Unpopular Opinion About Box Cakes

I think some of us go through phases of being more food snobby and less food snobby.

Some of us might be snobbier about some ingredient, foods or restaurants than others.

I am not snobby about cake mix or purchased frosting.

There are all sorts of items I splurge on, or choose, or avoid. I enjoy my share of commercial cakes and cookies- from a mix or from a store.

Sometimes I crave something like a TastyKake or a Vachon cake (a Cdn brand of snack cake), and homemade won’t do the trick. Homemade Oreos (some people make them up here, recipes are online) are missing the crunch and whatever commercial ingredients that make Oreos taste the way they taste.

I’m privileged to be able to make those splurges and choices.

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Gotta say, these NYT suggestions for topping a brownie look pretty tasty.

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These Crack Brownies are decadent. I made them for a friend’s 50th birthday.

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My son would enjoy those!

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Ghirardelli brownie mix. A few years ago, they changed the names on their several varieties. You want the dark chocolate one that contains chips/chunks. I use melted virgin coconut oil for the oil part, and add walnuts. They are spectacularly good.

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I remember, quite some years back, I think on America’s Test Kitchen, that they did blind taste tests of basic cakes made from mixes and from scratch. The mix cake won. Additives and oil keep them moister and give them a better crumb. The taste of scratch cakes benefits from butter, but they dry out, so are best consumed the day they are made.

Somewhere, I have one of the cookbooks by Ann Byrn, the “Cake Mix Doctor”. Her recipes combine box mixes with various add-ins and frostings to elevate the results. They are very appealing. Used copies are readily available for under $5.00.

I find canned frostings far too sweet but when making frosting for carrot cake, I mix whipped cream cheese with canned vanilla frosting, tasting until I get the correct balance of taste and texture.

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There’s someone who doesn’t?? :rofl:

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Ah - or a Hostess orange cupcake. Eat the squiggle first!!

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Kind of the same thing as leftover wine.

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That’s another think I like about my boxed brownies. I have topped them with dulce du leche, cream cheese, raspberry jam, crushed pretzels. So much bang for the buck, and quick and easy.

And honestly, sometimes chocolate lovers really aren’t hard to please. Anything that has any hint of chocolate flavor is a hit with them.

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And I bet box cakes are even better now than they were a few years ago. There’s a ton of R&D involved in engineering mixes to have maximum fluff, moisture, and body. No one can replicate this in a home kitchen.

Since writing my grump, I’ve done some more research and I’ve discovered that there is a “bake-off point” at which the essence itself will degrade. Not the alcohol - the actual essence, for example, the vanillin in vanilla. So, as you read that irresistible recipe about the food bloggers perfect white vanilla cake, which requires you to buy expensive specialty ingredients, be prepared for disappointment. (Or add a teaspoon of butter-vanilla bakery emulsion.)

Again, food is emotional. If you “taste the chemicals” in a box cake, well, I have “tasted the chemicals” in any number of so-called natural foods. I am one of those cilantro-haters. It’s the aldehydes… and my genes.

Back to vanilla - cards on the table - I can’t stand imitation vanilla. Yes, I can taste the chemicals. But maybe that’s because imitation vanilla is simply junk, and I should try a better grade of bakery emulsion. I might well try that as an experiment. For science, I’d make a scratch cake. :wink:

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I like this idea. Quick and easy for those times when you don’t have time. It seems like what we’re all saying is, it comes down to taste, and what you can do to have something delicious on that table, spending a “right” amount of time doing it. For some things, it can take longer because the taste payout is better, or it can be shorter, because the taste payout is better.

Good point.

Since writing my grump, I’ve done some more research and I’ve discovered that there is a “bake-off point” at which the essence itself will degrade. Not the alcohol - the actual essence, for example, the vanillin in vanilla. So, as you read that irresistible recipe about the food bloggers perfect white vanilla cake, which requires you to buy expensive specialty ingredients, be prepared for disappointment. (Or add a teaspoon of butter-vanilla bakery emulsion.)

Addendum to above. I wrote to Lorann Oils & they corrected me. The bake-off point is the point where the alcohol bakes off. I wrote them asking if there is a bake-off point where the vanilla (or lemon, or cinnamon, or whatever) bakes off & I am awaiting their reply.

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I would think (I’m very unsure), that if there was a reasonable baking temperature that caused vanillin to degrade, any artificial vanilla would suffer the same fate at a similar temperature.

Regarding “tasting the chemicals”, boxed biscuit mix (boxed scone mix, for the other side of the ocean) has always tasted very chemical-y to me. I haven’t had the same problem with cakes, or at least not to the same extent.

PS: Our friend Wikipedia claims that vanillin melts at 81°C (178°F) and boils at 285°C (545°F). Presumably if your cake is reaching an internal temp of 545, you’ll be worried about more than just whether the vanilla flavour has persisted. :grin:

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How does raw cake batter compare with raw chocolate chip cookie dough? :sunglasses:

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I’ve been there.

I actually have made a great Kahlua bundt cake starting out with a mix.

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When I was catering we always used Ghirardelli boxed brownies, usually made in half sheet pans. Our most popular were Baseball Brownies. We topped the brownies with peanuts, popcorn and pretzels.

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Oh, that combo sounds very kid friendly! Did you use one package for a half sheet pan? I must admit, I’ve never baked any kind of brownie or cake in a half sheet pan before.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold