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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Which side of the fence are you on, box or scratch?

Monday is my son's 25th birthday! C-E-L-E-B-R-A-T-E! A quarter of a century old. Wow!

Anyways, I baked the cake part of his cake yesterday. (Did that ever smell fantastic!) I had moments at the store, standing in the baking aisle, thinking, "should I buy a mix or bake from scratch?" Now, you're thinking, "well of course she'd bake it from scratch." But that choice was/is not so easy for me.

I have a confession to make. I actually like the texture of a cake mix more than a scratch cake. My mom didn't bake cakes from scratch. She always used mixes. So in my mind, "nothin' says lovin' like cake from a mix!" Or maybe it's the fluffiness of a mix that I like. So isn't that odd, that I, someone who loves to bake, likes mix cakes better?

I did wind up baking from scratch. What sealed the deal for me was the "sale" price of the mixes -- $2.00. I know there's been inflation and all, but since when do 2 cups of flour, 1  1/2 cups sugar, a bit of vanilla, dry milk, salt and baking powder amount to $2.00? Oh yeah, you have to pay for the colorful box. But I wasn't in the market for a colorful box, just needed the mix. 

I estimated that the cost of those basic ingredients, using my usual sale prices, was around 65c to 70c. For me, the better deal was to bake from scratch. For you, your basic supply prices might be higher and the sales on the mixes might be better, giving you a different equation.

After baking, I wrapped the layers, while just barely warm (to seal in the moisture) in plastic wrap. I'll ice and decorate the cake tomorrow (no purple dinosaurs here, just chocolate shell trim and a nice Happy Birthday message). I like to add a glaze between the layers and on the top surface, to add moisture to scratch cakes. And frosting very early in the day that I need it, allows moisture from the icing and glaze to penetrate the layers. (Plus I'm not frantically putting the last of the icing on while the whole family waits!)

But back to my original question, are you scratch or mix? Are there any mixes/prepared foods that you prefer to the homemade version?

And speaking of cakes, what do you make of the Twinkie frenzy? 

On Ebay yesterday afternoon, a box of 100 Twinkies was selling for over $300!!! That's over $3 per Twinkie! Some folks just get caught up in this sort of frenzy. 

I remember when the Coca Cola Co. announced they were retiring traditional Coca Cola and replacing it with New Coke. People bought up decade-sized stashes of the old Coke, at an outrageous mark-up. And what happened? The New Coke basically went away and back came the old Coca Cola. 

So, for those folks thinking they'll retire on this box of Twinkie "investment", perhaps they'd be better served by reading some of these personal finance blogs, and save the old-fashioned way for their retirement.


  1. I also grew up with box cake mixes, but birthday cakes were usually purchased at a bakery. Fast forward and I am concerned about the extra ingredients found in packaged foods that are difficult to pronounce. Depending upon ingredients, scratch vs box, one may be more economical than the other. Through trial and error, and recipe sharers on line, I've several scratch cake recipes that I do like. One box that I often keep on hand is Angel Food. With the price of eggs,it IS definately cheaper to buy a $2 AF mix and using a mix is much cheaper than a store bakery. Great post.

    BYW-I have always HATED Twinkies, even as a kid. Blech!

    1. Hi Carol,
      Unless we had chickens for angel food, a mix would definitely be the economical choice. I guess I need to keep looking around for scratch recipes, to find the fluffy type of cake that I'm always looking for. But my scratch recipe is not bad, just a little dense. It's wonderful with jam and custard.

  2. Happy Birthday to your son! I'm not a big cake fan, so I don't bake them that much. However, most people are like you and prefer the mixes, so that's what I usually do. And you were right, you can easily get them cheaper than $2.00/box. They are on sale sometimes for $.79/box. Not as cheap as you made them but getting there. What kind of glaze do you put between the layers?

    Who knows what motivates people to buy those Twinkies for $3/one. Maybe they like to eat them. I haven't had a Twinkie in years, but I'll have to admit, I like them. I'd like to have some around if I ever get a hankering for them again, but I'm not bidding on them--just hoping that they don't go out of business.

    1. HI live and learn,
      I use a thinned down jam or jelly on the tops of the layers for a glaze.

      I'm pretty sure Twinkies will stick around for a while, even without Hostess. That recipe is so incredibly valuable. Hostess will sell the recipe for a tremendous price and some other company will put them out. A similar thing happened in the Seattle area, with a mint that a major department store made. The store was Frederick and Nelson. Their chocolate mint was the Frango. Frederick and Nelson went out of business, but the mints are still being made and sold.

  3. Mama used cake mixes, too. Sometimes I keep some on hand and it really depends on two things -- if daughter is cooking cake and their price.

    I like homemade cake, but I like it better with a jam or custard; however, my children aren't crazy about that.

    1. Forgot to add -- depending on price I buy stuffing mix although I have finally made a homemade version that I like as good as the boxed stuff.

      Really I think mixes serve a purpose and just like we talked about with the bread store I think so many factors weigh in and sometimes from scratch is not the best way at the time.

    2. Hi Shara,
      I think you're right. There's a time and place for mixes. Some mixes are very good. And in a pinch they're so handy and fast. But it's nice to have the confidence to try something from scratch from time to time.

  4. I bake from scratch most of the time, because I know what's gone into the cake then. I use a great gluten free mix though, when my gf Dad comes to visit. Today I made a sour runny yogurt chocolate cake with the rest of my last yogurt-making fail, as per your recommendation. It's looking good!

    1. HI Sarah,
      When going through a cookbook for a cake recipe yesterday, I came across the one for chocolate cake with sour milk. I hope the thin yogurt worked just as well.

      I would imagine learning to cook gluten free would be a challenge enough to warrant using the special mixes. I went gluten free a couple of years ago (as part of an elimination diet) and trying to get favorite recipes to work but still be gluten free was a struggle. And I figure in that particular instance, someone else has had trial and error dozens and dozens of times to get the mix just right. Whereas I have zip gluten free cooking experience.

  5. I missed a chance to be on TV Friday. I was shopping w/my mom & sister-in-law and we saw a TV camera man filming boxes of Hostess products sitting on a bench. As we walked by he asked if we had any memories of Hostess products to share. My response was, "Nope--my mom always baked!"

    I use cake mixes for my kid's birthday cakes. I usually cut up the cakes into something fun (I did Hello Kitty for my daughter's birthday earlier this month) and by the time I go to all that work, the last thing I want to do is to make a cake from scratch. I also keep yellow cake mixes on hand. I have an easy peasy bar cookie recipe that starts with a cake mix. It takes me a total of 6 minutes to mix up 24-28 cookies (depending on how I slice them). They are always a big hit (I help supply cookies monthly for a Family Night children's program at our church) and it's a minimal time investment for me to churn out "homemade".

    That being said, I have a few cake recipes I make from scratch, but we really are more into cookies/muffins/pies at our house.

    I agree with CTmom--angel food cake mix is cheaper than homemade.

    1. Hi Kris,
      that Hello Kitty cake sounds adorable!

      There's a store bought cookie called Lofthouse, that my kids love. basically it's a very soft sugar cookie that's frosted. The recipe that we found online, so we could make it ourselves, called for cake mix as the starter. Haven't gotten around to trying the recipe yet. Several years ago, when I could find great deals on cake mixes, I made some cookies from recipes on the side of mix boxes. They were always a hit.

  6. I use both mixes and recipes. Mixes are fast and easy. . I only purchase Duncan Hines mixes and only on sale. It took me forever to find a white cake scratch recipe that tasted as good as a mix. In most I can detect the baking soda flavor, ick! My favorite cakes are the dense moist kind, carrot, applesauce spice, I always make them from scratch. Since I work in a bakery, if I need cake for an occasion I just make it there on my own time & get it for the ingredient cost.
    I’ll be 60 next month and I have NEVER tasted a Hostess Cupcake or Twinkie. I’m more concerned about the people involved than the loss of Twinkies from the American diet. It’s sad that a long established company like Hostess is closing its doors. Many people will loose their jobs. Personally I won’t be surprised if Hostess sells the Twinkie recipe to the Pillsbury Dough Boy (or someone else) allowing Twinkies to live on.

    1. Hi frugal spinster,
      wow! First of all, felicitations on the upcoming birthday! And never tasted a twinkie or hostess cupcake. I'm not fond of the Twinkies, but I do like those cupcakes. The frosting peels off in a sheet, like fondant. It's always seemed like candy to me.

      I'm sure that you're right about Hostess selling off the recipe. that recipe is just too valuable to not sell. It is definitely another hard blow in this economy for all the folks who will lose their jobs. I think when you take a job with a company like Hostess, you just feel that the company will be around forever, and your job security will be great.That is the sad part. (I'll miss those Hostess cupcakes, though!)

  7. I think you are the only one that would choose to make something you didn't prefer over $1.40 or so. :-) I prefer scratch, that's the way my grandmother baked, but I rarely do so relying on a box mix for the convenience.

    As for the Twinkies, I have had them years ago when I was very young, not a fan they tasted gross to me, but it doesn't surprise me anymore what people will throw good money at.

    1. Hi Lois,
      Okay, I admit it. I am an oddball at times. ; ) And yes, I'll make a scratch cake to save $1.40. I'll stop and pick up a penny on the ground (found a quarter today, woohoo!), too. But the truth of the great cake debate is, my family will enjoy the scratch as much or more than a mix. So my opinion doesn't matter as much to me on this. But I would sure like to find a scratch recipe that makes a light textured cake without a ton of whipping and mixing and extra work.

  8. Oh my... I'm thinking of my love for horrible boxed macaroni & cheese.

    I don't think I've ever used a cake mix - I don't like how sweet they are, so I always bake from scratch and use about half the sugar that the recipe calls for. You might try sifting the flour to make it fluffier.

    The whole Twinkie thing has me shaking my head. Hostess, the king of the simulated food-like substance! I'm just thinking of all of the cases of type 2 diabetes that will be averted, not to mention any future defense lawyers trying to revive the "twinkie defense!" Good riddance, I say!

    1. p.s. Aluminum-free baking powder is also a must for anything with a delicate flavor.

    2. Hi Cat,
      My kids love the boxed mac and cheese, too. Sometimes, there's just a mix or convenience food that we love. Myself, I'll be glad to never eat boxed mac and cheese again. We had that so often (a few times a week, it was a favorite and it was easy) when my kids were small that I can't stand the smell of it any longer.

      I will try sifting my flour. And I may try cake flour. Mostly I've been using recipes that call for all-purpose flour. But maybe cake flour would make a difference?

      Yep, you're probably right about the health of our country taking an itty bitty step in the right direction with fewer of these sugary foods.

    3. I think cake flour has less gluten/protein than regular flour which makes it lighter and fluffier, but I may be wrong. I tend to steer clear of typical dessert foods since it's really easy for me to overload on the sugar - so most of my baking is things like pumpkin bread or bran muffins, and I only use whole wheat flour. I do occasionally stray with a batch of gooey brownies or shortbread cookies, but I fear I'm not much help in the light and fluffy department!

  9. I always bake from scratch because I like the taste better, but that's easy to say given I only bake cakes about three times a year :) I imagine that will change once we have kids.

    However when I was growing up (and I'm only a few years older than your son) we used to love buying packet cupcake mixes that came with edible paper with Disney characters to put on top. I don't remember anything about the taste of the cake, only the pretty papers!

    1. Hi Economies,
      Edible paper? I don't think I've seen that, except rice paper candies. I think as kids we're much more wowed over how pretty or cool something looks, or whether or not we "get to have" the same things our friends have.

  10. Hi

    Love your blog. Found you via CTMom. Don't know if you've sorted a light cake recipe - probably, Im a bit late to the party and playing catch up :D In case you haven't, my grandmother taught me how to make a plain sponge cake (no fruit or nuts). First make sure your butter/margerine is really soft. Weigh your eggs in their shells (3 UK medium give me two good layers in 7" pans) then measure out the equivalent weight in butter, flour, and sugar, throw in a bowl all together with an added half teaspoon of baking powder, splash of vanilla extract if you like and whisk until well combined, pour into tins and bake. I still like to cream the butter and sugar together first, until pale and fluffy, then alternate adding eggs and flour - something to do with school cookery lessons I think?? It works well either way and I always use an electric whisk. I did a Betty Crocker mix by hand once - never again :-o If you want chocolate cake, replace 1 tbsp of flour with 1 tbsp of cocoa powder. I use self raising flour which already has baking powder in it (and still add the additional half tsp of baking powder). Thanks for a great blog, I'm no longer scared to put jar or can remnants in freezer, and was spurred on to buy 7.5kgs (16.5 pounds) of potatoes reduced to £1 and plough through peeling, blanching and freezing them in different "shapes" (roasties, wedges, chips and mash) - think I might be on the look-out for an extra freezer........

    Best Wishes

    1. Hi Janey,
      Thank you so much for your tips on making a sponge cake. Vey much appreciated.
      And I'm glad you like my blog. Feel free to comment any time!


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