Be better than Betty, or how to make your own baking mixes like a pro

In the 1950s, it was said that when an elderly woman died, the “flour and shortening” business lost a customer, while when a young woman married, the cake-mix industry gained one. In short, two constituencies: those who baked and those who faked. Today, there’s an audience that falls somewhere in the middle and proves the value of a different kind of mix — the kind that is versatile, ready to go and additive-free. The kind you make yourself.

Here’s what convinced me: I received a recent email touting “the first and only baking mix brand in the category to sustainably source clean, regenerative and socially-aware organic ingredients.” How preposterous, I thought, that those who are so deeply invested in the quality and origin of their ingredients would be baking cake from a box.

Then I remembered my neighbors, who regularly receive boxes full of premeasured and diced ingredients. They use them to “cook” dinner. These same people also like to go to the farmers market to appreciate, and maybe purchase, what is locally grown. While this, too, might strike one as amusing or contradictory, my dive into the modern cake-mix market reveals that, for many — especially millennials — this state of affairs is normal.

The cake-mix category comprises dry, ready-made bases for a gamut of baked goods. Those created expressly for cakes were introduced in the early 1930s, if not before that, but didn’t hit it big until Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines and Pillsbury got in on the action in the late ’40s and early ’50s. “The very marketable premise behind cake mixes was, and still is, the ability to have fresh, ‘homemade’ cake with very little time and effort,” Susan Marks wrote in “Finding Betty Crocker” (Simon & Schuster, 2005). The flour, shortening, powdered eggs, sugar and select flavorings had all been calibrated along with leavening agents, which, to this day, remain a concern because who knows whether they have lost their pep. A consumer need only add liquid.

Apparently, this premise was too easy and made the whole thing less appealing. Business psychologists — perhaps the original market researchers — determined that leaving out the dried eggs and having users crack fresh ones into the mixing bowl would solve the problem. The theory, Marks explains, was that this would give them “a sense of creative contribution,” because “baking a cake was an act of love on the woman’s part” and “a baking mix that only needed water cheapened that love.”

Using fresh eggs undoubtedly improved the finished product, which might be the real reason that changing the formula seems to have led to the rise of the box mix. Over time, the recipe was altered and consumers were instructed to stir in oil along with the water and eggs. A task that could require up to a dozen separate ingredients could be accomplished with only four.

Sold in supermarkets, these boxed units became the de facto choice for American households. They were not a source of pride. In the ’80s, when I was growing up, you did not try to pass off the Duncan Hines cupcakes you baked for your kid’s birthday as homemade. But you didn’t brag about having taken a shortcut, either. Convenience won the day.

Things have changed. An overview of the market from 2010 to 2020, generated by the market research firm Mintel, predicts the total sales of baking mixes in the United States will dip from $4 billion to $3.6 billion “as consumers opt for fresher, less processed alternatives.”

Thus we have “The Great British Bake Off,” high-end mixes brand Foodstirs and the meal-kit company Red Velvet NYC.

So I did some research and asked Abigail Johnson Dodge, author of “The Everyday Baker” (Taunton Press, 2015), to create one white mix, one chocolate and one cornmeal option that could go savory or sweet. She dug right in, making scones, upside-down cakes, loaf cakes, pancakes, muffins and corn bread. Once Dodge was satisfied with a mix, she sent the basic recipe my way, and I built from there.

To our great surprise, we have become attached to these mixes and are now preoccupied with ideas for those that do not yet exist — but could. (A brownie mix is at the top of our list; those that incorporate nut flours are another interest. Do we dare consider yeast?)

Once you compose these dry mixes from scratch, I doubt you will want to give Betty, Duncan or the rest of their kind another look. A DIY baking mix makes for a thoughtful gift, too. You can put it in a box — a beautifully wrapped one.

Big Batch Dry Mix

Makes 10 1/2 cups; 1 cup equals 4 3/4 ounces

This plain, versatile mix can be used to make cakes, cupcakes, muffins, scones and pancakes.

Spelt flour is preferred here; it can be replaced with whole-wheat flour, or the mix can be made using 100 percent unbleached all-purpose flour.

Stir mix well before using. Mix can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 months.

5 cups (22 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

4 cups (18 ounces) spelt flour or whole-wheat flour (see headnote)

1 1/3 cups (9 1/3 ounces) granulated sugar

4 tablespoons (1 3/4 ounces/ 50 grams) baking powder

2 teaspoons (1/2 ounce/15 grams) table salt

Whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large container with a tight-fitting lid (15- to 16-cup capacity), until thoroughly incorporated. Seal, label and store at room temperature until ready to use.

Nutrition per cup (using whole-wheat flour): 500 calories, 13 g protein, 111 g carbohydrates, 2 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 550 mg sodium, 7 g dietary fiber, 27 g sugar

Big Batch Cornmeal Dry Mix

Makes 9 cups; 1 cup equals 5 ounces

Cornmeal can go sweet or savory, and there’s no use in creating an all-purpose mix with it if you’re not going to account for both. With this mix, you can make old-fashioned blueberry muffins or skillet corn bread. But don’t stop there: Apply it to a peach upside-down cake or sophisticated olive oil cake. Serve syrup-coated cornmeal pancakes for breakfast, or their smoked salmon-topped counterparts as hors d’oeuvres.

Stir mix well before using. Mix can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 months.

4 cups (18 ounces) finely ground cornmeal

4 cups (18 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

2/3 cup (4 5/8 ounces) granulated sugar

3 1/2 tablespoons (42 grams) baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons (10 grams) table salt

Combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large container with a tight-fitting lid (15- to 16-cup capacity), until thoroughly incorporated. Seal, label and store at room temperature until ready to use.

Nutrition per cup: 470 calories, 10 g protein, 101 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 450 mg sodium, 11 g dietary fiber, 15 g sugar

Big Batch Chocolate Dry Mix

Makes 11 cups; 1 cup equals 4 1/2 ounces

Everyone needs a chocolate layer cake at the ready for those special celebratory moments. That’s what this one’s for, and with just some water and oil, and an egg, it’s pretty much frosting-ready. It’s so much better than anything you could have bought in a box. Muffins, scones and cupcakes, of course, are all doable as well.

Stir mix well before using. Mix can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 months.

4 cups (18 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

3 1/3 cups (15 ounces) whole-wheat flour (may substitute spelt flour)

2 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/3 cups (9 3/8 ounces) granulated sugar

4 tablespoons (1 3/4 ounces/50 grams) baking powder

2 teaspoons (1/2 ounce/15 grams) table salt

Combine the flours, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large container (15- to 16-cup capacity). Whisk until very well blended, making sure to get into the corners and bottom of the container. Cover, label and stow at room temperature until ready to use.

Nutrition per cup: 470 calories, 14 g protein, 98 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 500 mg sodium, 9 g dietary fiber, 25 g sugar

Blackberry Cake With a Kick

8 to 10 servings (makes one 9-inch round single layer cake)

This simple cake showcases fruit that’s sweet-tart and perhaps undeservedly underrated, with a little grown-up mischief from black pepper, homey comfort from dark brown sugar and richness from creme fraiche.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the pan

Flour, for the pan

2 1/2 cups (11 7/8 ounces) Big Batch Dry Mix (stir well before using)

1/3 cup (2 3/8 ounces) packed dark brown sugar

3/4 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup creme fraiche

2 large eggs

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/3 cups (6 ounces) blackberries (large ones halved)

1/2 cup rolled oats, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use a little butter to grease a 9-inch round cake pan, then flour it, shaking out any excess.

Whisk together the Big Batch Dry Mix, brown sugar and pepper (to taste) in a mixing bowl, until well incorporated.

Use a fork to whisk together the milk, creme fraiche, eggs and vanilla extract in a large liquid measuring cup until well blended. Pour over the dry mixture, along with the melted butter, and whisk with the fork to form a slightly lumpy batter.

Use a flexible spatula to gently fold in the berries, then use the spatula to spread the batter evenly in the pan. Scatter the oats over the top. Bake (middle rack) until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 15 to 20 minutes, then run a round-edged knife around the edges to loosen the cake, then invert onto the rack and lift off the pan. Turn the cake right-side-up and let cool completely.

Nutrition per serving (based on 10): 330 calories, 6 g protein, 40 g carbohydrates, 16 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 75 mg cholesterol, 160 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 9 g sugar

From cookbook author and food writer Charlotte Druckman.

Source : http://www.idahostatesman.com/living/food-drink/recipes/article174993231.html

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