Thursday, February 24, 2011

Yellow cake, chocolate frosting (cheater-style)

Last Saturday it poured all day long. Since we had all the necessities (food, coffee, food, wine, food, firewood), we opted not to set foot outside the house, something which in retrospect seems a little pathetic, but while it was happening was very nice indeed.

We ate cassoulet for lunch (which had improved overnight) and afterward I was in the mood for cake. But I had not adequately prepared: no softened butter, no room temperature eggs. Nor did I have any of those good cake ingredients, like buttermilk or sour cream, or high-quality chocolate.

I did, however, have this:

I don't think I've made a boxed cake since about 1983, when my friend Rebecca and I would experiment in the kitchen on summer days, making multi-colored (we were intrigued by food coloring) and multi-layered (four rainbow layers--hideous!) box cakes, which inevitably tasted terrible. Bless our parents who let us waste money and time  in the name of being creative.

Cake mixes dropped off my radar a long time ago. I went for decades without thinking of them, until a few months ago I was in Trader Joe's and I spied their new line of cake mixes, as well as frostings, which bore the creepy yet riveting promise that all I had to do was:

I'm a sucker for cute packaging, who isn't? After all, that's why I liked the husband in the first place. It wasn't until later that I discovered how smart, funny, and sweet he is.

So, I made the cake. Putting it together took about 10 minutes. Baking it took 25 (in spite of the directions which said it would take 40-50 for two 9-inch layers--huh? Maybe if you want hockey pucks). I cooled the layers, made the frosting, and took to it with my offset spatula. I have to say, for someone without much cake frosting experience, I think it looked rather pretty.

How it tasted was another matter. Not terrible by any means -- we each put away a good-sized hunk of it (and were then incapacitated for the next hour or so) -- but through each bite we were both aware of a distinctly processed feel. It was also overly sweet, not a big surprise.

We actually didn't eat any more of the cake, although I did enjoy looking at it over the next day or two. There's something iconic about yellow cake with chocolate frosting; it's the quintessential birthday cake. But after this experience, I'm willing to go the extra mile and skip the box. It may be easier, but it turns out there are two excellent reasons people make cakes from scratch: taste and texture.

On one final note, I failed to brag on my last post that it was actually my 200th!! Pretty amazing, to me at least. I started this blog two years ago and somehow it's still going. I like to think I would do this in a vacuum, but like most everyone, I need public validation. I'm insecure that way. So thanks for reading, and thanks especially for commenting. You make the blog world go round. Now go get yourself a piece of (homemade) cake.


  1. I am SO a sucker for pretty packaging. At least it looked good and I'm sure it went down pretty well on a cold and wet day (I'd pretty much eat anything on days like that).

  2. I love the comment about the husband packaging. I chortled out loud. We made a "Funfetti" birthday cake from a mix last weekend while on a ski trip. It was also sweet, but suprisingly better than I expected. I'm with you on skipping mixes in the future though. Hope this rainy weekend is another good one!

  3. Girl, I'm always judging a book by its cover! ;-) I don't think I've ever made a cake from a box, but mostly because I wouldn't eat a whole cake for myself. But yours did turn out nicely frosted. ... And congrats on the 200th post! I know how sometimes you wonder if anyone's visiting (you should install stat counter if you haven't already) but I also know there are tons of lurkers! Thanks for sharing a bit of your world with us!

  4. you're right--it does seem to be the quintessential birthday cake! i wonder how that happened. baker josef--ha. and hey--congrats on 200!

  5. PS, I forgot to say, congratulations on the 200th post :)

  6. Congrats on 200!
    I do use cake mixes sometimes, and I really don't mind them. I tend to make an improvement or two along the way though - sour cream, mayo, pudding mix... that sort of thing. And the fact that they don't stick around long indicates that they taste just fine. :)

  7. shaz: yeah, cold, wet days make anything remotely comforting appealing--even a box cake! Thanks for the congrats too.

    Ash: Ooh, funfetti sounds like a brand to check out. Hope you are having a good weekend in Sac!

    Ben: Ha! Looks *are* important,right? ;) Thanks for the congrats, and thanks for being a dedicated Hungry Dog reader.

    grace: thank you!

    oneordinaryday: I could get on board with a mix, but it would have to be a better one. Maybe the Thomas Keller Ad Hoc ones???

  8. Thanks for writing about this... now I don't have to test out those TJ mixes myself! Saw the frosting one just the other day and wondered what exactly was in that box if one only has to add butter and WATER? You've inspired me to test out yellow cake and non-ganache frosting recipes I've been meaning to try. Homemade is always best! - Pete
    P.S. 200? Wow, that's great!!

  9. Oh, this takes me back. In college, my housemate and I used to make yellow cake with chocolate frosting (from a box, obviously) for all kinds of occasions - birthdays, study breaks, Sunday afternoons...

  10. 200!! congrats!! I'm a big fan. xo

  11. Pete: yeah, the frosting was weird. It actually tasted ok but the idea of it freaked me out a little.

    camille: A good yellow cake is fit for any occasion.

    DS: Thanks, sweetie!

  12. yellow box cake with chocolate frosting is a longtime favorite of mine... but I'm a foodhoe and am shameless. sounds like a wonderful way to spend a rainy day! we decided to run errands and spent the day driving back and forth, back and forth and back again! your day sounded much better! congratulations and hooray for cute packaging!

  13. foodhoe: It was a great way to spend a rainy day--I highly recommend it!