I fault no one who looks for ways to cheat their meals. Buying rotisserie chicken for tonight’s sandwiches instead of cooking your own? Absolutely. Picking up pre-spiraled butternut squash noodles (boodles, if you will) instead of trying to peel, cut, and spiral the squash yourself in the pre-dinner rush? That’s a no brainer. Using the best brownie mix on the planet instead of DIY-ing all the ingredients for a co-worker’s birthday party? I’ll never go back.
But cake is one of those areas where, if given the opportunity, I’m always going to make it myself. Call me old-fashioned, but I find something therapeutic in weighing flour and sifting it, then whisking in cocoa, sugar, baking soda, and salt. The whirr of the stand mixer is soothing. I find solace in delicately buttering and flouring the cake pans.
So when a set of Baked cake mixes landed on my desk a few weeks ago, I eyed them suspiciously. The folks behind these mixes, the same ones who own bakeries by the same name in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Tokyo, have made a lot of things I’ve been thoroughly impressed by in the past. But shouldn’t I just make a recipe from one of their cookbooks instead of, well, cheating to make a cake out of a box?
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Perhaps. If you’re going to spend the time to make a cake, there’s something to be said about following a beautifully written recipe and crafting a truly special baked good. But those good intentions often meet a painful reality in my world: I simply don’t have the time.
When I was faced with needing to bring a dessert to a friend’s potluck, and having waited entirely too long to call my favorite bakery and order one, I did what I told myself I never would and made a cake from a box. Specifically, I made the Baked Double Chocolate Snack Cake, and I was impressed from start to last crumb.
This isn’t that $1.99 mix you can get on sale at the supermarket. The crafters behind this mix have put a great deal of intention in the ingredients, flavors, and packaging. Instead of basic all-purpose flour alone, this cake mix has a deeply flavor combination of malted barley flour and rye flour. The cocoa powder seems to be exceptionally rich, too. What these ingredients end up creating is a cake that’s chocolatey with an edgy nutty flavor that’s not at all overpowering but instead serves as a deeply satisfying chocolate experience. It’s certainly the kind you’d spend a lot of time trying to craft with a homemade cake or seeking out in an intricate recipe. My friends were quite impressed. My anti-cake mix shell cracked.
I made the Double Lemon Buttermilk Loaf for a neighbor after he fished a dead creature out of my garage. (I pay him in baked goods each time he does this. I’ve wondered more than once if he puts them there on purpose.) He asked where I bought it, unconvinced this could be anything homemade, let alone from a boxed mix. It rose beautifully in the loaf pan, and the glaze came together well with no clumping, which I always fear with packaged ingredients. Storage doesn’t do kind things to them. My cake mix guard was shattered.
Baked has several other mixes, including Brooklyn Blackout Brownies, one of their signature baked goods since the beginning of the franchise. The Vanilla Sprinkle Snack Cake is destined for a kid’s birthday party. The Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies would be excellent at a summer picnic or, you know, on a Wednesday.
I recognize that not everyone is going to see the point in paying a premium price for a boxed cake mix. I was you, and you were me not too long ago. But considering I’ve easily spent more than double the average box cost (which is about $10 with shipping), for one homemade cake of my own, I find that this little cheat is well worth the extra dollars to save me the time, shopping, and stress of doing everything just right when it’s my turn to bring the sweet treat to the get-together.
Three Keys to Making Boxed Mixes Taste More Homemade
1. Don’t overmix. Take the ingredients to the “just mixed” stage and stop. Mixing longer will only make the cake tough or gummy. Neither are acceptable in a good cake.
2. Use better ingredients. Cheap ingredients create subpar results. You’ve made an investment in your baked good by getting a premium cake mix, so don’t skimp on the milk, butter, or oil the recipe requires.
3. Play up the frosting. Canned mixes are anathema to me, but these Baked mixes actually were legitimately flavorful and balanced. However, you could get a bit more mileage out of your semi-homemade cake by adding something special to the frosting, or rather, on top of it. Sprinkle toasted pecans or walnuts. Do a light dusting of cocoa powder or powdered sugar. Add more body to it by whipping it with cream cheese or folding in whipped cream.
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