Since getting married and receiving all sorts of kitchen gadgets I have felt compelled to try cooking from scratch. I rarely cooked anything involving ingredients when I was single and now I feel it's sort of a "rite of passage" to learn all things domestic.
Being the keeper of the home and feeder of the husband has involved quite the learning curve over the last year. Don't get me wrong — I like the idea. It's just hard to go from zero-to-sixty if you didn't grow up caring much at all about what goes into the food you eat. My problem since returning from the honeymoon has been attempting to whip up gourmet meals (complete with side dishes) or bake every cupcake or muffin from scratch ... expecting it all to come out right the first time.
It took a few months of "experimenting" before my husband let me know that he actually preferred simple meals, such as spaghetti with store-bought spaghetti sauce. Maybe it was after I tried something called Crock Pot Italian Chicken that looked like dog food by the time we got home from work. But I digress.
What made me think about this question of baking from scratch vs. mix was my most recent attempt at cupcakes. I don't know why but I got it in my head at about 10 p.m. one night. I saw this recipe for some delicious-looking chocolate cherry cupcakes and thought if I just follow the directions they will come out equally awesome!
I did stray from the this recipe though— I didn't make the jam or Italian Meringue Buttercream as suggested (I tried a simple buttercream and cherry preserves).
The icing recipe I randomly found flopped. It called for granulated sugar. I quickly found out that frosting needs CONFECTIONER'S sugar. But I wouldn't have known that until I tasted what was sort of like gritty play-dough. Pile on a few more first-time mistakes, as well as impatience, and the cupcakes simply didn't turn out.
In the trash they went.
Did I miss something? I thought baking from scratch was the way to go. Or maybe I was putting too much pressure on myself.
The company website for "CakeBoss" (not affiliated with the show as far as I can tell) addresses this. The article is geared more towards professional bakers, but I think the advice is still helpful:
"Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking that you must bake from scratch if you sell cakes. ...There are scratch-only bakers, there are mix-only bakers, and there are those who do a little of both. ...Which is better? It’s simply a matter of personal preference. Scratch cakes do have a clear advantage in that the baker can control the ingredients and accommodate any special dietary or allergy needs of the customer. [They] can be gluten-free, egg-free, milk-free, nut-free, organic, or vegan. A scratch cake is chemical-free and preservative-free."
You may feel reluctant to tell others that you made a fancy cake from a mix because there is a stigma attached to it. Or, you may think there is an imaginary badge of honor for making something completely from scratch. But most people can't tell the difference or they even prefer a mix because it has consistent results and a familiar taste.
So, if you want to hone your scratch skills when it comes to baking cakes, go for it! But don't beat yourself up over repeated blunders if you can make something delicious from a mix. It doesn't have to be all or nothing — try your own buttercream icing recipe. One step at a time, right?
Learning to cook or bake well takes time and practice. Don't let your pride get in the way of your cakes!
How about you — do you use boxed mixes or bake from scratch?