The conventional wisdom is that cake mix was invented after World War II by big corporate mills as a way to use up an excess of flour stockpiled during the war but in reality, cake mix goes back further.
According to Bon Appetit, a Philadelphia company called P. Duff and Sons applied for a patent in December 1930, for an invention that used dehydrated flour in pastry products. Not to use up excess flour but molasses. The primary flavor was gingerbread and the formula used 100 pounds of flour to 100 pounds of molasses. So they used up a lot of molasses.
In 1933, the company revised its formula so that the home baker was required to add fresh eggs and modern cake mix as it is known today was born.
The Duff company’s original patent application yammered on and on about how their mixes simplified cake preparation, eliminated the need for precise measuring and basically idiot-proofed the baking process. Aside from being somewhat insulting to their customers, they didn’t seem to grasp the primary advantage to their product.
Simplified cleanup is what they were selling. It was the Depression. Those folks were tired and broke and they just wanted to eat some cake, not spend all day boiling dishwater on a wood stove.
Where a standard cake can require a bowl for creaming sugar and butter, another for dry ingredients, yet another for wet ingredients and assorted others for specialty ingredients and preparation, cake mix dirties one bowl and a spoon. Or some beaters, if you use a mixer.
But things have changed and it doesn’t have to be this way any more. It’s possible to bake a cake from scratch and use only one bowl and a spoon, just like with cake mix. In fact, in one of the recipes below, you don’t even need a bowl. Mix the cake right in the pan and slap it into the oven. How much easier could baking be?
The following recipes are quick and easy with minimal cleanup. They assume you have a set of measuring spoons and cups and know how to use them which is not really a lot to ask, regardless of the opinion of P. Duff and Sons.
Frosting, of course, is not included in the one bowl limit but that’s no different from mix cake. Most of these recipes use mostly things a well stocked pantry might have on hand.
So knock yourself out. Bake a scratch cake and take the bows. No one has to know you didn’t spend the day cleaning up the mess.
Almond Coffee Cake
A very sweet cake with strong almond flavor. The sugar forms a chewy, sweet crust that is delicious. You can bake it in a quiche pan, a pie pan or even a cast iron skillet.
Serves 8 to 10
½ cup (8 tablespoons) butter, melted
¼ cup sour cream
1 ½ cups sugar, plus 1 ½ teaspoons for sprinkling
1 ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
1 tsp. almond extract
⅓ cup sliced or slivered almonds
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a 10-inch cast-iron skillet with aluminum foil or butter a 10-inch pie plate or quiche pan. If you’ll be giving the cake as a gift, use a greased disposable pie tin. Combine the butter, sour cream, and 1 1/2 cups sugar and mix until well-combined. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until well-incorporated. Add the flour, salt, and almond extract. Mix well, then pour into the prepared skillet. Shower the cake with almonds and remaining sugar. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown. Let the cake cool for 1 hour before serving.
Tomato Soup Cake
This is one of those old-fashioned Depression era recipes that uses cheap ingredients that are usually on hand. Don’t worry. It doesn’t taste at all like tomato soup, more like a spice cake with raisins.
Makes one 2-layer cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
One 10 3/4-ounce can condensed tomato soup
1/2 cup shortening (or butter)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup water
1 cup raisins
Cream cheese frosting
Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans, shaking out any excess flour. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add the soup, shortening, eggs, and water. Beat together until everything forms a smooth (pink) batter. Fold in raisins. Pour the batter into the cake pans, doing your best to get the same amount in each. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes; when the cake is done, the tines of a fork should come out clean. Let cake cool completely before frosting. This cake looks most period appropriate when frosted between the layers and on top, leaving the sides bare, another time saver.
One Bowl Chocolate Cake
2 cups white sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two nine inch round pans. In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla, mix for 2 minutes on medium speed of mixer. Stir in the boiling water last. Batter will be thin. Pour evenly into the prepared pans.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until the cake tests done with a toothpick. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
1/2 to 3/4 cups chopped dates
1/2 to 3/4 cups apple brandy (or Calvados)
2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp. salt
4 cups slightly tart apples: peeled, cored and roughly chopped
1/2 cup melted sweet butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Icing sugar for decoration
About one hour before starting to bake, place the dates in a bowl and cover with the apple brandy. Stir from time to time and if they get too dry, just add more brandy. Preheat oven to 325°F. Using butter, grease a baking pan (approximately 13 x 9 x 2) Into the bowl with the dates, sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Add the chopped apples, melted butter and the eggs. This will be a very heavy, thick batter. Just be sure to mix it well. Spread in the prepared pan, place on a rack in center of the oven and bake for 1 hour. Test with a skewer — if it comes out still a bit gooey, bake for another 5 to 10 minutes. It will be a nice dark tan color and will spring back to a light touch. Remove from oven, let cool a bit. This is delicious hot, warm or cold. Sprinkle each serving with icing sugar.
Raspberry-filled Molten Chocolate Cupcakes
1/2 cup granulated sugar
6 tbsp. unsalted butter room temperature
4 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
11 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted (2 1/2 cups chopped)
18 raspberries (36 if they are small)
Confectioners’ sugar, for serving
Vanilla ice cream (optional)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line 12 cup standard muffin tin cups with paper liners. In a large bowl with a mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium high until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. With mixer on low, beat in flour and salt. Beat in chocolate until just combined.
Divide half the batter among cups, add two raspberries to each, and top with remaining batter. Bake until tops are just set and no longer shiny, 10 to 11 minutes, let cool in pan on a wire rack, 10 minutes. Remove from pans, dust with confectioners’ sugar, and top with ice cream, if desired.
Busy Day Cake
This cake doesn’t even need a bowl. Mix it right in the cake pan. This is the ultimate in quick clean-up baking.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. coarse salt
6 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp. white vinegar
1 cup cold water
Preheat oven to 350°F. In an 8-inch square baking pan, whisk together all-purpose flour, sugar, unsweetened cocoa powder, baking soda, and coarse salt. Make a well in center of flour mixture and add vegetable oil, pure vanilla extract, white vinegar, and cold water. Whisk until well combined. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard.