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"Mix" cakes vs. scratch cakes

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I am writing a paper on why scratch cakes are better than mix cakes for a class. I do not favor making mix cakes but I am sometimes forced to. I dont see any skill in making mix cakes nor do I see any taste in it. My goal in life is to become a Baking and Pastries chef and I love making everything from scratch. Modifying recipes and creating things of my own is always fun but you cant exactly "modify" a mixed cake recipe. I believe that mix cakes are simple and can be made by almost anybody but unless you dont have the time or money for the ingredients called for I think it is always best to make a cake from scratch.

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  1. Here are the ingredients for a yellow cake according to Martha Stewart:

    • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
    • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
    • 1 tablespoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 2 cups sugar
    • 4 large eggs
    • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

    ___

    Here are the ingredients for a Betty Crocker Super Moist Yellow Cake Mix that costs $1.32 at Walmart:

    • Enriched Flour Bleached (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid),
    • Sugar,
    • Partially Hydrogenated Soybean And/Or Cottonseed Oil,
    • Corn Syrup,
    • Leavening (Baking Soda, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate),
    • Modified Corn Starch,
    • Propylene Glycol Monoesters Of Fatty Acids,
    • Corn Starch,
    • Dextrose,
    • Salt,
    • Distilled Monoglycerides,
    • Dicalcium Phosphate,
    • Maltodextrin,
    • Xanthan Gum,
    • Natural And Artificial Flavor,
    • Yellows 5&6,
    • Nonfat Milk.

    To the BC mix you would need to add:
    • 3 eggs
    • 1 1/4 cup water
    • 1/3 cup vegetable oil

    ---

    If you compare them for cost I guess you'd have to determine if some flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and vanilla would cost more than $1.32. Maybe the costs would be comparable. Maybe the same amount of natural ingredients would be a little higher.

    I know I'd rather have simple natural ingredients.

    So it's a matter of which you'd prefer and whether it's worth it to you to measure out 6 ingredients you probably already have on hand. The eggs and fat of either recipe you're going to have to measure yourself in either case.

    Don't you also wonder, if you can get a tasty and attractive cake from those simple ingredients in Martha's recipe, what all Betty's artificial and lab ingredients are necessary for? And why is it a good idea to have sugar, corn syrup, dextrose AND maltodextrose? Does that give you the feeling that the total sugars may exceed the flour in the recipe since, by law, ingredients of packaged foods have to be listed in the order of largest volume (or weight, I've forgotten which)?

    1 Reply
    1. re: rainey

      I never have enough motivation to actually figure out what all the ingredients are that are listed on the boxes for mix cakes, if it takes me more than 2 tries to say the word, I figure its probably not the most healthy thing or needed. I love being able to look at a list of ingredients and being able to ask my little brothers to get them for me and them understanding what I am talking about. I also know that I would prefer not to have any "modified" ingredients in my desserts, this is another reason I only make them from scratch, that and when I bring a dish to a party or event and people ask who made it I can happily tell them that I made it from scratch. There is a sense of accomplishment when you make things other than out of a box and you get to see others enjoy and appreciate what you have made. I don't mind having to spend a few extra dollars on ingredients because those ingredients will allow you to make multiple cakes!

    2. I remember making my first 'from scratch' cake as a teenager. It was a revelation. :) I haven't used a cake mix since.

      Scratch cakes just taste much better than mix cakes if you ask me. Maybe it's the absence of preservatives as Rainey pointed out.

      Comparing the two, it seems to me that cake mixes save you the labor of measuring out dry ingredients (depending on how complicated your scratch recipe is). Really, how long does that take?

      On the other hand if you don't have confidence making baked goods... or a well stocked pantry (or other things in life take precedence over cake baking) cake mixes are probably a good thing.

      Good luck with your paper! :)

      12 Replies
      1. re: thingmaker

        Oh- you just reminded me of another reason why people who don't cook prefer mix cakes- they contain all the ingredients that they wouldn't probably have around the house anyway. I'm not dissing anybody, I just know a lot of noncooks that bring cakes.

        1. re: EWSflash

          Maybe that's what somebody should do... I will fully admit to almost always using cake mix. We love our occasional strawberry chocolate cake and I am not proud to say the only thing fresh is the strawberries - otherwise, it's Betty Crocker and Cool Whip. Does it taste great? No, but it tastes fine and with two kids and a pretty busy job, I don't have time to grab ingredients, measure it out, etc...

          However, if someone would sell me a box with everything pre-measured and separated into sealed bags (sugar, salt, flour, baking soda, vanilla, etc.), where I could just add the perishables (butter, eggs), I would definitely buy it and I would pay a premium. Whereas I pay $1.99 for a box of cake mix, I might pay $4.99 for a box of pre-measured ingredients.

          Surely there is a business opportunity here, bridging the gap between sandra lee simplicity and ina garten deliciousness.

          1. re: FattyDumplin

            I think those mixes probably exist at Whole Foods and other natural foods stores - I believe I've seen a few.

            The Cool Whip thing really unnerves me - it isn't that hard to whip up some cream, and it's so much better in every way - !

            1. re: sandylc

              I've seen the mixes at Whole Foods. Never tried them. For some reason, I figure if I'm going to eat some boxed crap, I might as well not get the healthy version.

              As to Cool Whip, I keep a tub in the freezer. To me, Cool Whip is not whipped cream, it's something else entirely. A giant spoonful eaten frozen once in a while is a (not guilty) pleasure. I think real homemade whipped cream with a bit of vanilla is one of the greatest things on the planet. But sometimes I just want some chewy frozen Cool Whip.

              I think if you get away from the idea that any of these processed foods are supposed to be taking the place of the real thing, it's less irritating to think about and you can appreciate them for what they are. I don't eat fast food at all, but it's along those lines. Almost everyone has a place in their heart for an occasional shelf-stable/GMO-laden/factory-farm-raised/just-add-water/wholly unnatural food they grew up eating.

              I don't see any problem with this. I see people eat things far worse than cake mix and Cool Whip on a daily basis.

              "Everything in moderation."

              1. re: nothingswrong

                Completely agree with your assessment of processed vs real thing. I used to work at a place with one of those coffee vending machines, and I actually kind of liked the stuff in a way once I viewed it as "hot caffeinated beverage." Plus, there was no ready alternative!

                Along the same lines, a friend of mine was on a severely calory-restricted diet and tried lo-cal mayonnaise. Said it would have been better if it hadn't been called mayo, and ended up just doing without for the duration.

              2. re: sandylc

                i know! i told you i was embarrassed. I love cool whip. yesit tastes artificial, but sometimes i just love thelightness and don't want to feel guilty about eating real frosting / whippedcream..

                1. re: FattyDumplin

                  <<<<<don't want to feel guilty about eating real frosting / whippedcream>>>>>>

                  I infer that you consider cool whip to be a healthier choice than real frosting or whipped cream?

                  I can't get on board with that idea!

                  1. re: sandylc

                    In terms of fat content, yes.

                    I've been reading that dieting thread also going on and it's just case in point that different people are concerned with different things when looking at nutrition and dieting.

                    Some avoid/count carbs, some avoid fat, some avoid processed foods, some simply count calories, no matter what those calories are made of.

                    Our bodies are all different and respond to different things in terms of weight loss.

                    Fat Free Cool Whip would be a great choice for someone who wants something creamy and cold but doesn't want all the fat that comes with ice cream or whipped cream.

                    1. re: nothingswrong

                      You do know that we have to eat fat to survive, right?

                      1. re: nothingswrong

                        Also, you call THIS:

                        Ingredients (16):

                        Water, Corn Syrup, Vegetable(s) Oil Hydrogenated (Coconut Oil Hydrogenated, Palm Kernel Oil Hydrogenated) , Corn Syrup High Fructose, Contains less than 22% of Sodium Caseinate from milk, Flavor(s) Natural & Artificial, Food Starch Modified, Xanthan Gum and, Guar Gum, Polysorbate 60, Polysorbate 65, Sorbitan Monostearate, Sodium Hydroxide, Beta Carotene color(s)

                        a "great choice"?

                        1. re: sandylc

                          Of course you have to eat fat to survive. But there is fat in lots of things, and good fats and bad fats... I may not be the one to get into a debate about this with, given I have some serious medical issues which don't allow me to digest much fat. I also cannot digest ANY fiber. So I have to avoid fiber at all costs, and limit my fat very strictly.

                          Plant-based fats are easiest for me; I get almost all of my oral intake of fat from extra-virgin olive oil. Fat from dairy makes me feel pretty ill, and animal fats from meat make me violently ill. I can eat some Cool Whip though, and it's a great alternative in terms of snacking or satisfying cravings.

                          As to the crazy list of funky stuff in Cool Whip, of course it's not a "great choice" in terms of eating a clean whole food diet. But the reality is that people crave specific foods and flavors, and like it or not, most people don't have the willpower to abstain from these cravings in the long term. A spoonful of Cool Whip every now and then isn't going to do any damage, just as much as eating McDonalds occasionally as a child hasn't caused tremendous health problems in all of the "billions" of people who apparently have eaten it.

                          I still stick by the "everything in moderation" way of approaching food.

                          Very strict avoidance of entire food groups or flavors that one really really craves does nothing but drive you crazy. With my awful diet restrictions, I've been forced to find alternatives. They may not be "perfect" or "whole" or "the best option," but for my body they are indeed a great choice.

                    2. re: FattyDumplin

                      I used to eat huge spoonfuls of it as a teenager. My mother would buy tubs, freeze them then never use them. I figured I was doing the family a favor. It has a weird metallic taste to me, but apparently I liked that... :)

            2. The biggest problem with box cakes seems to be the amount of baking powder. I always can taste something that I can only guess is the aluminum.

              2 Replies
              1. re: jaykayen

                That has a lot to do with the initial recipe. Cakes from my mom's old Betty Crocker Cookbook had that baking powder flavor. New more modern recipes adjust for it.

                1. re: adventuresinbaking

                  Well but you can also buy baking powder without aluminum! Easily. Or make your own.

                  For me, the problem with boxed mixes isn't the aluminum - it's that they TASTE boxed. Extra sweet with a touch of processed : )

              2. I have never ever used a box mix until a couple months ago. Not because I was lazy but I tried a cake at a potluck and LOVED it (kaluha cake). This was a “doctored” up cake (still super quick) and it tasted really good. Then I did a bit of research online and I found another recipe that uses a box mix and pudding (who would have thought!) and I tried it, really good results as well. That being said, I will continue to bake with “real” ingredients from scratch because there is a certain satisfaction I get when not making a box mix and most things I have baked taste really delicious. However, when the craving strikes I wouldn’t hesitate to make those doctored up box cake recipes.

                1. The leavens and emulsifiers in boxed mixes are designed to overcome the deficienies of lazy or poor cooks/equipment.

                  Also, box mixes use oil instead of butter which makes a much more moist cake (albeit with loss of flavor, which is disguised with other flavor enhancers) than a butter cake: lots of Americans prefer oil over butter in cakes without understanding why. That said, most mixes are designed so that they CAN be made with melted butter instead of oil (I do this for my mother, who prefers a stiff cold cake, and you need butter for that to work; also, the flavor is obviously superior; for myself, if I use a mix for a Cake Doctor recipe - some are quite good - I use half melted butter, half oil).

                  A very close friend of mine is a superb cake baker. She's the one who clued me in on these truths. She's observed over many years that her Cake Doctor mix cakes are devoured much faster than her wonderful from scratch butter cakes, and she gradually figured out why.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Karl S

                    I agree that the Cake Doctor suggestions often improve the box cakes. I do keep a box in the pantry for emergencies.

                    And futurechef, it's not cool to dismiss something because you can't pronounce it. Don't you think a future chef would want to learn all they could about ingredients so they could speak knowledgeably about them?

                    1. re: DonShirer

                      Dismissing something because you can't pronounce the whole list of ingredients implies that it's okay for me to eat it because I trained as a chemist and can therefore pronounce most of the ingredients?

                      1. re: Palladium

                        You're also better prepared to evaluate what you are willing to ingest and what you're not prepared to.

                        The rest of us are far more in the dark. Being such a naîve, I'm pretty much with futurechef in being skeptical about the lab -- as opposed to pantry -- ingredients.

                        1. re: rainey

                          Actually, I think being trained as a chemist means that I'm normally *just* as sceptical of the pantry ingredients as I am about "processed" food ingredients!

                          1. re: Palladium

                            LOL!

                            What's in our pantries that we should know about but don't? I'm asking seriously.

                    2. re: Karl S

                      An important point here that needs stressing. Box mixes offer nothing in terms of flavour or texture that you *can't* reproduce or improve upon by making your own cake "from scratch", but the technical skill required to do so *in practice* is significant, often beyond what all but a handful of home bakers actually possess. You'll have to have enough experience and knowledge to be able to create entirely new recipe formulations from the ground up rather than using recipes derived from third-party sources - because they may have been and often are designed to achieve a different type of result that that which the box mix aims for.

                      For instance, it's possible to make an all-butter cake that's every bit as moist as an oil cake, but you'd need to have a properly formulated recipe designed to achieve this effect.

                      Another common issue is that butter cakes are considerably more sensitive to baking time - you need to be careful not to overbake, and this means both a well-calibrated oven and the attention paid to take it out before the needle/skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Box mixes as noted are much more forgiving - they permit a larger range of baking parameters while achieving essentially the same effect.

                      On a totally different point, and one that I'm always MASSIVELY depressed and disappointed by. Steve mentions:
                      "Upscale restaurant desserts are another question. Most pastry chefs seem to spend very little time making cakes in the same style you would get out of a box or expect to find at a birthday party. "
                      I agree with this completely - and this applies equally to upscale bakeries. There seems to be a sharp divide. Businesses that make an effort to produce quality seem never to make a good basic cake - that seems to be left to the mass-market bakeries who are more interested in reduced cost than ultimate quality. Is there really no market for maximum-quality traditional cakes bought from a bakery? If so, can someone here explain why? I find it hard to believe that the majority of people who might be interested in such a cake would either themselves have the skill to do so to a consummate level, or have private access to someone else who can.

                    3. I wish I could say homemade cakes are better, but I can't tell you how many homemade or even very expensive, serious bakery cakes I've had that are downright unpleasant. I'm ok with doctoring a box cake. The biggest difference will be the butter vs oil question. I am not sure I understand why you can't doctor a box mix; it's very effective.

                      Upscale restaurant desserts are another question. Most pastry chefs seem to spend very little time making cakes in the same style you would get out of a box or expect to find at a birthday party.

                      In France, there is almost no cake for dessert like you'd find out of a box. A bavarois, yes.....

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Steve

                        The presence of many bad homemade/from-scratch cakes doesn't necessarily mean box is better. It may instead mean that homemade is less forgiving (which it is).

                      2. It is coincidental that you ask this question now as this week I have family visiting and for the occasion made a mix cake, which I seldom do but the recipe sounded interesting as it was described as "amazingly chocolatey" which I thought would appeal to my guests (and I admit that I was rushed for time). This cake combines cake mix, sour cream, double the eggs, oil, chocolate pudding, and a bag of mini-chocolate chips, plus I added a homemade chocolate fudge icing. My guests like it fine but to me it is just another mix cake and I think one big difference is the crumb of the cake, which seems to me to have a plastic quality. The color (a reddish tone) looks fake. And, chocolatey or not, there is something about the flavor that seems off to me, artificial, not genuine. I'm with you: bake from scratch. (Let me throw in gratuitously that reading the chemistry lab-inventory of ingredients in cake mix turns me off anyway.)

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Querencia

                          Plastic quality. That's certainly a factor!

                        2. I love baking from scratch. Knowing exactly what's in your cake is always a good thing! I am guilty of using mixes on occasion. I usually resort to them as a time saver. When my 5 year-old requested I make him a Titanic cake for his birthday last year, I needed to bake 6 quarter sheet cakes to "build" it, so I cheated by baking 4 from scratch and using two yellow cake mixes! Luckily, when everyone dug in, they weren't able to tell I used a mix. (The copious amounts of frosting probably helped too!)

                          1. There are many books and websiteson modifying mix cakes. Some people prefer the taste of a mix cake. A wedding cake competition blind taste test between a betty crocker mix, a grocery store cake and a new york bakery ended up with the mix cake winning because "it was a familiar taste."
                            http://www.blog.generalmills.com/2013...

                            1. My two cents: Cake mixes have a very..um..weird aftertaste and taste kind of fake. All my baking is done from scratch--although I will admit that at times, when my kids were younger and pulled the "Oh my mom will make cupcakes for the class tomorrow" and told me at the 11th hour, I've been known to drive to the store for boxed cake mix..but my frosting was ALWAYS made from scratch. The taste, texture and mouthfeel of a made-from-scratch cake..or any baked good is just much better. But I do have to say, I've tasted quite a bit of "made from scratch" cakes that were dry as sand..it really depends on the cook!

                              1. Looks like you actually have four things to compare here:

                                a mix prepared as directed
                                a doctored mix
                                a poorly made scratch cake
                                a well-made scratch cake

                                You have two types of audiences who might speak up if you put it to a vote:

                                people accustomed to box mix cakes
                                people who prefer real food ;-)

                                Things become so complicated!!!!

                                1. I can see several logical arguments for mix cakes.

                                  If you don't bake, making a mix cake involves ingredients you won't necessarily have on hand, and you can't buy things like baking soda, vanilla and baking powder in one serve portions (unless it's in a mix).

                                  Box cakes are extremely consistent in preparation, and have a fine, even texture that is desirable for some applications - reproducing the texture of a box cake with a scratch cake is non trivial (they same way making Wonderbread at home is a lost cause).

                                  Box cakes are cheaper. Looking at the post below, I would pay more for the cup of butter than the cost of the whole mix cake. (well, not right now - it would take me a four hour round trip to *find* a box cake, but in the US or Canada).

                                  Some people prefer the taste of boxed cakes to scratch.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                    You make really excellent points, but you left out the people who prefer the taste of scratch cakes to boxed!

                                    1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                      Bingo! I agree with everything you said...not everyone can afford expensive ingredients (and when I say that, everyone has a different interpretation of what they consider expensive).

                                      While it may be normal for some, not everyone can afford high quality butter or free range eggs or good chocolate to make cake & frosting. Anyone who has made a Pound cake know that it's expensive to make. Those on a budget can't regularly do this. So, cake mix is 1.39 and a can of frosting is $1.99. Add three eggs @.45 cents (1.89 dz) and a cup of oil @ .75 cents (2.89 quart) + water and you can have a dessert for 12 for roughly less than $5.00...Is it better than a cake made from scratch? Probably not but for some to say that those who use a box mix is lazy cook should really know what they're talking about before throwing out blanket statements like that.

                                      That's the same as saying those who use frozen or canned vegetables or boxed mac & cheese or frozen hash browns instead of shredding their own is lazy cook. Take that further to include those who don't grow their own vegetables or raise & slaughter their own meat or those who eat out instead of cooking at home every night is a lazy cook. Blanket statements...

                                      I myself bake from scratch most of the time, in fact, I'm known for my desserts but when my kids were little and I was on a budget (single parent) and before I became good at baking from scratch, I used mixes. In fact, I have a box of mix that I've probably had close to a year in my pantry. I'm going to make something out of it one of these days. But I'm damn sure not a lazy cook.

                                      1. re: Cherylptw

                                        I would have agreed with Cherylptw's entire post if it wasn't for the "not everyone can afford high quality butter or free range eggs or good chocolate to make cake & frosting" statement. No one said that you have to buy European style cultured butter, the finest chocolate, or eggs from your own backyard chickens that have only dined on organic vegetable scraps. I can throw together the Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate Cake" pretty darned fast using cheap store eggs, Hershey's chocolate powder, and vegetable oil and it will blow any chocolate cake mix out of the water. I totally agree if you don't have the baking basics on hand (vanilla, baking powder/soda, etc.) it will cost you more but no one should think that not being able to buy the finest ingredients available means you are shut out of cake baking. That's just a load of hooey.

                                        1. re: mels

                                          My primary point of contention with Chryls post is the fact that she equates a box mix with "high quality butter or free range eggs or good chocolate". Sorry, but there is no way any box mix uses these ingredients so your argument is faulty from the outset.

                                          1. re: mels

                                            Yes yes yes!

                                            I have a dear friend who is not a confident baker, yet is organic picky, yet does not have tons of money and...

                                            She makes the Hershey's chocolate cake and is a VERY happy gal : )

                                            Taste plus pure plus ease of baking = AWESOME

                                      2. I don't like boxed cake because I can immediately taste the fake-y chemicals in almost all of them. To be honest I don't really like cake much to begin with though. :)

                                        1. My mother always had cake mixes in the house when I was growing up, and I've made many of those, circa 1960s. I did modify them many times though. I added ingredients or flavors to suit myself.

                                          In my home life, when I had a young family, I generally baked simple cakes from scratch. Fast forward to the early aughts when I was in my last months of working. Our boss made cake mix cakes and brought them in. I could tell they were mix cakes, and I thought whatever they were too sweet. Perhaps the flavors weren't quite as vibrant as well.

                                          But I also want to say that I never did master layer cakes. Whether you are baking from a mix or from scratch, there is still skill at baking them properly and getting them out of the pan and layered. So, I don't know that I buy your assumption that baking a mix cake takes no skill.

                                          Since you want to bake for a living, then by all means, develop your skills as a baker. I imagine your friends and family love your creations.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: sueatmo

                                            I noted below that one cake mix had 4 different kinds of sugar.

                                            1. re: rainey

                                              Ouch!

                                          2. There's less margin for error in using a boxed mix. I have a couple of friends who are licensed home bakers, and they both use doctored mixes for this very reason. When you're baking in bulk, it's a necessity to simplify things as much as possible. They both make their icings from scratch, however.

                                            There's also the consistency issue, in which a boxed mix will almost always win out over scratch. One thing that those chemicals in boxed mixes do is stabilize the rest of the ingredients. For example, you wouldn't want to make a from-scratch angel cake on a damp day because the humidity in the air would affect the egg whites you'd be using. That issue is moot if you use a mix.

                                            I'm all for doctoring a mix. I've got my own little tips and tricks for doing it, as do the bakers I just mentioned above.

                                            I have nothing against scratch cakes, but I find them to be much drier than boxed mixes, doctored or otherwise. I don't know about anybody else, but I'm not a dry cake fan. If I make or eat cake, I automatically expect it to be moist AND yummy.

                                            8 Replies
                                            1. re: xo_kizzy_xo

                                              Some of us find the "moistness" of mixes to be artificially gummy.

                                              A fresh, well-made homemade cake isn't dry.

                                              If you are expecting a cake to stay fresh for several days, then you are accustomed to artificially preserved food.

                                              1. re: sandylc

                                                Or just a difference between oil cakes vs butter cakes.

                                                1. re: Karl S

                                                  Good point. But a homemade oil cake is still very different from a box mix oil cake.

                                                  1. re: sandylc

                                                    Yes, but even the best from scratch classic American butter cake can seem unpleasantly dry to a lot of Americans. I suspect that's why chiffon cakes were such a viral hit. For some reason, American cake baking is centered much more around butter cakes than, say, sponge/genoise cakes (which are not moist on their own, but are very often moistened with syrups/spirits in a way that American butter cakes are often not - also, they aren't as stiff cold, and American cakes are often refrigerated because we luvs our refrigeration).

                                                    1. re: Karl S

                                                      And many Americans prefer McDonald's to fresh, scratch-made food.

                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                        Then again, not all scratch-made food is better than McDonalds.

                                                        1. re: Karl S

                                                          True! So many more factors than are immediately apparent.....

                                              2. re: xo_kizzy_xo

                                                What is a licensed home baker? Frankly if I were buying something from a baker I'd assume I was getting something made from scratch.

                                                I can immediately taste a boxed mix cake and/or frosting. Much too, much too sweet.

                                              3. Everything everyone said I agree with. The list of ingredients on a boxed cake mix is frightening.

                                                But there are plenty of people who use them (obviously) and you see entire food blogs dedicated to the bastardization of cake mixes, cookie mixes, brownie mixes, etc.

                                                I will admit to loving brownie mix. The Ghirardelli mix with extra choc, mmm. I'd bet more people in the US use brownies from a box than homemade.

                                                Anyway, I bake daily. I make big fancy layer cakes, fruit studded cakes, coffee cakes, snack cakes... I have no fear of cake-baking at all.

                                                I can taste immediately if a cake's made from scratch or from a mix. They are entirely different. Some people LOVE cake mix, and to those who don't--DON'T USE THEM.

                                                I think it's nice that people who don't bake, or are afraid of baking, can still make cakes when they want to get crafty in the kitchen. Pre-made frosting makes this even easier.

                                                My ex husband baked me a cake mix cake on my birthday every year and I loved him for taking the time to do it. If cake mix didn't exist, he would have bought me one, which I would have appreciated too, but I adored him for taking the time to bake me one, even if it wasn't from scratch. His decorating skills were ridiculous and I thought it was adorable.

                                                My mother is a very experienced cook and baker, but every year on my birthday, she bakes me a Betty Crocker white cake with Funfetti frosting (from a can) and rainbow sprinkles. She's been doing it since I was in preschool. I look forward to it every year, and eat my weight in cake mix cake, and I think it's f*cking delicious.

                                                It was my birthday last week and she gave me this to take home, and I enjoyed it on the couch at 1 AM with an iced espresso, and wish I'd taken even more home to eat the next day:

                                                 
                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: nothingswrong

                                                  Funfetti is the only exception to the "boxed cake mixes suck" rule. That cake is addictive!!

                                                  1. re: Hobbert

                                                    Funfetti is no better or worse than other cake mixes, IMO. It's just regular white cake mix with the colored flecks (sprinkles) mixed in.

                                                2. You can modify them. I use butter instead of oil. I often use buttermilk instead of milk, and I add an extra egg. Sometimes I add a box of pudding with a bit extra milk. Makes a really fluffy and moist cake.

                                                  1. I hate cake mix cakes. They do have an aftertaste. I don't even like most bakeries because they too essentially use cake mixes.
                                                    Artificial vanilla has a very aldehydic taste and smell, that for me, ruins anything it is in.

                                                    There are just too many very easy cake recipes that are just as easy as adding water, egg and oil to the boxed mix, that it just makes no sense to me to buy and use a mix. Maybe people who are anxious about measuring flour prefer just dumping a boxed mix into a mixing bowl. My answer to people with "flour anxiety" is just weigh it and then the accuracy is easy.

                                                    9 Replies
                                                    1. re: laraffinee

                                                      I have been very disappointed in bakery cakes too. I assumed they were using commercial products that substituted for butter and eggs.

                                                      Everyone who likes mix cakes should eat and enjoy them but, for me, there's just nothing as good as natural ingredients and measuring out a few things (what cake has a dozen ingredients?) is so simple that little labor is saved.

                                                      1. re: laraffinee

                                                        Best laugh of the day! People who do not have the kitchen skills and pantry staples to make a scratch cake do NOT have kitchen scales.

                                                        1. re: greygarious

                                                          No, people who have the kitchen skills to make a scratch cake almost CERTAINLY have kitchen scales, because baking is *entirely unlike* cooking (which is something you can do by intuition and "feel", with a lot of approximation and tasting.)

                                                          No, baking is almost scientific, like a chemistry experiment: precise measurement is necessary to achieve reliable, consistent results, and, for example, with things like flour, the density may vary, so volume measurements aren't good enough - you should weigh everything. It's one of the most fundamental skills taught from Day 1 for pastry chefs.

                                                          1. re: AlexRast

                                                            You are agreeing with me; I said that people who aren't into cooking enough to have flour and baking powder and vanilla on hand aren't the type to have a scale (drug dealers aside).

                                                            1. re: greygarious

                                                              Ah - a misread - I didn't see a "not" in the first clause. (Something about those double-negatives...)

                                                            2. re: AlexRast

                                                              I know lots of people who can bake quite well and *don't* use a scale. Most recipes in North America give volume measurements only, so you'd have to be hard core enough to search out special cookbooks in order to be able to use a kitchen scale in the first case.

                                                              Baking requires more precision than normal cooking, but most recipes aren't that sensitive. I find that adjusting for different countries' flour and local humidity is a bigger effect than scale vs measuring cups.

                                                              1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                                Agreed. Most recipes are tested in coastal areas (NYC or LA) which are considerably more humid than the midwest in a winter deep freeze. I have a scale and use it, but in the winter, I'm a volumetric baker. Things come out more consistent with what I would make in the summer when the humidity is sky high

                                                                1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                                  Oh yes, Tastes Good!

                                                                  I am a lifelong baker, and yes it is precise but, the quirks are learnable. No scale needed if you are alert.

                                                                  I learned to bake in Ohio, but now live in California. Wow. The same, yet different - the flour here is always drier! But again, if you are aware, it's workable : )

                                                                  1. re: happybaker

                                                                    For me, it's currently a combination of different flours than those in English language recipes, sky high humidity year round, and the peculiarities of baking in a toaster oven.

                                                                    It's currently sunny, a pleasant 20 C out, and very dry for the climate (at 60% humidity).

                                                                    My last city of residence was in Southern California, and I'm Canadian originally, so I've experienced a fairly large range of potential baking climates.

                                                          2. Mix cakes are cheap, sweet, and extremely easy to make for people with a sweet tooth and few cooking skills. They can offer to bring one ti a gathering and know that it will turn out well.
                                                            Sometimes in the 1980s I bought "The Cake Bible"- look it up. This is a woman with a PhD in something like food science, I'm not sure, it's been a long time since I read that book, but I'm really glad I own the book. There's so much more to cake than mixes. My mother used to make cakes from scratch most of the time, and I especially remember the angel food cakes with special fondness, because nobody does that any more. I remember the baking pan resting upside down on a Cinzano vermouth bottle. That was the one she always used, for some reason.

                                                            1. I bake cakes from scratch but for me, a non baker, it is a total PIA. The reason is I that rarely bake so w/o fail when I decide to I am out of baking soda or powder or the ones on the shelf are clearly open and at least a year or two old. Same with the vanilla and I never seem to have powdered sugar even though I *swear* I bought some last time I made a cake.

                                                              So then I have to trudge to store and invest in yet another box of baking soda, more vanilla, etc etc that will be bad before the next time. I swear it would be cheaper to just go to the local bakery. It is those times I look longingly at the boxed mixes....they only thing that stops me is my moms voice in my head.

                                                              I managed to make some amazing muffins last weekend because I got a gorgeous bottle of Madagascar vanilla in my stocking. Maybe I need to make a cake!

                                                              1. I make only scratch cakes. I've used a cake mix once in my life and it was rather... disappointing.

                                                                I need control over my ingredients. I have numerous food allergies/sensitivities and need to make sure I don't consume any of those things.

                                                                Additionally, everyone who's ever had them, including me, prefers my from-scratch cakes over bakery cakes and cake mixes. So, yeah, that's enough. :)

                                                                13 Replies
                                                                1. re: LMAshton

                                                                  LMA -

                                                                  Food allergies. Oh yes. A whole nother can o worms!

                                                                  My mom had horrific food allergies and the only way to truly be sure she could have it? A really great ingredient list (thank you Trader Joe's and whole foods) or? YOu made it yourself.

                                                                  So I now know about making your own baking powder and having it be single action (versus double) for baking - and it's all good.

                                                                  1. re: happybaker

                                                                    I've lived in Sri Lanka for eight years out of the last decade, and there, ingredient lists are optional. Or perhaps they're law, but it's ignored. So. One more reason to make things from scratch.

                                                                    Even in the US/Canada/other countries where ingredient lists are mandatory, ingredients below a certain percentage are frequently not required to be identified. Which is a problem for me since I'm allergic to weird things like cloves, star anise, cassia which is called cinnamon in the west, and other such things that usually comprise a very very very small fraction of a percent of the ingredients. So I'm still screwed.

                                                                    Yeah. From scratch. That's it.

                                                                    1. re: LMAshton

                                                                      My mother was allergic to cinnamon - you are the only other person I've heard of who is also...

                                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                                        Oddly enough, I know a couple of others. Also oddly enough, all three of us have one thing in common - Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, which is a genetic collagen defect and which can wreak havoc on the digestive system, which in turn increases likelihood of allergies/sensitivities.

                                                                        But yeah, really rare.

                                                                        1. re: LMAshton

                                                                          Wait - my mom was also allergic to cinnamon. And corn. And some food additives.

                                                                          It made her so mad as she LOVED cinnamon. Luckily, it only popped up the last 15 - 20 years of her life.

                                                                          Huh. Need to look up that syndrome,

                                                                          But yes, her allergies were why it was so much simpler - and safer - to cook at home. Box cakes and cookies were usually full of the stuff that affected her.

                                                                          1. re: happybaker

                                                                            I'm allergic to cassia (Cinnamomum cassia - which is called cinnamon in most places), but I'm *not* allergic to true cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum - available freely in Sri Lanka, where I've lived for eight years out of the last decade and which can be ordered from Penzeys and other such places). Cinnamomum verum is more expensive and more difficult to find outside of Sri Lanka.

                                                                            Your mother might want to give Cinnamomum verum a try.

                                                                          2. re: LMAshton

                                                                            How does the allergy manifest itself for you? Hers was severe stomach pain/nausea (not intestinal).

                                                                            1. re: sandylc

                                                                              Oy, my poor mom.

                                                                              It was breathing spasms (she also had asthma) and, bladder spasms, sometimes. Mostly the breathing.

                                                                              You sit through one of those and you are ready and willing to bake from scratch!

                                                                              1. re: happybaker

                                                                                Avoiding cinnamon is really hard. My mom either refused or was incapable of watching for possible allergy foods, so it fell to my dad and then to me to monitor the situation. In her last days I walked into her care suite just in time to keep them from feeding her cinnamon French toast - even though her allergy info had been copiously distributed throughout the facility.

                                                                                1. re: sandylc

                                                                                  I hear you.

                                                                                  My mom was allergic to corn. And I can't tell you how many times we had to tell a different hospital staff "That doesn't just mean corn kernels. That means, corn starch, corn syrup, corn flour, pectin..."

                                                                                  Flip side was, we quickly learned what places worked from scratch (or semi) and, who used full mixes all that time. That let us know how vigilant we had to be.

                                                                                  Being able to make your own food is SUCH a powerful thing - for flavor and for health.

                                                                                  1. re: happybaker

                                                                                    YES. One of her other allergies was grapes, which meant grape juice, raisins, etc.....

                                                                                    How many times have you heard, "Oh, a little won't hurt her!"?

                                                                                    1. re: sandylc

                                                                                      "How many times have you heard, "Oh, a little won't hurt her!"?"

                                                                                      Too. Often.

                                                                                      Some things I'm sensitive to, I can have small amounts infrequently. Other things, not so much.

                                                                              2. re: sandylc

                                                                                Mine is digestive upset. Stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea. It's the same way my allergies/sensitivities to flax, caffeine, fluoride, star anise, cloves manifest.

                                                                    2. You opened a nest of vipers....

                                                                      1. If you haven't already, you should read Something from the Oven by Laura Shapiro. Whole chapter on cake mixes.

                                                                        I have both good and bad results with from scratch and boxed cakes alike. Made a gorgeous silver cake the other day from scratch, and a rather pedestrian coffee cake, also from scratch. When I make boxed cakes, I've had friends with very sophisticated palates not believe me when I've told them it was from a box. The one thing I refuse to use is frosting from a can.

                                                                        1. I just can't stand the crumb texture of box cake mixes and don't even get me started on canned frosting. I can't remember the last time I used a boxed brownie mix. I'm just really picky and most of the time I'd rather go without than eat something I consider subpar because it just doesn't satisfy, so what's the point.

                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: rasputina

                                                                            For most people though, the box cake will satisfy. Those of us who are picky and like things done right are in the minority.

                                                                            When I volunteered at a food pantry, I noticed that the birthday 'kits' we gave for our families' kids contained a cake mix. Otherwise, the kid would never have gotten any sort of cake. I am sure the cake thus produced was a thorough delight. It just depends on your circumstances.

                                                                            1. re: sueatmo

                                                                              On a prior thread about 'what to donate to the food pantry,' I said a box cake mix, can of vile-neon frosting, and a pack of birthday candles. I always hope some Mom or Dad will make their child happy, processed stuff or not.

                                                                          2. I've had cakes from cake mixes that I have enjoyed and I've had some that I haven't enjoyed so much. I've also had from scratch cakes I've enjoyed and some I haven't. I'm not sure what the difference is between a good cake and a bad cake for me, but it isn't the box.

                                                                            1. I would never. But I've had other people cakes and wish they had! I would say chocolate is passable and I might not have known. But you can tell a cake mix a mile away. No comparison. Timer just went for my carrot cake (scratch)!

                                                                              1. Sorry if you read my post before, but I realized that it has just a much applicability here as to where I originally posted.

                                                                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9602...

                                                                                1. If one is accustomed to eating processed, premade foods with chemicals in them (please no argument that everything is a chemical; you know what I mean), then cake mix cake will taste best to you.

                                                                                  If you are more accustomed to food made from scratch from ingredients traditionally recognized as food, you will enjoy the scratch cake more.

                                                                                  I would much rather be in the second group.

                                                                                  1. Couldn't it depend on the circumstances and/or how it is used. Two examples:
                                                                                    Yesterday, I had around 40 people for lunch/dinner. I made a lot of stuff from scratch...And I made a "dump cake". I dumped my canned pineapple, canned cherries/cranberries, cake mix (cheap store brand in a bag!), topped with pecans and butter. It was, as expected, well-received. I don't use those mixes for anything else, really. I wouldn't want to bake a cake from them. But they are exactly right in *that* recipe.
                                                                                    Second: I lived for a while in an area where we had limited access to, well, everything. One of my friends/coworkers loved Germans chocolate cake, but not only were the ingredients impossible to find, mailing chocolate was a difficult thing(stolen by customs or melted from extreme heat). So? Her parents mailed us the box mix and a can if frosting & she got her cake. It wasn't ideal but it was perfect for the situation.
                                                                                    I think saying all mixes are bad all the time could be a bit extreme. Circumstances, use, accessibility...gotta give in a little sometimes!

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: Ama658

                                                                                      I've lived in places where customs/postal workers stole stuff out of mail. It was my experience that if they stole chocolate, they'd also steal cake mixes. A friend had received a care package from friends in Canada. The box was 1/3 full. It also had an inventory list that the friend from Canada included - all the sweets were stolen. The soup cans and such were pretty much all that were left.

                                                                                      Your friend has my sympathy and understanding.

                                                                                    2. This thread motivated me to get up off my a$$ and go all the way to the grocery store and get a box of cake mix and jar of frosting.

                                                                                      YUUUUUUUUUUUM.

                                                                                      I used organic cage-free brown eggs, some Nielsen Massey vanilla, distilled bottled water, a Le Creuset baker, and organic veg oil.