Part II of II: Baking/Cake Mix tips from an Amateur cake decorator
In part I, I explained how I came to be a cake decorator, and how it has become more than a hobby to me.
Over the years, I’ve developed quite a few tips and tricks baking with cake mixes that I’m willing to pass on. Of course, everyone hates a blog post that’s supposed to be about cooking that involves too much intro, so let’s dive right in, shall we?
#1: Rinse off your eggs.
Trust me on this one. (Fun fact: Modern cake mixes omit the egg component so that the baker feels like they are actually “creating” something by adding fresh eggs,it would be very easy for the mix to include a powdered egg.) If you buy your eggs from the grocery store, the plant and packaging facilities do rinse off the eggs, but I’ve seen them “miss a spot” a time or two. It only takes one time to drop a dirty egg shell straight into the batter to teach you- rinse and pat your eggs dry. You’ll thank me.
#2: Combine all your liquids, then sift in your mix.
This may seem obvious, but I’ve seen people dump all the ingredients in at one time and end up confused as to why their cake is lumpy and uneven. I start with eggs, then oil, water, and then…
#3: Sour Cream/ Instant pudding mix:
Frankly, any box mix can be improved by sour cream. How much? A dollop. I don’t ever measure, I just plop some in, since it’s lagniappe. It makes the flavor and texture richer and fuller, and if you’re carving your cake, sturdier.
Instant pudding is also a good option to add sturdiness and moistness, but it will add the flavor of whatever pudding it is, so that’s always something to keep in mind.
#4: Extracts are your friend, NOT your BFF.
I enjoy a good almond, vanilla, or even lemon extract; but some of them go too far, and can give your cake a chemical or artificial flavor. Use sparingly, and make sure you experiment before you use them for a special cake. Always use a natural flavoring when available, unless it compromises the integrity of your cake.
I have modified both of these in the past, most successfully by adding store-bought bacon bits to the ganache, and then in another instance taking it a step further by infusing the bacon with bourbon and THEN adding it to the ganache. (I ask you, will anyone notice that you’re using a cake mix if the cake is slathered in a bourbon-infused bacon chocolate ganache? No. the answer is no.)
#6: Most “gift set” whiskey glasses are usually 8 oz, or a cup.
This is extremely useful for measuring purposes when all of your glass measuring cups bit the dust years ago and plastic cups are very difficult to clean oils and shortening out of. You should confirm beforehand using a measuring cup, but this little trick has gotten me out of several jams over the years.
#7: If you are able to get or use a stand mixer, DO IT.
I’m not really one to assign undue affection to material possessions- but I make an exception for my stand mixer. I stop short at including it in family photos, but man do I love that thing. He’s been through some stuff- shoot, We have been through some stuff together and he does his very best to never let me down. Also, you’re basically going to need one if you want to make that Swiss buttercream recipe I posted above.
#8: Not all mixes bake at the same rate.
White/Almond or yellow cake bakes the fastest, then red velvet/carrot/spice, then chocolate. The hardest cake mix to bake is surprisingly strawberry. I found this out years after a baby shower when someone kindly informed me that the cake I had made was lovely- but overdone on the outside and a little underdone in the center. I was absolutely mortified but resolved never to bake a strawberry cake bigger than 10 inches round ever again. If you do bake a strawberry cake mix cake, keep the oven low and keep a very close eye on it, and don’t use the sour cream trick on strawberry, it makes the batter too tacky.
#9: Use the opportunity to experiment with flavors.
I once made an “Irish Car Bomb” cake using chocolate cake mix, and Guinness instead of water in the directions. A Bailey’s buttercream finished the combo. Any alcohol in the batter will bake out, and the alcohol in the icing will remain, but will not be a significant amount. Not all flavor combinations will work, so plan and experiment ahead.
#10: Crumb cake cupcakes*:
If you are making a cake with several different flavors, or even the same flavor, and you trim the “belly” part off of the top of the cake, or otherwise carve it, instead of scarfing down those scraps, save them. Combine in a bowl with a little bit of uncooked batter (if available) and a bit of shortening to moisten. Scoop into cupcake wrappers in a muffin tin, I use an ice cream scoop, but you could use a spoon. Bake at 350 for, I dunno, 20 or so minutes, until the texture is slightly dry and crumbly (think coffee cake) and enjoy! There’s nothing more rewarding for a cake decorator/baker than settling back with a cup of coffee and a crumbly, not too sweet cupcake that can double as breakfast. Which is good, since you really haven’t had time to make breakfast, because even though you’ve saved time by using a mix, who in the world feels like making breakfast?
*This tip is a shoutout to former coworkers who are now lifelong friends. They were kind enough to sample and love my crumb cake cupcakes on several occasions.*
Please pass on any tricks or tips you have picked up in the comments, thanks!