|| Print ||
|Written by Will Parker|
|Wednesday, 04 November 2009 00:00|
I recently stopped by a local bakery to find a birthday cake. If there's one thing I love, it's going into a quality bakeshop, looking at the delectable treats in the glass cases, and unsuccessfully attempting to limit myself to only one item. I mean, these bakers have it down -- and this bakery was no exception: white chocolate cranberry tortes, candied ginger brown sugar loafs, triple chocolate espresso layer cakes . . . what's a boy to do?! Then I spotted it -- a double layer Black Forest cheesecake with a dark Italian chocolate cake base, a dense milk chocolate cheesecake layer, and a thick fresh cherry topping. As the nice old lady behind the counter asked me if I needed any help, it was all I could do to form the words "that one" with my salivating mouth. She smiled, telling me I had made a great choice, and asked if I'd like the box tied with string. I nodded, mesmerized by the glossy red cherry top, thinking she'd better tie it tightly or I might not be able to control myself. As she handed me the cake, I took out my wallet still drunk on the promise of the delicious treat ahead. "That'll be $56.75," she told me with a smile. Thankfully the cake was still sitting on top of the glass counter or I might have dropped it. Thankfully, too, the bakery took Visa.
Now I realize many of you might not even bat an eye at $60 cake. I mean if we haven't experienced it ourselves, we've at least heard the stories of $100 bakery treats being hocked like they are truly worthy of a significant portion of our pay cheques. But there comes a point where one has to question, are they? I know the nice old lady was using expensive ingredients and I'm sure it took her a lot of time to get the shaved chocolate sides just so, but $60 seems like a hefty price for what is, for all intents and purposes, just a cake.
Being someone who tends to spend his pay cheque on only the bare necessities (i.e. the new Cole Haan loafers at Holt Renfrew), I'm not really in a position to be shelling out $60 for each of the numerous monthly occasions where a fancy baked good is required. Also being someone who isn't afraid of the kitchen, I'm in a prime position to save some cash by baking at home. But here's the thing -- I've tried making fancy cakes from scratch. I've tried the Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans, the Amadei chocolate, the organic almond flour and the free-range eggs. I've taken advice from Martha, Ina, Anna, Julia and the rest. I've purchased copper tins, Le Creuset spatulas, a convection oven and a Kitchenaid stand mixer. I've pretty much tried it all. The thing is, no matter how much I invest in my homemade masterpiece, it's never as tasty as the store-bought one.
Unless, of course, I am willing to risk all of my culinary credibility, and behind closed doors stealthily turn to my secret weapon: Betty Crocker. You want to talk about underrated? Let me tell you something -- that woman can bake a cake! Fine, roll your eyes and turn up your noses in hoity-toity foodie disgust, but I challenge you to whip up a traditional chocolate cake as moist and flavourful as Ms. Crocker's. What is more, you can buy the mix for around a dollar when it is on sale. With the eggs, oil and icing, you're at less than $5 when all is said and done. How can you beat that? You can't. And that's why Betty will always win.
Now I've pontificated on the virtues of cake mixes many times before, and you would be surprised to find out how many closeted users are out there among us. One proponent for the Dunkin Hines variety of mixes asked that I not use her name in this article for fear of ridicule amongst her gastronomic peers. She put it best, though, noting, "They dedicated hundreds if not thousands of people to get the recipe just right. They have numerous testers, numerous sources and numerous scientists figuring out how to make the best cake possible. They use freaking science! How the hell are you going to beat that?" Well, nameless friend, you won't.
There are people in the food world who, like my nameless friend, are beginning to face the same reality. And as they do, those barriers keeping the closeted cake mix lovers silent will be broken down in favour of good taste. For those of you who remain reluctant, there's nothing stopping you from using a cake mix as a base to your own culinary invention. Try adding peanut butter or Irish cream to a chocolate mix, or tangerine/grapefruit zest and Cointreau to a vanilla. Make your own fruit fillings and fancy toppings. Turn it into something else entirely be it an upside-down dessert, a trifle, or any other treat. Just because the box has directions doesn't mean you can't get creative. But one thing is for sure -- it's high time Betty and her colleagues got the respect they deserve.
I have a vision for a world where all cake lovers are able to proudly tell their guests that they used a mix. A world in which foodies aren't compelled to slink through the self-checkout with their cake mix box in hand. A world where Betty and Dunkin and all cake lovers come out of the closet in celebration of delicious desserts without the hassle. When that day comes, we'll all be able to have our cake and eat it, too. Because, really, what's the point of having cake if you aren't going to eat it?