In & Out of the Kitchen: Quick cake from scratch
I have a confession to make — one that will be somewhat shocking to my friends and colleagues: Many of the yummy cakes, bars and other treats I create that are consumed with so much relish at parties, gatherings and in the newsroom are made with a cake mix.
Of course, I always jazz the mix up with fruit, nuts, pudding, cream cheese, juice, applesauce, chocolate chips, sour cream and other goodies. But deep down where it counts, it’s still a cake mix.
There, I’ve said it. And I guess it feels good to get it off my chest. But it didn’t start out that way. Way back before I had children, everything I made was from scratch. I even kneaded my own bread dough. (I used to have great biceps, too.)
After my first son arrived on the scene, things didn’t change all that much. In fact, for his first birthday party, I created a huge sheet cake with colored frosting and decorations, all from scratch. But by the time the third one was born — on his older brother’s birthday, in fact — there just weren’t enough hours in the day to do the essential things, much less sifting and folding and beating egg whites.
I got into the habit of grabbing a box or two of cake mix and using it to turn out the requisite Barbie, Cookie Monster and school bus creations they called for. And even after they all left the nest and scattered far and wide, I continued to use the familiar red box.
Until last month, that is. On Sunday afternoon, about two hours before I was due at work, I remembered that it was a colleague’s special day and I had promised to make cupcakes. I ran to the cupboard where I keep the mix, but it was bare. I frantically searched the mud room and basement, but came up with nothing. Damn! Now what? I either had time to go to the grocery store or bake something, but not both.
I pulled out my mother’s tattered book that was missing the front and back cover, and found the recipe for a simple vanilla cake.
I turned on the oven, assembled the ingredients and started adding them to my mixer. As I went along, I realized that this really wasn’t taking any more time than it did to add the eggs, butter and milk to the mix. And it certainly wasn’t any more difficult.
As the cupcakes baked, I put together a quick chocolate frosting from the same book, and had everything ready to go just in the nick of time.
My co-workers — who are mostly around the age of my own children — attacked the treats with great gusto. In fact, one of them said to me, “These are really good. What mix did you use?”
So from now on, I think I’ll be abandoning the box in favor of cakes that are truly homemade. It doesn’t take any more time or effort, and it really seems as if kids like them just as much. Maybe even my own children will come to prefer them in time.
2 cups sugar
3 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3⁄4 cup unsalted butter, soft
1 1⁄4 cups milk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour pan(s): either one 9-by-13-inch pan, two 9-inch round cake pans, three 8-inch round pans or use two muffin tins (24 muffin cups) and line them with paper.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, and then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Combine the milk and vanilla and add alternately with the dry ingredients. Mix only until smooth.
Transfer the batter to the pans. Bake for 40 minutes for a 9-by-13-inch pan; 27 minutes for 9-inch layers; 24 minutes for 8-inch layers, or 23 to 25 minutes for cupcakes.
Cool completely before frosting.
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
2 sticks butter or margarine, softened
3⁄4 cup cocoa powder
4 cups confectioners’ sugar (approximately 1 pound)
3 to 4 tablespoons milk
Cream together softened butter, cocoa and confectioners’ sugar until creamy. Add milk gradually until frosting reaches desired consistency, using more if necessary.