January 02, 2008

Betty Crocker's Cake Mix Magic

Food manufacturers, most notably, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury and Duncan Hines, brought the convenience of cake mixes into kitchens in the postwar 1940s. There's no doubt the mixes were a true convenience. Add some water, stir it up, and the cake was practically on the table.

Prior to this, if someone wanted to bake a cake, they had to first gather up numerous ingredients which usually consisted of flour, a sweetener such as honey or sugar, eggs, baking powder, salt, etc. and then individually measure each of them out in the correct proportions. Or her maid had to gather them up. Maybe they even had to collect the eggs from the hens first. Whatever. The cake mixes were a time saver.

Betty Crocker first introduced a Ginger Cake Mix, then a Devils Food Cake Mix, and then a white layer cake.

The familiar red spoon logo is missing from the cake mix packaging illustrated in this recipe book. The logo didn't make its appearance until later.

By the early 1950s Betty and all the girls in her test kitchen began creating recipes which incorporated additional ingredients into the basic mixes. These recipes brought consumers an even larger variety of convenience cakes, all of them advertised as "so easy to make."

Betty Crocker's Cake Mix Magic (1951, 28 pages) is all about using the three basic mixes as a base for more "glamorous" cakes and desserts. In this booklet, the white layer cake is called the Party Cake.

The directions for making the doctored-up cakes all specified following the basic instructions found on the cake mix packages. This was indicated by little symbols in the recipe instructions. The letters PC meant Party Cake, DF meant Devils Food Cake, and GC was for Ginger Cake and Cooky Mix. You can see the little symbol in the photo below (although you might have to click on the photo to enlarge it - just click your Back Button on your browser when you're done). I suppose they thought it might be easy to skim through the recipe book looking for the symbols of the cake mix you wanted to use.

How many cakes could be made from the three basic mixes? The subtitle of the book - 121 Wonderful Cakes and Desserts You Can Make with Betty Crocker's Cake Mixes - should give you an idea.

The Party Cake mix could be made into a Burnt Sugar Cake, a Banana Cake, a Black Walnut Spice Cake, a Peppermint Candy Cake, a Coconut Cream Cake, and several others. The Party Cake mix recipes were further divided up into three sections, with recipes calling for whole eggs, egg whites, or egg yolks. The Party Cake could be made into either a white cake or a yellow cake base.

The Devils Food Cake mix could be used to make a Chocolate Cream Cake, a Fudge Nut Cake, or a Cherry Chocolate Cake.

Some of the desserts made with the Ginger Cake and Cooky Mix included Streusel Ginger Cake, Butterscotch Ginger Pudding, Orange Nut Ginger Bars and Gingercake Drop Cookies.

Party Crinkles, Rolled or Refrigerator Party Cookies could also be made from the Party Cake mix. Recipes for birthdays or special occasions could be made from all of the mixes.

This photo demonstrates how to marble a cake. There are several small illustrated tips like this included among the recipes.

The Special Desserts section included recipes for Baked Alaska, Japanese Fruit Cake, Little Upside Down Cakes, a Berry Basket Cake and several others. Recipes for icings, fillings and various toppings followed at the end of the other recipes. White Mountain Icing, Broiled Peanut Butter Icing, Custard Cream Filling and Dark Chocolate Filling are just a few. There are suggestions for whipped cream toppings and several made with marshmallows especially for the Ginger Cake.

In the Questions and Answers section in the front of the book Betty answers the question "Why do you use fresh eggs?"

"Fresh eggs make consistently better cakes. Dried eggs are relatively perishable and when included in a cake mix may cause a cake to be dry and crumbly with an eggy flavor."
Coincidentally, I had recently read the following in The Century in Food by Beverly Bundy:

"The two pioneering companies [General Mills and Pillsbury] miscalculated by including powdered eggs in the mixes. Consumers make it clear they want to add their own eggs--these are, after all, people who have cooked in the recent past. So, with a quick turn-around, mixes are reformulated."
I guess powdered eggs were okay with Betty as long as she was the one putting them in the mix.

Betty Crocker also published a hardcover book called the Betty Crocker Ultimate Cake Mix Cookbook in 2004 which follows the same premise as the 1951 booklet; this expanded version calls for the use of their SuperMoist cake mixes.

Today, other publishers and authors have their own versions of cake mix magic: All New Cake Mix Magic, Kid's Cake Mix Magic, Favorite Brand Name Recipes Cake Mix Magic, Duncan Hines Cake Mix Magic, Duncan Hines Complete Cake Mix Magic.... should I go on? You can take a look at most of these books here or here.


At 12:35 PM CST, Blogger T.W. Barritt said...

As a cake lover, this is such great information! Who knew that ginger was the first cake mix? I like the look of that Peppermint party cake. I was also thinking, remember what a splash the "Cake Doctor" made a couple of years ago? The reality is we've been "doctoring" cake mixes for many years!

At 8:59 PM CST, Blogger Kathy said...

T.W. - I thought the booklet packed in quite a variety of cake variations for its compact size. And it was available for only 25 cents and one Betty Crocker Cake Mix boxtop.


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