CakeBoss asks... Mix or Scratch?
When you make the decision to start selling cakes, this might be one of the first questions you find yourself asking. Few issues ignite the passions of bakers like this one, so don your flame-retardant gear as I attempt to make some sense out of this volatile issue.
Cake mixes have been readily available in the United States since the 1950’s. Food conglomerates have spent millions of dollars perfecting their formulas to create a tasty cake that is, essentially, fool-proof. The fact is that many Americans don’t know what a scratch cake tastes like, and even those who may disdain “box mixes” wouldn’t know a scratch cake if they had one. Scratch cakes have a distinctively different crumb and mouth-feel from box mixes, because box mixes contain ingredients like emulsifiers that are not readily available to the home cook. In our experience here at CakeBoss, many people who claim to prefer scratch cakes will pick a box mix cake in a blind taste test, simply because it is what they are accustomed to.
Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking that you must bake from scratch if you sell cakes. Most bakeries do NOT bake from scratch. In fact I once worked at a bakery that actually claimed to be a “scratch bakery”, but all their cakes started with a Duncan Hines cake mix, the same kind you buy in the grocery store.
There are scratch-only bakers, there are mix-only bakers, and there are those who do a little of both. At CakeBoss, we prefer cake mix for some cakes, especially our CakeBoss White Velvet Wedding Cake, but are scratch all the way for others like Red Velvet cake, Italian Cream cake, or carrot cake.
But scratch is better, right? Everybody knows that.
That’s like trying to pick between red and blue. Which is better? It’s simply a matter of personal preference. Scratch cakes do have a clear advantage in that the baker can control the ingredients and accommodate any special dietary or allergy needs of the customer. Scratch cakes can be gluten-free, egg-free, milk-free, nut-free, organic, or vegan. A scratch cake is chemical-free and preservative-free. A good one is a testament to the skill of the baker, and can be a world-class dessert. Scratch cakes require practice, skill, and talent. But not all cake artists are great bakers, and not all great bakers are cake artists.
I’m embarrassed to tell my customers I bake from a mix.
There is good reason that many bakers feel reluctant to tell customers they start with a mix. There is a stigma attached to cake mixes, even though many of the same people who claim to prefer scratch cakes actually can’t tell the difference, or even prefer box mixes. But if your customer asks, CakeBoss highly recommends answering confidently and directly. Don’t mince words or talk about using “pre-measured ingredients”. There is nothing wrong with saying “I start with a mix and use my own recipes with premium ingredients like (buttermilk/sour cream/butter/white chocolate, etc.). My cakes are some of the finest in town. Go ahead, have a taste.” Be a salesman and sell your cake.
Cool! So I can use a cake mix. What about canned frosting?
No. Just, no. Homemade frosting is a must. Check out our easy CakeBoss Buttercream recipe, which is a good decorator’s buttercream, or invest in The Cake Mix Doctor for wonderful doctored cake mix and homemade frosting recipes.
If you would like to learn more about the art and science of scratch baking, there are several good books on the subject, including The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, and Baking 911 by Sarah Phillips, which I personally own and highly recommend for the beginning baker.
Let the taste be your guide, and rely on your customers’ feedback. Whatever you decide to use, make sure your recipes are tried and true. Be confident and sell your cakes with pride.
So do bakers really get that heated up over this subject?
You have no idea.