Thursday, May 12, 2011

What do you think [about cake mixes] ?

Be prepared for an apparently really long post......

 The following is from the blog, written by Regina Schrambling.  

"It was a sad day in my teenhood when my mom discovered (or decided she could afford) cake mixes. Until then, she'd baked a sheet cake from scratch nearly every afternoon; our family of nine would eat half for dinner and take the rest in our lunches next day. And they were crumb-licking good, so much better than those spongy things she baked from a box. So it was rather depressing to read this New York Times story today on how one company is changing its marketing, to focus on wannabe Duff Goldmans (I had to Google for that allusion). Not the least of the bad news is that "hundreds and hundreds of professional bakers and professional bakeries" use mixes and that most people can't tell the difference.
Maybe the company is right and women who bake for book group, not just for their kids, will want to start their competitive cakes by ripping open a box and following the new instructions for "cake pops" and "tortes." But if you wanted to sink two and a half hours into something that will disappear so quickly, why not take the extra 15 minutes and start by creaming butter and sugar? I'm not a serious baker who watches the Food Network, though, so what do I know?
Plus I've always thought "easy as pie" had the dessert wrong. My mom taught me how to make cakes when I was tall enough to reach the stand mixer. And she had to cook dinner and pack eight lunches and somehow found time every afternoon to bake. So no one can dissuade me that the only thing sillier than a cake mix is a cornbread mix. (Well, maybe a brownie mix.)
I've also always heard that when cake mixes were first introduced, in 1949, housewives rejected them because they were too convenient; they left the baker feeling disconnected from her results. Which is why you have to add the eggs."

What do you think?

I'll tell you my opinion:  cake mixes kind of make me gag.  From the outset, let me say that my motto in feeding my family is "if in doubt, make it yourself".  I try to make everything we consume.  I've never purchased or used a cake mix before yesterday.  I was sucked in by the gorgeous photography on the Pioneer Woman and decided to make her "knock you naked brownies".  I have an event on Friday and needed to make two desserts for 165 people.  I will say that when I was mixing everything, it smelled disgusting and artificial - that's all I'm going to say about that. 

I have the luxury of being a mostly full-time mother and therefore have the time to make our meals and desserts from scratch, using ingredients I typically stock in my pantry. 

I admit, I was mortified to grab the boxes off of the shelf.  I actually toyed with the idea of hiding them amongst other fresh ingredients. 

I also felt guilted into buying naughty snacks for the kids at Kate's school.  I'm volunteering in one of the classrooms today and usually I'm the mom that brings healthy snacks.  I'm not even going to start in on the subject that we have to buy commercially prepared treats - grrrrrrr.  Anyway, at last week's soccer game, I passed out healthy granola bars for our snack "turn".  One of the little girls remarked, "granola bars, really"?  (Is it wrong that if I would have heard her I would have snatched it from her hand and said, "oh, that's okay you don't have to eat it").  Anyway, I decided to just suck it up and buy things I would never feed my kids. 

I really thought I could kind of sneak through the store with my bevy of processed foods and preservatives, unnoticed.  Until I started a conversation with someone checking out the 33 cent fage yogurt.  I told him it was made with whole milk and probably didn't bode well for my upcoming cholesterol check.  He then remarked, "oh I'm sure you're fine" - but then he remarked on the other things in my cart.  I think he felt embarrassed, because he then said, "I know, I know, you're a mom - I understand".  I literally mumbled something about "I have a large cooking job this week" and ran away.  In my scurrying I asked myself three things:  1.  Do I really look like a mom?  2.  Why do I care?  3.  Should I be the uncool mom and buy the kids boxes of raisins and natural popcorn? 

Here's the thing:  I'm a food snob.  I totally check out other people's carts in the grocery store and make judgments on what they're feeding their family.  I sometimes wish I could help them change their purchasing habits and with a few changes to make healthier choices.  But, I was shamed yesterday - thankfully I won't really be feeding my family with the things I purchased yesterday - but it looked like I was going to.  I was humbled. 

I need to be less prideful.  Even though I have strong feelings about the food we consume, I should mind my own business.  There are certain blogs that I read in which I feel "preached to".  I don't want to be that person.  I will continue to make foods that I want my family to consume, but I won't preach to you.  I'm going to try really hard to not notice other people's purchases at the grocery store and form opinions. 

And, I've also realized that sometimes it's okay to just go with the naughty snacks.  When I told Kate what I bought, her eyes lit up and she was excited (dare I say proud to have a "cool mom"). Once in a while won't kill us.  And I might get judgmental stares from some of the other moms today - and that's okay.  That was me two days ago - I'm one step closer to realizing it really doesn't matter what other people think.  I need to do what's best for my family. 


  1.  I can't stand boxed cake mixes except when used in conjuction with an elaborate recipe. Example: I used boxed yellow cake mix in my salted nut roll bars because there are many dimensions to them and using it doesn't affect the flavor. However if I'm making a straight up cake- NO WAY, it's just as easy to make my own (and the taste is BEYOND better, it isn't even on the same wavelength). However, I am partial to boxed brownie mixes...I just can't seem to make some from scratch that have the same gooey-ness, fudgyness, chocolatey-ness, etc. I always go with the Giridelli (sp?) brand brownie mixes though, not Betty Crocker :)

  2. Thanks for the honest...insightful post. Yikes, I wish I had you here in person to do a little tutoring. It is so funny to see how many Mozambicans think grocery stores are gross. We think we are so 'progressive' and then the lady who works at our house points out to me that the frozen chicken I bought came from Brazil. After she said that, I laughed. She had a point for sure. When I went to my local market to buy live chickens, the ladies howled with laughter when I told them I would wait for Hayden to carry them home. I didn't want them pecking at me. It has been an education. Here I thought I was being domestic by making my own cake from a box instead of buying one from the store ;) Know, I like both. I don't like store bought...just me.

  3. And this fully illustrates why I have it so wrong - Heather, the former commenter, is a saint. No, really - a real-life saint. She and her family are living in Mozambique spreading the love of Jesus.

    And, I'm here in the states fantasizing about ripping a granola bar out of a nine-year old's hands. In the scheme of things, cake mixes really don't matter, do they?

    Reminds me of a quote of Anthony Bourdain's where he describes our (US residents) fascination with healthy eating as elitist - half of the world is starving and we're worried about organic, vegetarian, and non-processed foods. Preach it, Tony.

  4. I've never really liked cake all that much - I wonder if it's because it's always been from a box? I, ignorant admittedly, didn't think there would be much difference. I should bake me a cake from scratch.

  5. Where to start? I'm going to leave a long comment to match your long post.

    I saw a TV program about three years ago where they showed how many chemicals go into a boxed cake mix and it put me off for life. I think since then Ive made two cake/cookie things from a box. It's really telling when cake made from a box lasts for 8 days fresh and a real cake will last 48 hours. Over here box cake mixes are really expensive too. I dont want to pay for that kind of "convenience". When I make cake I use my grandmothers recipe books a lot-old fashioned recipes - when baking really was an art.

    This post has got me thinking about whether or not we eat a lot of processed foods and despite all my malarkey about not eating vegetables I can truthfully say we eat very little food I havent prepared myself from scratch. Not only is it a lot cheaper but I know whats going in to it. I even make my own dog food instead of using canned.

    I think we all bow to peer pressure on the unhealthy snacks thing for our kids. When Miss P was little we always had mini bags of chips and other junk for school lunches.(although I used to bag my own -because I'm too mingy to pay for the already bagged ones)

    Your kids are the ones that will have an appreciation for good food. And in doing all of the things you do -you're creating a lot of wonderful memories for them about family times spent sharing that good food that you made from scratch.

  6. I wouldn't be honest if I said I don't use cake mixes. It is sometimes more convenient for me. And when there are less sophisticated palates (the sibling in-laws for instance!) to please, I will start with a cake mix.

    That being said, our food consumption in general is of a whole food and from scratch type. I stopped buying the processed treats and bake more. I do buy the big bag of Veggie Straws at Sam's as a compromise to chips for the kids' lunches. Surprisingly, they haven't grumbled too much as I made the changes to their snack bins. I filled them with fruits, nuts, and veggies, and they rarely complain.

    Stick to your convictions, girl! Happy Saturday! :o)