You might say, of Betty Crocker – you’ve come a long way, Betty! A good example of accomplishment in Betty Crocker’s long career, (imaginary though our heroine may be), is “BETTY CROCKER’S ULTIMATE CAKE MIX COOKBOOK” from Wiley Publishing, copyrighted by General Mills in 2002.
We’ve known for many years how versatile cake mixes can be—I think Duncan Hines may have been one of the first food manufacturing companies to delve deeply into using cake mixes as the basis for many other recipes—or perhaps it was a Pillsbury contest entrant, — or was it someone in a General Mills test kitchen? I’m not sure anyone really knows just when someone began to ask themselves, “hmmm, I wonder what else can be made with a cake mix, besides a cake?” or “I wonder what would happen if I added some yogurt or sour cream or some walnuts to this cake mix recipe?”
In the Introduction to “BETTY CROCKER’S ULTIMATE CAKE MIX COOKBOOK”, we learn that, to celebrate more than fifty years of Betty Crocker cake mix history, the folks at General Mills gathered all of their favorite recipes, along with a lot of fresh new ideas.
“Cake mix,” says Betty, “one of the first convenience foods, reflects five decades of American history. Developed shortly after the end of World War II, cake mix was welcomed by customers who were looking for ways to make cooking, and especially baking, easier and more convenient….”
Beginning in 1943, the Betty Crocker labs and kitchens spent four intensive years creating and researching cake mixes. One spokesperson from General Mills has been quoted as saying “A lot of technology from the war effort went into producing those original boxed cakes, and everybody jumped on it”. There were many challenges to overcome, particularly in the packaging. General Mills wanted to know how long the cake mixes would last on the shelf, what kind of shortening they could use that wouldn’t become rancid, what kind of leavening system to use. Although we don’t give second thoughts to issues such as these today, in the 1940s, those were major concerns.
Then the layer cake mixes were sent to consumer kitchens for additional testing. “An unexpected result,” says Betty, “consumer testers preferred to add some of their own fresh ingredients in order to make the cake more genuine. Powered eggs were removed from the mixes, and the cake mix directions called for adding two fresh eggs, instead…”
Starting in 1943, the first Betty Crocker cake mixes went through four years of testing, leading to the 1947 prototype of a single-layer ginger cake. It didn’t receive quite the response they’d hoped for.
Consumers, General Mills learned, also wanted multiple flavors. Betty Crocker responded to their request by creating Party Cake layer cake mix. This versatile box of cake mix could turn out yellow, white or spice cake depending on whether whole eggs, egg whites only, or spices and whole eggs were added. In 1948 (about the time I began experimenting with my mother’s Pyrex bowls in our kitchen on Sutter Street!) Betty Crocker Devil’s Food and Party Cake layer cake mixes were distributed nationally and sold for thirty five to thirty seven cents each!
In the 1950s and 1960s, General Mills continued to expand on their flavors of cake mixes with Honey Spice cake mix being introduced in 1953, and Angel food cake mix (considered a luxury in American homes because it was costly and tricky to make) also being introduced in 1953, followed by a one-step cake mix in 1960.
Also, in 1951, General Mills provided a recipe for Colorvision Cake, which used fruit-flavored gelatin (possibly a predecessor of the Jello poke-and-pour cake that came later).
And do you remember Answer Cake? General Mills introduced this all-in-one cake mix (complete with the mix, foil baking pan, and frosting) in 1954.
In 1958, the year I got married and began clipping recipes, I saved a small pamphlet from Betty Crocker that lists 16 varieties of cake mixes, including a Black Walnut cake mix, Chiffon Cake mixes, Confetti Angel Food cake mix, Answer Cake mixes, and—one of my favorites—a Boston Cream Pie mix (I always regretted that mix being taken off the market).
An updated version of Answer Cake was introduced by Betty Crocker in 1976, with the name of Stir ‘n Frost, a name that may be more familiar to most of us. However, even before that, Betty Crocker published the first original cake mix cookbook in 1966, under the name of Betty Crocker’s Cake and Frosting Mix Cookbook (I have this one in my collection). In the late 1970s, when Americans became concerned about cutting down on sugar and desserts, Betty Crocker introduced Light Style cake mix that had 30 percent fewer calories. However, Betty Crocker discovered that what people said wasn’t always what they really wanted – Consumers preferred the regular mixes; Light Style layer cake mixes were discontinued in 1981. (I have a thought about this. I’ve discovered I really don’t care very much for light or artificially sweetened desserts. I’d rather have one teensy-weensy slice of real, decadent, fudgy-wudgy cake or brownie, than a big piece of something fat-free and sugarless that isn’t nearly as satisfying).
At any rate, in the 1980s, decadent desserts began to steal center stage. Indulgent baking made its debut in 1986 with Betty Crocker Cake Lovers Collection®, a line of deluxe mixes. Then, fast-forward to the 1990s, and the health craze took over. Betty Crocker introduced Betty Crocker Supermoist Light cake mix, 94 percent fat free with 50 percent less fat than the average cake in 1990. It was renamed Betty Crocker Sweet Rewards® cake mix in 1996.
You just won’t believe all the recipes you will find in the new BETTY CROCKER ULTIMATE CAKE MIX COOKBOOK. Under the first chapter “Bake and Take” (cakes mixes prepared and decorated in a pan for easy transporting to the office, a Tupperware party, or to the home of friends, offers no less than twenty-three recipes ranging from Chocolate Turtle Cake to Lemonade Party Cake. In-between, you will discover such long-time favorites as Raspberry Poke Cake and Pineapple Upside down Cake, from a Stir in the Pan Applesauce Cake to Caramel Carrot Cake.
Chapter 2, “Wonderfully Indulgent” presents twenty-five decadent desserts, ranging from Peanut-Caramel Candy Bar Cake to Key-Lime Coconut Angel Cake. Included, as well, are old favorites from the 1970s, such as Harvey Wallbanger Cake (does anyone besides me remember this one? It was a yellow cake mix to which Galliano liqueur and orange juice was added) and Fudgy Chocolate Ring Cake which appears to be an updated version of the 70s Tunnel of Fudge cake (introduced by a competitor, this recipe was originally a Bake-Off contest winner—I mention this, especially, because so many of us have searched long and hard for a recipe that would duplicate the original Tunnel of Fudge cake recipe, which was impossible to duplicate, exactly, after Pillsbury discontinued manufacturing one of the key ingredients. A lot of copy cat recipes have come along in the past three decades but none taste quite as good. I suggest you try Fudgy Chocolate Ring Cake – I think you will be pleasantly surprised!
Next is a chapter for Special Occasions – “only” fifteen recipes; however, these include making a Classic White Wedding Cake, Petits Fours, a Baby Bib Shower Cake, and other novelties such as a Sailboat Cake, Train Cake, Sand Castle Cake and Fish Cake, One of the most beautiful illustrations in this chapter is Rainbow Angel Birthday Cake which I think would thrill any birthday boy or birthday girl.
Special Occasions are followed by Heavenly Holidays which really will be heavenly with an array of seventeen special cakes for you to make, from an Easter Bunny Cake to a Halloween Black Cat Cake; from Gingerbread Cake Cottage to Rudolph Cupcakes (mothers will find that children can help decorate these cute cupcakes). I am especially interested in Best-Ever Fruitcake Loaves and Holiday Eggnog Cake.
Under the heading of Come For Brunch, you will find no less than sixteen recipes to stream-line your life and party plans, from Banana Bread (made from a cake mix! Who’d have thought that was possible?) to one of my favorites from the 70s, Coconut-Topped Oatmeal Cake. We used to call this Lazy Daisy Oatmeal cake and it contained a ton of cooking oil and sugar. Fast forward to 2003 and this old favorite contains only a third of a cup of vegetable oil. There are recipes for Pumpkin Bread, Blueberry Cream Cheese Muffins, Chocolate Chunk Muffins and more – all you need is a Betty Crocker cake mix (I stock up on these cake mixes when they are on sale so there are always a few boxes in my pantry).
Scrumptious Desserts offers a range of sixteen specialty desserts, from Cherry Chocolate Baked Alaska Cake to Plum-Pear Cobbler, from Caramel Apple Sundae Cake to Rainbow Sherbet Roll.
However, the piece de resistance, in my opinion, is the chapter titled Easy Cookies and Bars – I have to confess, cookies and bars made from cake mixes have become one of my favorite methods of baking, and I have yet to find anyone who tastes one of my cookies and wonders if it’s from a mix. I’m in love with this type of cookie baking and delighted with all the new and different cookie and bar recipes in “BETTY CROCKER’S ULTIMATE CAKE MIX COOKBOOK” Whether you crave old fashioned peanut butter cookies, or chocolate chip cookies, Snickerdoodles, or even rolled sugar cookies, it’s all in here. I love the German Chocolate Bars and Chocolate Caramel Oatmeal Bars—I know we’ll have a great time baking up some of these cookies for the holidays!
Last but certainly not least is a chapter titled Fabulous Frostings and Glazes with a nice range of icings to choose from – whether it’s cream cheese frosting or whipped cream cheese frosting, a Browned Butter Frosting or Caramel Frosting. Most of these recipes are “from scratch” and I have to tell you, one thing I don’t buy is pre-made frostings. I’ve never cared for the taste of them so when I bake, I want “the real thing”.
There are 329 million boxed cake mixes sold each year in the United States – and General Mills would like most of those sales to come from their products!
Yes, Betty Crocker has come a long way! I have no idea just how many cookbooks, pamphlets, and leaflets in my collection have Betty Crocker’s name on the covers. One prized possession is a first edition Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook published in 1950. It’s a different book from the spiral bound books that came along soon after—and this particular book, a limited special edition in a slipcase, was presented to employees of General Mills when Betty Crocker’s first picture cookbook was being introduced. I have it because it had been given to the father of a friend of mine, when he worked at
General Mills. One of my very first cookbooks was, also, a Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook that was given to me as a wedding present in 1958.
I guess we can never outgrow our need for Betty Crocker cookbooks!
“BETTY CROCKER’S ULTIMATE CAKE MIX COOKBOOK” is beautifully illustrated and comes with many tips from Betty for baking success. You will want to look for “BETTY CROCKER’S ULTIMATE CAKE MIX COOKBOOK” at your favorite book store. It originally sold for $24.95.
Yowza—there are numerous listings for this book on Google.com. On Amazon.com, you can buy the book new for $14.65 or preowned starting at $4.12.
If you visit Barnes & Noble’s website, you can buy the book new for $18.39 or new or used starting at $6.13. Alibris has the book started at $4.12 for pre owned. There are numerous other listings.
Review by Sandra Lee Smith