I have had a long and sordid relationship with boxed mixes, and cake mix in particular. When I first starting baking in junior high, it's not too surprising that cake-making from scratch was not my strong suit. After a couple of tremendous flops, I decided, in true dramatic, adolescent form, that I simply was not cut out to make cakes from scratch and that I could never be taught. I discovered Pillsbury and Betty Crocker and gained the confidence to make all kinds of cakes and cupcakes all through high school and college.
After college, I decided that, perhaps, I should try this whole making cakes from scratch thing again. Lo and behold, I discovered that my skills as a baker had improved over the 10+ years I had limited myself to cookies, brownies, and banana bread, turning me into a cocky 20-something who began to foresake the very boxes that had helped hone her baking skills.
I soon began to realize how much of a baking snob I had become and wanted to give the boxes another try, but I soon ran into other food-related dilemmas. In addition to the trans fat and high fructose corn syrup problems that mixes create, I also faced some economic realities as a consistently broke adult; I couldn't really justify buying the box mix because I already had the flour, sugar, and other ingredients in my house to make a cake from scratch. In addition, I rarely needed the full 24-30 cupcakes a box would yield. By making something from scratch, I could control the final quantity, without having spares around the house for me to snack on and get me into trouble. Add in the snob element that was still lurking underneath, and I thought boxed mixes had retired for good.
Finally, though, I think I've struck the balance that was missing. As I've been going through favorite recipes from childhood, I'm finding that more and more recipes relied upon on boxed mixes than I realized. The difference is that the recipes rarely used straight mixes; instead, the boxes were gussied up to take the best of the mix and bump it up into a delicious new product. It's true that the baking purist in me rarely relies on a box anymore, but now that I know I can transform a box into something unexpected, some recipes that use the stuff will occasionally make it into my repertoire. This recipe below is definitely a winner; I got it from a friend of my sister's at a bridal shower. It travels really well and has made an easy dessert at outdoor concerts, or else it can be easily turned into fun cupcakes. I recommend topping with chocolate frosting. I haven't had a chance to fully veganize it, so I hope to update this post soon, but a quick glance tells me that removing the egg shouldn't be too tough. I'll keep you posted!
As a final note, there is still the very legitimate concern of finding a vegan baking mix that does not have trans fats, partially hydrogenated oils, and all of the other scary things that make mixes taste so good. Enter Cherrybrook Kitchen (http://www.cherrybrookkitchen.com); not only are the mixes vegan, nut-free, and gluten-free, but a young child can read all of the ingredients off the side of a box, which I think is the noblest test any foodstuff can pass. I find it is consistently stocked at Whole Foods. And did I mention the final product is delicious?
Yields: one cake that easily feeds 6-8 people
1 package of plain yellow cake mix (I prefer Cherrybrook Kitchen)
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
2-3 ripe medium mashed bananas (about one cup)
1 c. water
1/2 c. vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1) Combine cake mix, sugar, and cinnamon. Blend in bananas, water, oil, and eggs until well mixed.
2) Pour into a greased 9x13 pan and bake for 40 minutes in a 350 degree oven, or until the top is lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean.
3) When cooled, frost with your favorite icing (my favorite is the vegan chocolate buttercream frosting).