The Cake Mix Is A Lie

I know, I said I was going to post a recipe for Fight Back Friday today, but I made an interesting observation over the last couple of days that is far more worthy of the theme of the meme (oh, I’m a poet and don’t know it).  First, a little background.

Unless you’re a long-time reader here you might not know that, once upon a time, I was a professional cake decorator.  A pretty good one, too, if I do say so myself.  Because of this, my kids have never had a “store-bought” birthday cake; nor have my stepdaughters, at least in the last 12 years.  Nor will The G Man, who celebrates his first birthday this Sunday.  And since I’m decorating his birthday cakes (yes, cakes – and cupcakes, too, but you’ll hear more about that next week), I will bake them too.

In fact, I’ve already baked them – we leave tonight to head down to Cincinnati for the weekend, and since hotels generally don’t have the facilities for cake baking (and Jolly’s apartment is already going to be overwhelmed with party preparations and out-of-town guests), I had to bake them ahead of time.  And since I had to bake them ahead of time, I had two options – bake cakes from scratch, repeatedly brush them with simple syrup/liqueur, freeze them and hope they didn’t dry out, or use cake mixes.  I chose to use cake mixes because 1) I wouldn’t be eating it (after 10 years as a cake decorator, it’s not my favorite dessert) and B) I didn’t want to chance them being dry after 3 days – cake mixes, being made with oil as opposed to butter, are also full of wonderful chemicals/emulsifiers that give them an extended shelf life, to say the least.

Now, keep in mind that even before I decided to rid my kitchen of refined sugar, flours and vegetable oils it had literally been years since I made a cake from a mix.  I’m not talking 1 or 2 years – I’m talking like closer to 15.  And since I rarely eat cake, it’s probably been that long since I consumed cake made from a mix.  So, as I began mixing the batter in my trusty KitchenAid, I leaned over the bowl to watch the action and noticed something I’d never noticed before – an odd, chemical smell.

I checked to “sell by” date on the box of Betty Crocker SuperMoist Chocolate Fudge cake mix – it’s expiration date was a year away (that right there should tell you something).  So, I went about greasing and flouring my Mickey Mouse shaped pan, poured the batter in, baked it for the requisite 35 minutes, and set it out to cool on a rack.  Ten minutes later, I shaved off the top of the cake so it would lay flat as I turned it out of the pan – and took a bite of the bit I’d cut off.

It tasted…well, terrible.  That chemical smell had given way to a chemical aftertaste, and it left a nasty, greasy film in my mouth after I’d swallowed it.  I stood there, wondering if there was something wrong with it and if I should toss it, when The Young One came downstairs and said, “Oooooh – cake!” and proceeded to devour the piece I’d cut.

Now, this kid is very picky when it comes to “off” flavors and textures of food, so I asked, “Does it taste all right?”

“It’s fine,” he said, eying Mickey as if he wondered if anyone would miss an ear.

So, repeat the above scenario with a yellow cake – which, on top of the weird chemical smell/taste and greasy film, was cloyingly sweet – with the same result:  my teenager devoured the portion I let him have and declared it fine.  (Note: Beloved, who is giddy at having lost over 20 pounds, refused to touch it, much less taste it.)

So, I decided it was me; not only have I lost my taste for things made from processed and refined carbohydrates, my palate seems to have completely changed.  After just a few months of eating only whole, natural foods almost exclusively, I have gotten to the point where I cannot tolerate anything with artificial ingredients.  And boy, are cake mixes just loaded with artificial ingredients.

Betty Crocker SuperMoist Chocolate Fudge cake mix

  • Enriched Bleached Flour (wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid and while you’re at it, ask yourself why flour has to be “enriched”)
  • Sugar
  • Corn Syrup
  • Cocoa processed with Alkali
  • Leavening (baking soda, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate)
  • Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Cottonseed oil
  • Corn Starch
  • Modified Corn Starch
  • Salt
  • Propylene Glycol Mono and Diesters of Fatty Acids
  • Distilled Monoglycerides
  • Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate
  • Dicalcium Phosphate
  • Cellulose Gum
  • Xanthan Gum
  • Artificial Flavor

My, my – that just sounds so appetizing, doesn’t it?  No wonder the darn thing tasted like chemicals – it’s loaded with them.  I don’t know about you, but the last time I baked a chocolate cake from scratch, it contained just flour, milk, eggs, sugar, butter, baking powder, cocoa and salt.  That’s it.

I’m sure the guests at The G Man’s party will be perfectly happy with the cakes; they will be cute and probably taste just like they’re supposed to.  But I’m not sure I’m going to be able to get over the guilt of serving such a mess to friends and family (to say nothing of my adored son and grandson) – and you can rest assured I never will again.

Posted in participation of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday

18 thoughts on “The Cake Mix Is A Lie”

  1. I agree re: the boxed cakes. They taste funny, and lets be honest – cooking a cake from scratch is not that much more difficult, and they taste sooooo much better.

  2. Honey, you are spoiled!
    And I am spoiled too. I refuse to make anything from a box anymore. I’m actually excited to make a cake from scratch, including frosting. I just need an occasion for which to do it since my diet doesn’t allow me to celebrate Wednesday anymore. 🙂

  3. I so agree – cake mixes have an awful lot of stuff you really don’t need in them. And really, they don’t save much time either as it doesn’t take long to cream butter and sugar, add eggs, flour, flavouring and leavening to a bowl – especially with an electric mixer. I still use them from time to time in an emergency or when I need them to last (as you did) but I really do prefer baking from scratch.

  4. I’m with you on this one, too. We’ve gotten away from boxed mixes since my SIL has discovered she has an allergy, but doesn’t know what it is. Her dr’s only answer is that it is a preservative of some sort. Now we go home made and avoid all that krappe.

    If you keep mentioning this cake decorating thing, you’re going to find a desperate badger on your door in Sept looking for a 1st birthday cake…

  5. I have to confess that I had never eaten a cake made from commercial cake mix in my life, before I came to Canada. So when a new neighbour served me a slice from a cake she claimed she had made from scratch, I felt I had to tell her that either something terrible had gone wrong with her recipe or one of her kids had added something from their chemistry set while she wasn’t looking. As if I weren’t old enough to know better … needless to say, we never managed to become friends.

  6. Oh yes- before I even got into Real Food, I was cutting soy entirely out of my diet. I wanted pancakes, but checked the ingredients list on my Bisquick box and… promptly threw it out. Seriously, pancakes are one of the easiest flour based foods to make! I’ve since found the Nourishing Traditions recipe, and with a few tweaks (1/2 coconut milk 1/2 water, a pinch of raw sugar and a splash of vanilla) it’s outrageously delicious!

    Quite frankly, I can’t wait until winter so I can try tweaking Dad’s already awesome chocolate cake recipe. I stopped using boxed cakes years ago when I realized that they’re almost as much work as from scratch and not nearly as good.

  7. You must be a gamer, or know someone who is, judging from the title of this… 🙂

    I know what you mean about the taste of box cakes. I can’t detect them EVERY single time, but darn close: They just taste… off. Kind of like the way meat tastes if reheated in the microwave. (we don’t use those any more, either). They’re like food doppelgangers.

    People should NOT bake cakes from mixes for so many reasons; it’s deceptive to say “I made this myself” if you really used a mix (Like Tessa’s experience above), it’s unhealthy (obviously!), and people’s baking skills suffer. “Mix and Bake” is not a recipe.


  8. I’m sorry to say that my kids just love Betty Crocker Super Moist Chocolate Fudge Cake and therefore that is exactly what they each get at every birthday. But I’m with you — I don’t touch the stuff myself. It does exactly what you suggest: makes my tongue feel as if it has licked machinery.

  9. While I can’t claim to be a purist – convenience foods are still too common in my bachelor kitchen – I have noticed a difference in many things I eat from scratch vs. mixes, etc.

    Fight the power, comrade!

  10. I am right with you on this…which you know already…I made cup cakes a few weeks ago for a shower I was putting on and you wouldn’t believe the people that had rarely had cake from scratch. I was pretty shocked. I feel the same as you, I just don’t feel right eating this kind of crap and I don’t really feel that good feeding it to my loved ones either. Hope you and Beloved have a nice weekend and Happy Birthday to your sweet grandson. I know you will have a grand time. Congrats to both you and Beloved on the weight loss. 🙂

  11. I’m not much for cake myself. I do know what you mean about having your tastes change. Our bodies seem to adjust very quickly to what we give them and I’ve noticed that anything sweet now seems way TOO sweet to me. In other news … he’s ALREADY going to be one? Wow!!!

  12. Isn’t everything in a box stuffed with artificial ingredients? I like what the guy who wrote Food Nation said: “If your grandmother doesn’t recognize it, it’s not food.”

  13. My mother never used a cake mix in her life. She took great pride in this, and taught me to feel the same way. No cake mixes ever for years and years. Then a few years ago, a friend of mine made one of those “Cake Doctor’ cakes, when you take a mix and kind of doctor it up so it doesn’t taste like crap. And it was so easy that I started making them too (even though I knew Mama was rolling in her grave). And it was always embarrassing when people would ask for your recipe and you had to admit the truth. But you have now convinced me to give them up and go homemade again. It just makes such a difference. It really does. And it’s really not much more effort. In fact, maybe I’ll go pull out one of Mama’s recipes and make it tomorrow. Ooo, this is exciting.

  14. I had never thought about the subject before. Honestly, I have never made a cake from scratch. Bake a cake? Buy cake mix. That was what I thought went in to the process and you only make it from scratch if you want to get fancy. I stumbled upon this post because I was looking to find out how long the cake mix lasts after expiration. But after reading this article I have decided I don’t want to use the stuff at all anymore. I now realize how easy it must be to bake a cake the right way and how much healthy it must be. Thank you for your contribution.

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