Lemon cake: baking from a mix

September 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

There’s no shame here.  The last few cakes I’ve made have…gasp…not been from scratch.  Nope.  They’ve been from a mix.  A doctored mix, mind you; but a mix.  I’m here to say, “It’s okay–come out of the shadows–mixes are good!”

Mixes are so good in fact, that the very first cake decorating class I took, the woman (a professional baker and owner of a bakery) explained that most bakeries use mixes.  She did clarify that she, and the cake divas at Wilton, only use Duncan Hines.  After straying once or twice, I can also attest to the consistency of DH mixes.  But, the key to a good cake from a mix is more than just the brand.

A big part of making a successful cake from a mix is adding a few fresh ingredients to it.  For the lemon cake we had for a friend’s shower this weekend, I added in some fresh lemon zest and some fresh squeezed lemon juice.  And, if you don’t have leeway to do that, then you can still apply a few basic tips to make your mix taste like it’s homemade goodness:

1. Eggs at room temperature shouldn’t be optional.  You would be surprised what a difference this makes.  More than that though, this tip starts at the grocery store–you should really be buying extra large or jumbo eggs to use in your mixes.  Small and medium sized eggs will not give you the same results that extra large eggs will.  Once you make the switch, you’ll never go back.

2. While I will condone a mix for the cake any day, canned frosting is only acceptable when you’re making cake balls.  I know–this is a little harsh.  I’m throwing down the tough love on this one.  No. Canned. Frosting.  It’s gross once you’ve had the real thing, and the real thing is not rocket science.  Yes, it calls for a thermometer, but it’s not science.  Or chemistry, or whatever. I looked for a similar recipe online to mine, but I can’t find one, so apparently I need to do a post just for buttercream! (I will.  Swear.) The point is–save time on your cake so you can rock it out on the frosting.

3. Finally, when you have the chance, be creative.  The recipe calls for milk? Try a little sour cream or buttermilk mixed with the milk to add richness.  It’s a vanilla cake, or vanilla buttercream? Scrape out the inside of a vanilla bean to add some fresh vanilla flecks.  Chocolate cake or frosting? Add in a mix of dark and semisweet grated, melted chocolate where you can.  The key is to keep the overall measurement the same, but add in some fresh where you can.  Happy mixing!

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