Since the late 1940s, Pillsbury, Duncan Hines and General Mills (aka Betty Crocker) have been putting out cake mixes for the masses. Billions of boxes of cake mix for billions of birthdays and graduations and anniversaries and whatnot.
Knowing that I have personally eaten more of these cakes than I can count, I'm led to wonder what minuscule portion of the population has ever made a cake from scratch.
Though it's true that pouring a little vegetable oil and cracking a couple of eggs into a box mix is about as easy as it gets, the very basic yellow cake isn't much more fuss, and the maker gets a lot more control over the end product.
Easy to make, easy to customize. Bret & Jemaine would approve
I make a fair number of cakes for coworkers' birthdays, and on certain busy occasions, I've felt a gravitational pull to the box mix aisle.
It generally goes like this: I pick up the pretty packages, read the ingredient lists, sigh, put the boxes back on the shelf and move along to the flour and sugar bags so I can get the supplies I need for a scratch-made cake.
Why? Well... read for yourself. This is an ingredient list for a standard box mix:
Sugar, Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Vegetable Oil Shortening (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Propylene Glycol Mono- And Diesters Of Fats, Mono- And Diglycerides), Leavening (Soduim Bicarbonate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate), Wheat Starch. Contains 2% Or Less Of:Salt, Dextrose, Polyglycerol Esters of Fatty Acids, Artificial Flavor, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Dextrin, Cellulose Gum, Xantham Gum, Colored With (Yellow 5 Lake, Red 40 Lake), Nonfat Dry Milk.
None of that stuff is inedible, of course... I'm just wild about partially hydrogenated oils.
On the other hand, my very basic yellow birthday cake recipe has eight ingredients and five steps. It takes about 15 minutes to mix and 30 to bake. No shortening required, no soy involved and if someone has a milk allergy, it's easy to make dairy-free substitutions. Plus, it's got the real yum.
A Very Basic Yellow Birthday Cake (Makes a 13" x 9" sheet cake)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups cake flour or pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
1. Heat the oven to 350°F and either grease a 13" x 9" rectangular pan, or put a layer of parchment paper across the bottom.
2. Cream together the butter, salt and sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the milk and vanilla until blended.
3. Sift together the flour and baking powder.
4. Blend the dry ingredients into the egg/butter mixture until smooth (but don't overwork it).
5. Bake 35 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean), then remove from the oven and cool on a rack 30 minutes before removing from the pan.
You actually don't have to remove it from the pan. I almost never do. Just dust the top in powdered sugar or slather it with your favorite frosting, then slice and serve casually.
Maybe throw in a home-sung rendition of "Happy Birthday" to go along with your home-made cake.