                                      Supermarket frosting = crisco + confectionery sugar. I'll pass, thanks! Now, home-made ganache, that's a whole 'nother story....

                                                                                      1. re: visciole

                                                                                        Yeah.... I don't even like the powdered sugar/butter icings... I don't know if it's the corn starch in the powdered sugar or what but there's some sort of taste there that I just don't care for... on the other hand, butter and granulated sugar creamed together, now that's a yum!

                                                                                      2. re: paulj

                                                                                        Not for me... I love unfrosted pound cake, whipping cream cake dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon, cinnamon coffee cake, Princess cake covered with marzipan... all kinds of cake without frosting. That sortening-based frosting most commercial bakeries use is, to me, inedible.

                                                                                        1. re: housewolf

                                                                                          I agree--a good cake can stand on its own. I've yet to find a frosting I like better than the cake, except possibly marzipan.

                                                                                          1. re: chowser

                                                                                            Perhaps it's not a question of finding a frosting that's better than the cake but one that complements it.

                                                                                            I must admit though, I love a good plain piece of moist, delicious cake with nothing but a dusting of powdered sugar. And a nice cup of coffee to with it. Ahhhhh.

                                                                                            1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                              Maybe it's because I like dense cakes that stand alone well and I think are better without the frosting. Although, come to think of it, I do like a good whipped cream frosting, like on a tres leches cake. And, of course, I like cream cheese frosting on carrot cake. But, as other frostings go (boiled, different meringue/buttercreams, 7 minute, etc.), I put up with them, unlike most kids I've seen who eat the frosting and leave the cake. And, yes, a cup of coffee is key.:-)

                                                                                    2. Back in the day I had a food science professor tell us "Betty Crocker can always bake a better cake than you!" and he went on to explain that the box mixes have an EXACT proportion of starch, protein, and leavener in the mix to produce a perfect crumb. Regular A/P flour varies quite a bit, so a homemade cake might turn out different each time.

                                                                                      I always use milk, not water when I use box mixes, and depending on the flavour I'll add a bit of vanilla extract, or lemon zest/juice, or coffee to kick things up a notch.

                                                                                      The only box mixes I won't use are carrot cake or cherry chip----they taste very artificial. Chocolate, white, and lemon mixes are a staple for me.

                                                                                      1. For years, I worked really hard to make elaborate--3 page-long directions--cakes. Everyone said the obvious compliments and enjoyed it. Then one day I made a box cake and people reacted just the same. Especially now that I bake less, I won't even bother with super elaborate recipes.

                                                                                        Just box it. --(My friends and family are uber healthy and never end up eating much of it anyway, so I might as well just spend less time.)

                                                                                        10 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: GraceW

                                                                                          I can't imagine what kind of cake that was that required 3 pages of directions, unless you're talking about filings/frostings, etc. The cake itself is easily made from scratch, hardly taking longer than a box cake once you have measured the ingredients.

                                                                                          I have a different take from yours... we are very careful w/ our diets as well, so if I'm going to eat cake, I might as well eat the best possible cake.

                                                                                          1. re: danna

                                                                                            Yes, danna you are correct the 3 pages included numerous fillings, a ganache, and a buttercream frosting. Then it had a whole 'Assembly Instructions' section...

                                                                                            1. re: GraceW

                                                                                              If you wanted, you could split the difference and find some cake recipes that aren't three pages long. I have ones that are easy enough that they come together by the time the oven is done preheating. And, I have special occasion cakes that take a long time. But, as I've said all along, if people like box cakes and don't want to be bothered with making them from scratch, why not?

                                                                                              1. re: chowser

                                                                                                Here's a cake recipe that's one page long. It doesn't take anything close to "all day" to make. I've made it at least 50 times, and the only time it failed me was when I forgot an ingredient. I don't even bother to separate the eggs most of the time, and it still makes a great cake. And it works with all kinds of frostings (lemon glaze, chocolate buttercream, and chocolate whipped cream are my favorites).

                                                                                                http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.co...

                                                                                                It's Alice Waters' 1-2-3-4 cake. It's in her Art of Simple Food and Cafe Fanny cookbooks.

                                                                                                1. re: Jay F

                                                                                                  Do you use a stand mixer, hand held mixer, or non-electric wisk?

                                                                                                  I suspect that cake mixes became popular among cooks who did not keep a (expensive) standmixer on the counter.

                                                                                                  While my mom had a standmixer (bought second hand), and made a chiffon cake for special occasions, for occasions like potlucks her usual cake was a (Texas) sheet cake. It's in that later category that a mix can give the scatch cake serious competition.

                                                                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                                                                    Nine times out of ten, a hand-held mixer.

                                                                                                    What is a Texas sheet cake?

                                                                                                    1. re: Jay F

                                                                                                      It's a relatively simple cake (white or chocolate) using melted butter or oil, baked and served in a large cake pan, with just a top layer of frosting.

                                                                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                                                                        What, like a 9 x 13 or a half-sheet pan? I've never made it that way, but I'll bet this recipe would work.

                                                                                                        1. re: Jay F

                                                                                                          The 9x13 is the typical size (an inch or more deep). Half sheet pans work for thinner cakes that you want to roll - usually some form of sponge cake (e.g. genoise).

                                                                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                                                                            But that wouldn't be the Texas cake, would it, genoise en roulade?

                                                                                        2. The only thing I have to say is-
                                                                                          Rose Levy Beranbaum. That's all.

                                                                                          1. I don't see anywhere that I posted but do remember reading all of these.
                                                                                            Boxed cake mixes are wonderful for making cakes. I don't shun them at all.
                                                                                            From scratch cakes can be incredible but also often times not so much. 
                                                                                            They can be dry or dull without much flavor. Does Paula D use cake mixes in all her gooey cakes or are they from scratch?
                                                                                            There's a time and place for both. I wouldn't feel ashamed if I made a cake from a box or one from scratch, either way, it's a contribution.
                                                                                            Not sure if anyone followed the link I added for the perfect yellow cake from another site but it is a wonderful example of a perfect from scratch cake.

                                                                                            1. When comparing mix v scratch cakes, shouldn't we specify the kind of cake, especially when making them from scratch. Some scratch cakes use 'the muffin method', just combining dry, liquid, and then the 2 (crazy cake is one the simplest), others call for creaming butter and sugar, others call for whipping eggs, whole or whites, and carefully combining them with flour etc.

                                                                                              Most mixes use a muffin method, but with more control over the flour and leavening consistency. If we ignore flavor issues for the moment, I would expect a mix to give a better crumb than a comparably simple 'from scratch' recipe. It wouldn't be fair to compare a mix with a 'cake method' cake where your stand mixer spent 10 minutes creaming the butter.

                                                                                              If you like the flavor of scratch cake better, it is probably because your preferences are not the same as the tasting panel's. The panel (or other target market) may like more intense flavors that you do, flavors that you consider artificial or overly sweet. But that is not an inherent problem with mixes.

                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                                                I see your point...but I might argue that a "muffin method" cake is a big, sweet muffin, not a cake. I consider those types of cakes to be inherently inferior. I'm NOT saying they aren't good, just that they aren't AS good as a cake made by the creaming method.

                                                                                              2. absolutely no cake mix cakes, yuck!

                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                1. re: rasputina

                                                                                                  Cake mixes are illegal at our house! :-P

                                                                                                2. This was my first post on CH and I'm glad to see it's still alive over a year later. I still think cake mixes have their place and are very useful at times. I'm no snob. As for the "chemical" taste so many people talk about, I just don't get it. Yes, I sense a strong taste of "vanilla," but that doesn't bother me. (anyway, what do chemicals taste like? Aren't there chemicals in everything we eat...even an apple freshly picked off a tree?). I know they use imitation vanilla in cake mixes, but then I don't like real vanilla; it's too cloying. To each his own.

                                                                                                  1. I can instantly tell a difference between foods made with real ingredients and those made with synthetics. It's true that everything has molecular structure, if you want to talk basic chemistry, but it is plain (to my tongue, anyway) whether something has its origin in nature or a lab. It doesn't matter whether it's cake, casserole, veggie, or drink, I can tell whether something has butter or margarine, real or fake vanilla, canned or fresh meat, etc etc. Maybe I have a more sensitive tongue, IDK, but the difference to me is night and day.

                                                                                                    That being said, cake mix has its place, i.e. emergency situations, illness, etc. But I personally never buy the stuff. I find scratch cake, for the most part, just as easy and tastes better. If I ever need to make something more fancy or labor intensive, I'd rather use quality ingredients anyway and protect my pride as someone who presents amazing taste. For that matter, the same goes for pancake mix, can veggies, etc. I find the time and effort involved in making things from natural, whole foods is worth the quality and taste that results. (And like most of the respondents I see here, since I eat mostly whole foods and cook most everything from scratch daily, it's easier for me to tell a difference.)

                                                                                                    1. I'm sorry to bump this thread up, but I have to say I used to be one of those people who looked down on cake mixes (remembering all those dreadful supermarket cakes and birthday cakes from my school days, not to mention at the various birthday parties my children attended).

                                                                                                      I could say with confidence that I had never made a cake mix before and sneered at the boxes of Betty Crocker while churning out lots and lots of excellent homemade cakes.

                                                                                                      Then last week I found myself in a bit of a pickle. I'd promised to bring a cake and I was absolutely out of time and found myself staring at Duncan Hines and did the unforgiveable - I bought a box of the Duncan Hines French Vanilla mix.

                                                                                                      Guess what? It turned out absolutely splendid. Texture was excellent. Flavor was pleasantly cakey and not particularly sweet. And it was made in a cinch - one bowl, three eggs, 1/3 oil, 1 1/3 cup milk (I used milk instead of water), the cake mix, two minutes beating, pour into prepared pans and bake. I tell you if someone had served me a slice of the cake and told me it was homemade I would have believed her.

                                                                                                      So I've been forced to reevaluate my approach to cake mixes. Some cakes will always be much better off homemade as there's no substitute for a proper pound cake or crumb cake or coffee cake. Special types of layer cakes with different flavoring justify the effort to make it from scratch. I have a recipe for an absolutely wonderful yellow layer cake with chocolate icing that triumphs over all other cakes which I will still make once a year and will always be my favorite. But for a basic white layer cake, I will return to the Duncan Hines box once again.

                                                                                                      Icing, however, is a different story. There's nothing that can be done about store frosting and homemade frosting absolutely makes or breaks a cake.

                                                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: Roland Parker

                                                                                                        "Icing, however, is a different story. There's nothing that can be done about store frosting and homemade frosting absolutely makes or breaks a cake."

                                                                                                        I agree 100% with you there. Everything else I add to a cake made from a mix (when I use one) is pretty much made from scratch. Plus, when i use a cake mix, I sub melted butter for the oil and milk for the water.

                                                                                                        1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                          A few years ago, the Washington Post challenged some pastry chefs to make a dessert w/ cake mix and canned frosting. Apparently, they all were able to make a good cake by doctoring up the cake mix but all of them said it was impossible to do anything with canned frosting.

                                                                                                        2. re: Roland Parker

                                                                                                          and that is the truth about icing, amen brother. also, mind sharing this recipe that "triumphs over all"? :) I have not yet made a yellow layer cake and I'd like a good one I can rely on for those who just want a simple classic birthday cake.

                                                                                                          1. re: frannieface77

                                                                                                            It's called Golden Butter Layer Cake with chocolate icing, and it's from Greg Patent's Baking in America cookbook (a fabulous cookbook in its own right with classic layer cakes and pound cake recipes).

                                                                                                            If you google "greg patent yellow layer cake chocolate icing" you'll find it in google books, easily viewable and easily printable. It's truly a wonderful cake and ideal with a cold glass of milk.

                                                                                                        3. I just don't get the personal satisfaction baking from a box mix that I do from the process of baking from-scratch. For me, the process is almost as important as the final product. I only bake to share, and feeling of giving my friends something so genuinely produced by my own labor is a feeling that transcends anything in a box mix, shady ingredients and uninspired flavors aside. [:

                                                                                                          57 Replies
                                                                                                            1. re: frannieface77

                                                                                                              I've been baking since I was about 5 years old (at my mother's side) and I'm now 50. I know what you mean about "the process is almost as important as the final product." That said, I still use a box mix once in a while but doctor it and use scratch made icing and fillings. And I still get the "feeling of giving my friends something so genuinely produced by my own labor." After all, if you were a crafter and knitted someone a sweater, would you feel any less productive if you did not shear the sheep, dye the wool and spin the yarn? I know this is going out on a limb but it kind of makes my point. [:)]

                                                                                                              1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                I don't buy that analogy at all. I don't plant the wheat, work in a baking powder factory, nor harvest vanilla beans.

                                                                                                                How do you "doctor" a cake mix? (I've never made one.)

                                                                                                                1. re: Jay F

                                                                                                                  Mess around with the added ingredients and directions on the back of the box. I make a pretty good Sherry cake from a yellow cake mix that everyone loves. Not a bit ashamed to use a mix.

                                                                                                                  1. re: acgold7

                                                                                                                    It has nothing to do with "shame." It's just so easy to make a cake, I don't know why everyone doesn't make them from scratch. And I have to say, it's a little -- okay, more than a little -- ironic to come to a place like this and be taken to task for baking from scratch.

                                                                                                                    1. re: Jay F

                                                                                                                      I think maybe you were responding to someone else, because I didn't take anyone to task for anything. I was just commenting on the notion, expressed many times in this thread, that those who dare use a mix deserve to have their scrotum tied off. I think it's great that those who love the process, do so from scratch.

                                                                                                                      All I care about is the result, and with mixes so good and so consistent these days, I don't know why anyone bothers to do these from scratch. I'm not really a baker so it doesn't make sense to buy a new can of baking powder every six months, only to use one teaspoon and then have to throw the rest away.

                                                                                                                      With a mix I can go from pantry to oven in less than two minutes, and a perfect cake in less than an hour and it comes out the same every time, and everyone always loves it.

                                                                                                                      Ironic because I'll go through incredible amounts of fuss for cooking, but baking just isn't my thing.

                                                                                                                      But that's just me.

                                                                                                                      1. re: acgold7

                                                                                                                        I haven't been in on this discussion, but I have to chime in here.

                                                                                                                        A cake-mix cake tastes like sugar and chemicals. It is artificially moist to the point of being almost gummy. If it professes to be chocolate, there is little to no discernable chocolate taste. The accompanying frosting will be overly sweet and leave an icky coating in your mouth. The resulting cake will keep for days and days - this is a really bad sign.

                                                                                                                        As an older family member once observed, "flies won't land on margarine." Real food is worth making; flies probably wouldn't land on a cake mix cake.

                                                                                                                        1. re: sandylc

                                                                                                                          The cake mix I made certainly didn't taste like sugar and chemicals. It tasted like a proper cake. Not overly sweet and with a fine crumb and absolutely not gummy.

                                                                                                                          I've had nasty cakes clearly made from a mix and odds are the bad cakes were made even worse with prepackaged frosting. I've also had plenty of homemade cakes that were either undercooked or overcooked and dry, or with teeth tingling sweet homemade frostening. I would have taken my cake mix cake over those.

                                                                                                                          There's a time and place for everything. As someone who regularly bakes homemade goods from scratch, I've come to realize that a good cake can still be had from a cake mix, and yep, it's quicker and easier.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Roland Parker

                                                                                                                            Agree 100% Roland Parker. Thank you.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Roland Parker

                                                                                                                              I'm curious now - what brand was it?

                                                                                                                              1. re: sandylc

                                                                                                                                To Sandylc - it was a Duncan Hines French Vanilla mix (ie basic white cake).

                                                                                                                                I imagine that the flavored mixes with strawberry flavoring or worse will probably have more artifical ingredients and a chemical aftertaste, but the basic white and yellow cakes are just fine and dandy and very straightforward.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Roland Parker

                                                                                                                                  Roland, here are the ingredients for Duncan Hines yellow cake mix:

                                                                                                                                  Sugar, Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Vegetable Oil Shortening (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Propylene Glycol Mono- and Diesters Of Fats, Monoand Diglycerides), Leavening (Sodium Bicarbonate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphat E, Monocalcium Phosphate). Contains 2% Or Less Of: Wheat Starch, Salt, Dextrose, Polyglycerol Esters Of Fatty Acids, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Cellulose Gum, Artificial Flavors, Xanthan Gum, Maltodextrin, Modified Cornstarch, Colored with (Yellow 5 Lake, Red 40 Lake).

                                                                                                                                  This is not straightforward to me or anyone else accustomed to homemade....

                                                                                                                                  1. re: sandylc

                                                                                                                                    Removing the parts in parenthesis (your enriched flour is essentially the same as theirs):

                                                                                                                                    Sugar,
                                                                                                                                    Flour,
                                                                                                                                    Shortening
                                                                                                                                    Baking powder

                                                                                                                                    The rest tweak the flavor, color, and consistency:

                                                                                                                                    Wheat Starch,
                                                                                                                                    Salt,
                                                                                                                                    Dextrose (= glucose, a simple sugar, as in corn syrup),
                                                                                                                                    Polyglycerol Esters Of Fatty Acids,
                                                                                                                                    Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil,
                                                                                                                                    Cellulose Gum,
                                                                                                                                    Artificial Flavors,
                                                                                                                                    Xanthan Gum,
                                                                                                                                    Maltodextrin,
                                                                                                                                    Modified Cornstarch,
                                                                                                                                    Colored with (Yellow 5 Lake, Red 40 Lake).

                                                                                                                                    Home cooks, for example, add vanilla (which may be synthetic), cornstarch to reduce the protein level of the flour.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                      It's the tweaks that give boxed cakes a gummy texture that I don't like. I'm sure if the mix were doctored enough, that might help w/ it but if someone is going to go through that trouble, a home made cake would be just as easy.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                        Your gumminess may be the moistness that others treasure.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                          That's a good point. Sort of like treasuring mushy, processed chicken nuggets over beautiful chicken on the bone.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                            Obviously since it's doing so well. Popularity doesn't mean good, at least not to me, or I'd be listening non-stop to Justin Bieber. He's yet to elicit a scream from me.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                Apologies for posting this but he's really popular:

                                                                                                                                                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kffacx...

                                                                                                                                                Just that being popular doesn't mean good. Catchy high voiced bubble gum pop tunes, gummy textures appeal to the general population.

                                                                                                                                2. re: Roland Parker

                                                                                                                                  very true. Duncan Hines (i think it's D.H.) pound cake mix was very nice. i like the texture, it's more tender than the scratch cakes i make. although i am not a pro at baking cakes as of yet. i don't know what it is i am doing wrong, but the cakes always turn out heavy and rubbery. my kids will eat a little (because it's sweet, lol) but then trash the rest.

                                                                                                                                3. re: sandylc

                                                                                                                                  Exactly what do chemicals taste like? I never understand this comment when someone says this about cake mixes.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                    I think it means it tastes artificial - like it's full of artificial flavorings trying to mimic the real thing. I find this to be more the case with cake mix flavors that have lots of dyes and/or faux fruit flavorings (strawberry, confetti) rather than the very basic mixes for yellow, white, or spice. While I do use mixes on occasion (really, only yellow which I doctor up with different things), I prefer scratch cakes when it comes to more "complex" flavors. We don't eat much cake though, so such things are few and far between.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Jen76

                                                                                                                                      Isn't strawberry a difficult flavor to create naturally?

                                                                                                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                        I'm sure it is difficult to capture in a mix. I would think in a scratch cake you could use strawberry jam or fresh berries to achieve a "strawberry" cake and most of us probably wouldn't dye it with Red 40. I was just using it as an example to comment on what people might mean by a "chemical" taste.

                                                                                                                          2. re: Jay F

                                                                                                                            "I don't buy that analogy at all. I don't plant the wheat, work in a baking powder factory, nor harvest vanilla beans."

                                                                                                                            Which is exactly why I said, "I know this is going out on a limb but it kind of makes my point. [:)]"

                                                                                                                            "How do you "doctor" a cake mix? (I've never made one.)"

                                                                                                                            Instead of the vegetable oil asked for, I use melted butter. Instead of water, I use milk. Sometimes I add liqueurs or extracts. Things like that.

                                                                                                                            1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                              And my point is that your analogy *doesn't* make your point.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Jay F

                                                                                                                                Well, I did say "kind of." I give up. You win.

                                                                                                                                1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                  Do you never make cakes from scratch?

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Jay F

                                                                                                                                    Did you read ANY of what I have written? Quoted from somewhere up above: "I've been baking since I was about 5 years old (at my mother's side) and I'm now 50. I know what you mean about "the process is almost as important as the final product." That said, I still use a box mix once in a while..."

                                                                                                                                    The fact that I said once in a while and that I have been baking for 45 years pretty much says I do bake from scratch. And I must say (because I am told over and over again) I am a pretty damn good scratch baker. Take a look at my avatar. Those are cookies I have baked from scratch and hand decorated.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                      And here's a pic of a dessert course from a recent dinner party I had: almond/apricot tartlets, sweet corn gelato with rhubarb compote, and madeleine. All made from scratch.

                                                                                                                                      And...I still like to use a cake mix once in a while. :)

                                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                      1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                        What kind of madeleine pans do you use? They're the next thing I want to make.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Jay F

                                                                                                                                          I have a nonstick pan that I bought years ago. I have no idea who makes it. I can check tonight when I get home and let you know.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Jay F

                                                                                                                                            This might belong in a different thread but my pans aren't nonstick and I wish I had sprung for them. I'm usually pretty good about getting them buttered but when I don't they're a pain to release. I bought mine from Williams-Sonoma with a gift card and they weren't cheap but the nonstick were much more. For what you can do with them, though, they're one thing I wouldn't replace if I lost them. Once the novelty wore off, I only make them on rare occasion.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                              Thanks, both of you. This is what I wanted to know, stick v. non-stick. Do you use butter and flour with the non-stick.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Jay F

                                                                                                                                                "Do you use butter and flour with the non-stick."

                                                                                                                                                I brush the pans with a small amount of homemade cake release: equal parts veg shortening, veg oil and flour.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                                  That's the only thing I've ever used that provides perfect release for madeleines (mine are ages old tinned pans) and my equally-old mini Bundt with the "nonstick" haha coating. I use the Wilton stuff but will probably make my own when I run out.
                                                                                                                                                  PS I am fond of Duncan Hines white cake from a mix - have never ever made a white cake to equal it (I don't think it's possible, actually). I do a fair bit of baking and have for more years than I care to count.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: buttertart

                                                                                                                                                    I wonder if a comparable white cake could be made from scratch by adding in some instant pudding mix? (or would that be sacrilege too? haha)

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Jen76

                                                                                                                                                      Other than sugar, what's the main ingredient of instant pudding? some sort of modified starch? Non-instant pudding is basically cornstarch. Cornstarch can be added to all-purpose flour to reduce its gluten density, in effect replacing some of the flour with a pure starch. My guess is that pudding-cake mixes have more modified starch, to make the cake extra moist. But that's just a guess; I haven't baked those.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                        No idea what the ingredients of instant pudding are since I never buy or make it (well, other than the Danish Dessert Raspberry pudding which I have a sentimental attachment to from childhood). It was just a thought since Dunkin HInes has those pudding mix cakes.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Jen76

                                                                                                                                                          Instant puddings are mostly sugar and cornstarch as well, along with flavorings and some chemical thickeners and stabilizers.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: acgold7

                                                                                                                                                            What's a chemical thickener? Something other than cornstarch?

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                              Well, let's see [pause while runs to kitchen]... all the flavors I have list disodium pyrophosphate and tetrasodium pyrophosphate "for thickening."

                                                                                                                                          2. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                            Sorrrrrrrrreeeeeeee. The thread *is* a little old.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Jay F

                                                                                                                                              If you are saying "Sorrrrrrrrreeeeeeee" to me for taking you to task for asking if you read anything I wrote, I was referring back to something I wrote during our discourse today at 9:24 AM.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                                  Hmmm...I wrote a response to this, and it has failed to appear. Anyway, sorry (only 2 Rs). I have a hard time reading blocks of type larger than four lines online, and my eye usually just skips to the end.

                                                                                                                                2. re: frannieface77

                                                                                                                                  What kind of cakes do you make from scratch? How much of that scratch work is being done by your Kitchen Aid?

                                                                                                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                    I can't speak for frannie, but I've hardly ever used a KA to make a cake from scratch.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Jay F

                                                                                                                                      The reason why I ask is that there are several ways of making cakes, and they vary in the usefulness of an electric mixer.

                                                                                                                                      The oldest kind depends on air whipped into the eggs (whole or separated). Without an electric mixer they require a substantial amount of elbow grease - provided by a male servant in the old days. I can't imagine some claiming it is easy to make a génoise with a hand whisk.

                                                                                                                                      Another uses baking powder, but creams the butter with sugar to achieve a fine crumb. That creaming is much easier with a mixer. This is called the cake method.

                                                                                                                                      Another uses the 'muffin method', mixing dry ingredients together, wet ingredients together, and finally combining the two. Usually the texture of this cake is not a good as the cake method kind. A mix, with more control of emulsifiers and flour quality, can combine the simplicity of the muffin method with the texture of the cake method.

                                                                                                                                      If a mix tastes too sweet, too moist, or the flavors are, in some sense artificial, it is because the manufacturer learned that most customers want those qualities. They are not inherent qualities of a mix. Other posters have mentioned mixes that they are happy to use.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                        I believe that about the cake mixes tasting the way that customers want them to taste. I can't remember where I read that..some mag anyway. Did a scratch/mix taste off. Mixes came out on top by a small margin.

                                                                                                                                      2. re: Jay F

                                                                                                                                        +1

                                                                                                                                        I mix my batter and frosting by hand.

                                                                                                                                      3. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                        Don't own a Kitchen Aid and bought my own hand mixer only about two days ago (before, I had my parents, or used a friends if I needed it). I haven't had a ton of baking experience (yet) but when I do bake I love to take the time to see the separate ingredients all come together. It's science, it's magic, and it's really funny how shocked people are when they find out it's totally from scratch. When they ask you "but how did you make it?!?!" as if there's some great secret...that's precious (and a little sad...um, try a recipe?).

                                                                                                                                        Thought of a funny semi-related story- just the other night my friends made homemade cookies at a party but left a bunch of dough in the fridge- which we eventually broke out to eat. >:] The cookies had already been introduced as homemade and were quickly eaten. However, everyone was still ASTOUNDED when they found out the cookies were homemade FROM INGREDIENTS and not from toll house frozen dough. Wow. And then people went on to ask "wait, you guys bake FROM SCRATCH? do you ALWAYS bake from scratch? wow!" haha. :)

                                                                                                                                          1. re: frannieface77

                                                                                                                                            I remember a friend of mine came over to hang out and we decided to bake cookies. The only thing I didn't have was chocolate chips, so we went to the store to grab those and some things for dinner. As we got into the car, she exclaimed "Oh my god! We forgot to get what we came for - we didn't get the dough!" We made cookies from scratch and she couldn't believe it. She talked about it for weeks :) I love being able to impress so easily.

                                                                                                                                          2. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                            IMO, there's a difference between using a KA to make a cake and using a mix. But, then I use a stove/oven instead of fire to make stew and think that's from scratch vs using Dinty Moore.

                                                                                                                                        1. I am not much of a baker, and I prefer to make things from scratch when I can, but my problem is that I don't have go-to recipes for cakes. I generally want to do an 8x8 or 9x13 sheet cake but so many from scratch recipes are for round layer cakes or have ingredients I don't always have on hand. Does anyone have tried and true recipes for cakes that are similar to box mixes? Chocolate, white, or yellow and baked in a standard sized sheet pan?

                                                                                                                                          13 Replies
                                                                                                                                          1. re: sarahcooks

                                                                                                                                            The Amazon chocolate cake is quite close to a mix and is even vegan as well as being very easy to make - http://cookeatshare.com/recipes/amazo...
                                                                                                                                            I often use coffee in it i/o water, and whatever veg oil is to hand.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: sarahcooks

                                                                                                                                              You might get more responses if you started a thread for this on Home Cooking. Cakes that are made for round pans can be baked in a 9x13 pan, just lengthen the baking time by 10 minutes or so. Cakes that use oil will come together much faster than cakes that use butter but there are trade offs either way.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: sarahcooks

                                                                                                                                                I usually just adapt to whatever pan I feel like either by assuming I will bake the batter in two batches (smaller pan) or that it will all fit in a big one (converting round pans to 9x13). Though you can get inexpensive yet perfectly serviceable round pans at the grocery store- found mine at Ralph's, on sale. I almost always tweak a recipe in some way even the first time I make it based on my equipment, time, personal taste, etc. loosen up as you bake and you might discover you're more of a baker than you thought!

                                                                                                                                                1. re: frannieface77

                                                                                                                                                  I have round cake pans and make layer cakes for birthdays, but I do like an every day cake I leave in the pan and just put a lid on. I can use very little or no frosting on a sheet cake too because you don't have to do the sides. Cake is my favorite dessert but I like it on the plain side. I'm talking a homey dessert here, nothing fancy.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: sarahcooks

                                                                                                                                                    I like my cake plain, too. I'll often make a single layer of 1-2-3-4 cake and eat it without frosting. That's actually my favorite way to eat cake, which, btw, is my favorite dessert, too.

                                                                                                                                                    If someone's coming over, I can fancy it up with cut up strawberries, or a lemon syrup (in which case I'll put some zest in the batter), or chocolate whipped cream, depending on what's in the house. I've never made it in a cake pan that comes with a lid, though.

                                                                                                                                                  2. re: frannieface77

                                                                                                                                                    For a simple cake at home, you can bake two round layers, but not layer them. You can just frost the top of a layer the same as a sheet cake. You can freeze the other layer, or frost it also (maybe share it with a neighbor!)

                                                                                                                                                  3. re: sarahcooks

                                                                                                                                                    Most recipes for the 'Texas sheet cake' call for a 9x13 pan.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                      The ones I've seen and have used call for half sheet pans. Easily convertible to a 9x13. I think of them as short cakes though.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                        When talking about 'sheet pans', we need to be aware of the difference between the food service sheet pan and half sheet pan, and the deeper 9x13 cake pan. The half sheet does work for a rolled cake (jelly roll, buche), but probably is not what is expected at a church potluck with frosting.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                          Yeah, I was traveling and looking for sheet pans for my host at a kitchen store. I asked them for sheet pans and they showed me sheet CAKE pans (deep 9 x 13).

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                            I don't know what's expected at a church potluck but I do think of the jelly rolls type pans for Texas sheet cake. It's about 1/2" thick. I shouldn't have said half sheet pans--I don't know why I called it that. I wasn't thinking the higher edges but those would probably work.

                                                                                                                                                            http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/...

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                              I was thinking that 9x13 is the typical size for a sheet cake, but I see Pioneer Woman makes her's thinner in a half sheet pan
                                                                                                                                                              http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/20...
                                                                                                                                                              Your recipe calls the pieces 'bars' which makes sense for something baked in a sheet pan thickness.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                Yes--I generally do them when I have a large crowd to feed and there's an associated large dinner so people don't want big pieces. It's better than layer cakes in that case which are harder to cut in pieces that small.

                                                                                                                                                    2. Here are the ingredients from a Duncan Hines yellow cake mix:

                                                                                                                                                      Sugar, Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Vegetable Oil Shortening (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Propylene Glycol Mono- and Diesters Of Fats, Monoand Diglycerides), Leavening (Sodium Bicarbonate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphat E, Monocalcium Phosphate). Contains 2% Or Less Of: Wheat Starch, Salt, Dextrose, Polyglycerol Esters Of Fatty Acids, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Cellulose Gum, Artificial Flavors, Xanthan Gum, Maltodextrin, Modified Cornstarch, Colored with (Yellow 5 Lake, Red 40 Lake).

                                                                                                                                                      1. Thats because box cake mixes are chemically altered to be moist.. Read: They aren't food! They're synthetic food. I know it's easier (and to be honest I will turn to a box from time to time) but in the end they're LOADED with chemicals and essentially poisons that your body (and the bodies of those you love) were never meant to consume.

                                                                                                                                                        10 Replies
                                                                                                                                                        1. re: kristygardner

                                                                                                                                                          +1.

                                                                                                                                                          And that is why my kitchen is organic only!

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: kristygardner

                                                                                                                                                              Wouldn't this 'never meant to consume' argument apply to all cakes, scratch or mix? Whether you talk about God designing a body 6000 years ago, or it evolving over millions of years, a cake made with chicken eggs, dairy butter, white flour, baking powder, and refined sugar is a recent human creation. In that long time frame, it really does not matter whether it is scratch cake based on 150 yr old baking powder technology, or a mix cake based on 50 year old technology. They would be equally novel to a cook 2-4000 years ago.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                Heh...that's more or less exactly what I wonder about when I read about things like the "Paleo" diet.

                                                                                                                                                                While I generally attempt to avoid foods from a box or a can or that are heavily laden with extra additives and empathize with the "homemade is always better" motto, I try not to sweat it too much and weigh/balance such preferences against my own schedule/resources/time/energy level/priorities/etc.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Jen76

                                                                                                                                                                  I wonder the Paleo substitute is for birthday cake? Suet and birdseed cake, drizzled with honey?

                                                                                                                                                              2. re: kristygardner

                                                                                                                                                                It's fascinating that most of us have come to appreciate qualities made possible by chemicals as the desirable default; "creamy" ice cream made so by gum aarabic and carageenan; "moist, fine-crumbed" cake by refining, bleaching and adding of humectants, etc etc. I remember rejecting these characteristics even as a kid as I was fortunate to have a mother who brought lopsided, unevenly frosted housemade cakes to funtions when canned frosting was becoming de riguer. No comparison.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: demitasse04

                                                                                                                                                                  I'm 51 years old. My mother made hundreds upon hundreds of Christmas cookies and cakes at the holidays, all from scratch. She also made cakes from boxed mixes when she was short on time or did not want to invest a lot of effort but did want to bake something. We loved both and knew the difference. My brother (56) and I are still alive and appreciate very good food and convenience food (in moderation) until this day. It's all good.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                                                    Ditto here, ttoommyy...and the most amazing pies with killer pie crust...but cakes other than fruitcake were box mixes in our house.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: buttertart

                                                                                                                                                                      My mother made great pies, but was frightened of failing with cakes. When forced into making one, she used a box mix. She manipulated the situation by declaring frequently that our family didn't like cake! She said that my sister and I especially hated cake. Meanwhile, I was always on the lookout for birthday/wedding invites, so I could have the cake that I was desperate to eat!!!!

                                                                                                                                                                      Looks like a pretty twisted situation in type - ! That's my mom.....

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                                                                                                                                        My mother didn't think that the cakes she made were as good as the boxed ones. She made several different ones from scratch too (which were very good, in fact). ttoommyy's right, one once in a while isn't going to kill anybody.

                                                                                                                                                              3. Hmmm... If Ferran Adria or Wylie Dufresne does it and charges $80 a plate for it, it's brilliant Modernist Cuisine, but if General Foods does it and makes it 99 cents a box, it's terrifying Frankenfood. What phony hypocrisy.

                                                                                                                                                                12 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                1. re: acgold7

                                                                                                                                                                  I don't know about hypocrisy. I doubt if anyone posting on this thread has eaten an Adria creation - well, I have made his potato-chip tortilla. :) Adria wrote a semi-homemade cookbook in collaboration with one of the Spanish supermarkets.
                                                                                                                                                                  http://chezpim.com/uncategorized/at_h...

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                    I was actually just trying to stir up the pot a little by riffing on the very brilliant point you made in the American Cheese thread. I intend to repeat this point ad nauseum every time someone complains about chemicals in food, forever.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: acgold7

                                                                                                                                                                      I wonder what the scratch purists think of this 30sec cake by 'Cooking for Geeks' author
                                                                                                                                                                      http://www.cookingchanneltv.com/video...
                                                                                                                                                                      He uses a creamer (using nitrous oxide) to introduce the air into the batter.

                                                                                                                                                                      On Geek-a-licious episode on Cooking Channel the geek had to use a creamer and some gelling agent (I forget which) to make a savory cake. The usual cake methods don't work without a substantial amount of sugar.
                                                                                                                                                                      http://www.cookingchanneltv.com/geek-...

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                        I don't like box cakes because of the taste from the chemicals they add that give the cakes a gummy texture and odd taste. I feel the same way about some (most) storebought ice cream. If they could improve it, that might be different. As MG goes, I'd try it for the novelty once but if it didn't improve the taste, I wouldn't do it again. I've yet to try a cake from a box that I've liked more than good scratch cake.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                          The 'gummy' texture may be what the manufacturers call 'moist', which most consumers seen to desire.

                                                                                                                                                                          The first time I made a genoise, I was surprised how dry it was. I've since realized that that is due to the dominance of eggs, and relatively little oil or fat. Of course there classic ways of dealing with that dryness, including using it as the base for a trifle.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                            "The 'gummy' texture may be what the manufacturers call 'moist', which most consumers seen to desire"

                                                                                                                                                                            Possibly but it's not what I look for in a moist cake (but then what passes for "creamy" in ice cream is all that guar gum type stuff that also seems gummy to me rather than creamy) but then again, I don't care for the coating of trans fats in my mouth and a lot of people don't seem to mind it.

                                                                                                                                                                            There are different purposes for different cakes and if you're accustomed to "moistness" produced by box cakes, I can see how a genoise wouldn't meet up to that, nor any home made cake really. My husband grew up on box cakes and that's all he wants. Makes it easy for me on his birthday.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                              "Possibly but it's not what I look for in a moist cake (but then what passes for "creamy" in ice cream is all that guar gum type stuff that also seems gummy to me rather than creamy) but then again, I don't care for the coating of trans fats in my mouth and a lot of people don't seem to mind it."

                                                                                                                                                                              Ditto on all that.

                                                                                                                                                                              As for genoise, i think it's intended to be brushed with some sort of syrup, is it not? For a while in my 20ies, I was fascinated by "european style" cakes...lots of thin-ish layers of genoise, syrups, thick, mousse-like fillings, etc. And then one day I made a true butter cake like the ones my Mom taught me how to make and I was struck by how much superior I found them to be. For me, the perfect, velvety texture of a butter cake, which is not dry but neither is it oily/gushy like a mix cake or most muffin-method cakes, is cake perfection. This revelation came to me about the same time that I realized the squeeze-bottle nightmares of nuevo cuisine were not nearly so satisfying as simpler food that relies more on great technique and respecting great ingredients.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: danna

                                                                                                                                                                                Yes, that syrup on a genoise makes it melt in your mouth while adding syrup to box mix cakes creates, imo, a mushy mess. And, while an oil cake is easier to make, and I often do it, I miss the taste of the butter of butter cakes--it's a trade off for the quickness. That first bite, when you taste the buttery richness of a well made cake, the texture that doesn't dissolve in your mouth but lingers, the moistness of the cake vs the gumminess trying to be moistness is what makes a scratch cake superior to me. If MG or a box could replicate it, I'd be willing to try but I appreciate the skill it takes to make a good cake. Maybe an analogy could be paint by numbers (mixes), a real painting by an artist vs computer designed art.

                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                          Just saw RIchard Blais make a 30sec angel food cake (in a paper cup) on Iron Chef America (battle grape).

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                            Did they like it? Or, is it technique for the sake of technique? If someone can better what's being done, I'm all for it. I'm not for short cuts that have inferior results (and with a small kitchen, it takes convincing for me to buy more toys--it took over five years for me to decide to get a stand mixer). Cooking for Geeks is right up my son's alley; it'll be a perfect Christmas present.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                              The 30sec cake was part of a 'deconstructed PB&J'; they liked the dish overall, though I only recall one mention of the cake part (which was positive). This was on the Iron Chef side (Cat Cora). The score as 50/49 in favor of the challenger.

                                                                                                                                                                              Cooking for Geeks is a good reading. Based on a 'burt sugar' test in the book for oven temperature, I lowered the thermostat on my oven by 25deg.

                                                                                                                                                                              Potter was on a 'Monster ...' pilot episode (FN or CC, I don't recall which), in which two teams competed to make the largest donut. Both were about 6' in diameter, and really just baked cakes, decorated as donuts. They had to make the mold, find an oven large enough (e.g. industrial paint drying oven), and calculate the necessary baking temperature and time. I think Potter used two temperature probes, one in the oven air, one inside the donut. One team wanted to deep fry theirs at the end, but their 'dumptser pot' started leaking oil, so the safety inspectors stopped that.

                                                                                                                                                                              Watching shows like this helps one realize that there is a lot of science, and chemistry, going on when we bake cakes, whether from scratch or mix.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                                I saw that donut episode. Other than seeing if it could be done, I don't get those kinds of challenges--it's not like a huge donut is going to taste good.

                                                                                                                                                                                I love the chemistry and science behind baking. I'm a geek about it, from the yeast stages to baking soda/powder type leaveners. I think MG is fascinating from a science point of view and love the novelty of it but I'm not convinced it makes better food yet. But, I reserve judgement until I have had the best, not these sodium alginate balls of liquid flavor I see popping up all over the place which don't taste good to me. That's my feeling w/ cake mix, too--modern doesn't always mean better.

                                                                                                                                                                  2. I too prefer cakes from scratch over box mixes but I wonder how much of that has to do with the quality of the ingredients used? Most supermarket cake mix brands like Pillsbury and Duncan Hines have a lot of fillers and additives. Generally when you bake a cake from scratch you're using better quality ingredients (real butter, quality flour, vanilla beans, etc) so naturally there's going to be a noticeable difference.

                                                                                                                                                                    Do you think using a better box mix will result in cakes that are closer in flavor to fresh baked? I suspect many chain bakeries like Panera aren't baking their goods from scratch. They are almost definitely using some kind of pre-packed mix yet some of their pastries do turn pretty good.

                                                                                                                                                                    8 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Chi_Guy

                                                                                                                                                                      I guarantee that King Arthur's cake mixes would taste fine to me. It is definitely about the quality of the ingredients as well as what kind of result the mix was going for. I am never gonna like a cake mix created for the people Pillsbury or Duncan Hines are shooting for..

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Becca Porter

                                                                                                                                                                        http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/produ...
                                                                                                                                                                        a yellow cake mix test. KA did come in first, but a Betty Crocker SuperMoist Golden Vanilla got Honorable Mention #1. Based on the comments I'm not sure KA is worth the extra $3.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                          It would be worth the $3 to me just to get non-bromated bleached flour. Then again, I never buy mixes*, so it's a moot point.

                                                                                                                                                                          *Except King Arthur's complete fruitcake mix. I really like it.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Becca Porter

                                                                                                                                                                            FWIW, I tried it based on the survey and didn't care for it. Just because something is popular in a survey doesn't mean it's good. I've never used KA's mix because it's so expensive and I can do my own almost as quickly as so much more cheaply.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                              We used to give a huge BBQ every year --120+ people -- and after the adults stole all the cupcakes made for the children one year, I began making cupcakes as part of the dessert course. One year, with all the other stuff I had to make for the BBQ, I decided to make the KA mix cupcakes, 2 of the chocolate and 2 of the vanilla, and I continued to do it that way for the next 7-8 years. One year, the wife of one of my husband's colleagues came up to me and begged me for my cupcake recipe. "Oh," she said, "I know people don't like to give out treasured recipes, but every year when I come here, I can't believe I have to wait another year to have your cupcakes." I was pretty embarrassed, but I told her the truth. "You promise not to tell anyone? Do I have your word of honor that you will never reveal this?" I asked. You should have seen her face when I told her it was a mix from King Arthur Flour. Pretty funny, actually!

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: roxlet

                                                                                                                                                                                That's funny. I keep thinking I need to try the KA mix but then, I have some cake recipes that come together so quickly that it's hard to justify the cost, and going out of my way to find it.

                                                                                                                                                                                A long time ago, I was asked, last minute (as in the day before) to make a cake for preschool graduation, over 100 people. There was no way I could have done it all from scratch so I used some cake mix, can't remember which, but probably whatever was cheapest. For years after, people kept telling me how that was the best cake they'd ever had. As I've said all along, most people love mixes and I think there is a time and place for them.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                                  I have to say that I hate the taste of most mixes. Frequently, when there are events where parents are asked to bring baked goods, I will eat a piece of cake mix cake, and it always tastes weird to me. Using the KA mixes is the only time since childhood that I have resorted to mixes. For me, the extra time required to make a from scratch cake is worth it-- and it's not that much more time except when I am baking in volume, as for the BBQ, and trying to also make tassies, peach crisp, and a load of sides for dinner.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: roxlet

                                                                                                                                                                                    Mine depends on the crowd. My husband grew up on cake mixes and prefers them. There's no point for me to make a cake from scratch for his birthday, unless it's pound cake or cheesecake. I'd made enough cakes for little ones who only eat the frosting that, after making a chocolate truffle cake for my son's big birthday party and seeing most of it end in the trash, except the frosting, that I stopped, until my kids started asking for specific cakes. I don't like mixes but it's good control for me, then. I only eat cake that I like and can easily pass on mix cakes. But, as I've said, I've never tried the KA cake mix so that might be the exception. It's just as easy for me to do a cake from scratch.

                                                                                                                                                                    2. I'm a little late, but in case the convo starts again...How about angel food cake mixes v. from scratch? I always made from scratch but I haven't done that in a long time because of the cost of all those eggs in comparison to an on-sale box mix. A box mix is cheaper and frankly tastes just fine to me (a frequent cook and bread baker but not a super frequent cake baker). Does anyone feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to angel food cake? I'm wondering if I should break down and go back to from scratch or if the box mixes are good enough--it's been so long since I've baked one from scratch that I can't remember anymore if either is better!

                                                                                                                                                                      14 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: akalish

                                                                                                                                                                        If you like the box mix and it's cheaper and easier, then does it matter what others prefer? My friend's husband loves angel food cake so the first time she made it for him, she did it from scratch and he didn't care for it. He only likes it from a mix and it's easier for her so she goes w/ it.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                          if you have a back-up plan for the yolks, like fruit curd, why not make it from scratch? a box of eggs is 99 cents. even my local free-range are less $3.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                                                                                                            I make it from scratch. But, if someone likes a box mix and it's cheaper and easier for them, why not?

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                              my reply was to akalish, sorry.

                                                                                                                                                                              yeah, if somebody's friend's husband's mother made it from a box, why stress?

                                                                                                                                                                              a few years back, i had a co-worker who'd never had a from scratch birthday cake -- only supermarket ones. i made her the yellow cake from smitten kitchen with a very simple cream cheese/buttercream frosting. you should have seen her eyes light up! for her? it was a revelation, lol.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                                                                                                                Nice! Love those moments of revelation!!

                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                                                                                                              Ha! Not in NYC it doesn't! Oh for the day that I can leave this place...Here's it's at least $2.50 a box, plus whatever else is called for whereas a cake mix can go for $1 on sale.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: akalish

                                                                                                                                                                                even with the flour and sugar and such, at 8 giant slices for a cake you're looking at under 45 cents a serving, lol.

                                                                                                                                                                                have never had a boxed cake that didn't as if from a box. i know some people don't care, can't tell or are used to it.

                                                                                                                                                                                whatever you think is best.

                                                                                                                                                                            3. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                              I posed the question because I'm wondering if I'm missing something since it's been a long time since I've made it from scratch (I can't remember), not because I need group help making a decision lol! Thanks for sharing your husband's preference. It's interesting to get a sense of what people prefer.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: akalish

                                                                                                                                                                                here's what's in the duncan hines angel food cake:

                                                                                                                                                                                Sugar, Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Wheat Starch, Powdered Egg Whites (Egg Albumen, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate [Whipping Aid]), Leavening (Monocalcium Phosphate Monohydrate, Sodium Bicarbonate, Potassium Bitartrate). Contains 2% Or Less Of: Corn Starch, Maltodextrin, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Modified Cornstarch, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and Cottonseed Oil

                                                                                                                                                                                at least it's real sugar but those oils would be a deal-breaker for me.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                                                                                                                  But it's those "Natural and Artificial Flavors" that will kill you. You should look them up and see what passes for "natural flavors".

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: PotatoHouse

                                                                                                                                                                                    "But it's those "Natural and Artificial Flavors" that will kill you."

                                                                                                                                                                                    I'm not a fan of box mixes but if you're eating enough cake that the flavors might be killing you, you're eating too much cake whether it's from scratch or a mix. Those flavors make the cake unpalatable to me but I don't think I'll keel over from them.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                                      They're not just found in cake mix but in all processed foods.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: PotatoHouse

                                                                                                                                                                                        Ditto--if you're eating enough processed foods that the flavoring agents are killing you, you're eating too much processed foods. It's like being worried about the pesticides used in growing tobacco when you're smoking.

                                                                                                                                                                            4. re: akalish

                                                                                                                                                                              My MIL made the Pillsbury angel food cake from a mix recently and it was very good indeed. Easier for a 90 year old lady (!) to manage than passels of egg whites and folding...

                                                                                                                                                                            5. i usually go from scratch when doing it myself, but it's personal preference. i've had plenty of "mix" cakes made by others that are perfectly fine.

                                                                                                                                                                              i was just brought up in a house that frowned upon most boxes/mixes, for their economic inefficiency, plus the fact that most of them contain a bunch of artificial ingredients and preservatives. when you make from scratch, you know exactly what's in it.

                                                                                                                                                                              that said, there's a time and a place for mixes.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. I'll just bash you upside the head with a box of cake mix. Only kidding. :) I do not really care for cakes that were made from a mix, and I can tell the difference most of the time. Many of my relatives prefer to use a cake mix, but my Aunt will only make her desserts from scratch, so the other cakes taste like crap in comparison IMO. Although my Aunt is the best cook/baker on that side of the family, so that has something to do with it as well. Doctoring up the cake mix certainly helps to make it taste better. One of my friends made a homemade cake that was so bad, it made me long for a cake that was made from a mix. I think that cakes taste best when they are made from scratch most of the time.