21 July 2008

Like a Homemade Cake, But from a Box

What does it take for me to make baked goods from a premade mix? First, the ingredient list has to be very short, and preferably with ingredients that I'd use at home (check). Secondly, no vanillin (check!), which gives it that nasty from-a-box taste we all know and love hate. Thirdly, the type of mix has to be interesting enough to warrant buying it to see the results (think: upscale mixes). Many discount stores (Marshalls, TJ Maxx, etc.,) have a gourmet food section that sells reduced-priced mixes from upscale brands if you want to check it out. This was from Target, and was discounted.

The most interesting part about the directions for this mix was that it called for beating butter instead of adding oil. As you may know, adding oil is what most box-mix baked items call for, so I was definitely pleased about that.
Compared to other box mixes, the batter here was on the thicker side, more akin to a traditional recipe you'd make yourself. So far, it tasted just like if I had made it myself.

Since the cake was the easiest in the world to make, I spent more time on the icing and decorations. I found a recipe for candied pecans, making the adjustment of toasting the pecans before coating with the syrup. Very simple, amazing taste, one of those steps that requires a bit more time than just icing a cake, but really enhances the presentation factor.

I knew immediately what type of icing I wanted, a 7-minute icing, though I wanted one that had a caramel-butterscotch flavor to better meld with the chocolate cake. I found a 7-minute icing recipe made with brown sugar instead of sugar, so I used it. It came out excellently, though it took 13 minutes of total beating time before it got to the consistency I preferred.

Each time I finish a cake, all the preparation and time it took to put together becomes worth it, and it really is a simple pleasure.

Candied Pecans
Recipe from Cooks.com
(Back to top)

  • 1/4 tsp. salt

  • 1 c. sugar

  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon (I used 1/2 teaspoon ginger and the grated rind of 1 orange. I'd increase the ginger to 1 teaspoon next time)

  • 6 tbsp. milk

  • 1/2 to 3/4 c. pecans (I used a 12 oz. bag of pecans, and I toasted the pecans first)

  • 1 tbsp. vanilla

  1. Mix first 4 ingredients and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. A heavy pan does better as thinner pans sometimes cause it to burn. Cook to soft boil stage. Remove from heat; add vanilla and pecans. Stir until all are coated well and until coating crystallizes. Quickly pour onto waxed paper and separate with 2 forks.

My notes: While I was liked this recipe, next time I wouldn't cook the syrup to the soft ball (which I'm guessing is what soft boil is) stage, but take it off at about 210°. For presentation matters, I wasn't too keen on how the syrup set on the pecans, and even though I could have taken it off the heat instead of continuing as per the directions, I usually follow a new recipe exactly how it says and make adjustments the next time (unless doing so will result in a disaster). The result I was looking for was more of a clear coating.

Caramel 7-Minute Icing
Recipe from Astrayrecipes.com
(Back to top)

  • 2 unbeaten egg whites

  • 1½ cup brown sugar

  • 1½ teaspoon light corn syrup

  • ⅓ cup cold water

  • 1 dash salt

  • ½ teaspoon maple flavoring (I used vanilla extract)

  1. Place all ingredients except flavoring in top of double boiler (not over heat); beat 1 minute with electric mixer. Place over boiling water and cook, beating constantly until frosting forms stiff peaks, about 7 minutes (don't overcook). Remove from boiling water. Pour into mixing bowl and add maple, beat until of spreading consistency, about 2 minutes. Frosts tops and sides of 2 8 or 9-inch layers or one 10-inch tube.

My notes: I really loved how the brown sugar enhanced this recipe from a regular, sweet icing to that with more depth. As I said above, itt took 13 minutes of total beating time until it got to the consistency I desired, other than that it was a dream to work with. If you are making a cake the day ahead of time, though, I would advise you not to use a 7-minute icing since it starts to dissolve and become gritty if left out (even in a cake dome) overnight. Maybe it wouldn't if it were refrigerated, but I'm not sure. I'm going to turn this into a Swiss meringue buttercream to give it a longer life.


  1. Oooh, your decorating skills are SUPER admirable!! The candied pecans are definitely a wonderful "finishing touch."

  2. It really is a beautiful cake. I know I would like the combination of chocolate, caramel and pecans. You should call it turtle cake.

  3. I had no idea you had such nice cake decorating skills. Tell me you got frosting on your shirt at least once :) I second you with the cake mix requirements... interesting AND on sale. Good job!

    Oh, and I totally had you in mind when I was tagging. We seem to laugh at a lot of the same things... so this should be very interesting.

  4. Nice work indeed! You've taken something "from a box" and definitely thought "outside of the box" for a fantastic and still very personal, homemade result. I'd gladly take a bite or seven.

  5. Veggie Girl - Thank you! It was a load of fun to do.

    Em - The best part was that the frosting didn't make my teeth ache afterwards like caramel has a tendency to do, yet it had the same essence.

    Adam - No, no frosting on my shirt! According to Murphy's Law, however, I should have gotten some on my shirt since I wasn't using an apron. =D

    Cakespy - Thanks for the compliment!

  6. Oh Christina....this is absolutely wonderful! Thanks for sharing. :)


    PS. I love your quote "Stuffed with bloody innards.." regarding your cat.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. Your thoughts are appreciated! ^,^


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