Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Cake Mix Challenge

When it comes to cake mixes most people lay in one of two camps, either you love them or think they are a disgrace. Well, I do really prefer making my own cakes from scratch, but to be honest it's more of an ego thing than a real taste preference. I just enjoy the process of making them and the pride I feel when people are seemingly amazed that I made something from scratch. I do however realize that making a cake from scratch is a daunting, intimidating task for a lot of people. When you try out a new recipe you can never really be sure how it's going to turn out and there's the constant "is this cake going to be too dry" question. With a cake mix you are pretty much guaranteed success if you can follow directions. I also realize that a lot of people, myself included sometimes need a little shortcut to make everything fit in, or just want a shortcut so that they can watch 30 minutes more of t.v. I have made cakes in the past using box mixes and they have always been good and people have always thought they were homemade, and that is because a few years ago I figured out the secret to making a good box mix, throw away all of the directions and add your own stuff. I usually substitute sour cream for the water and always add in at least one extra egg, usually two. I also, depending on the cake flavor add in either vanilla or chocolate. I have heard of people adding in pudding mix and while I haven't tried it yet I'm definitely planning on it. There are really so many ways to dress up a store bought cake mix and all of this has led me to the "Cake Mix Challenge". This is entirely a challenge for myself, but hopefully some of you will play along. So every month for the rest of the year I am challenging myself to come up with a recipe for a cake mix that will be so good that nobody will believe you when you tell them it came from a box. That said, I do draw the line at store bought frosting, they are pretty much gross, they don't have real dairy products in them and that scares me and the texture is terrible, I have never frosted anything with them that didn't look terrible. I think they are just a bunch of oils and artificial sweeteners and colorings. Plus making frosting is really, really easy and only takes a few ingredients, so I really recommend that you take the 5 minutes and make your own. This month is very nearly over, but I have to get started somewhere and since it is my husband's grandmother's birthday this weekend I decided to give it a go. I had actually planned to make these cupcakes from scratch but when this idea came to me, I knew that they would be a good candidate for a box mix. These are a take on the famous Hostess cupcake that we all know and love. I figured I could make some that would at least be as good if not better. I also wanted to try out an idea that I saw over at Martha. Her cupcakes were just chocolate, no filling but the idea of taking the traditional white loops and making them into words was so cute I had to try it. So here is my version of a classic using a box mix.

Hostess cupcakes:

1 box devil's food cake mix- I used Betty Crocker, but whatever you like is fine
1 1/4 c. fat free sour cream
4 eggs
1/2 c. oil
1/4 c. buttermilk
4 ounces melted unsweetened chocolate

Mix all of the ingredients together in the bowl of your mixer, fill 24 prepared cupcake liners each 3/4 of the way full and bake at 350 for minutes. When a knife is inserted and comes out cleanly remove cupcakes from oven and place on a cooling rack.


6 tbs. unsalted butter at room temperature
3 cups marshmallow fluff (buy the big size, my grocery only had the small size so it takes 1.5 containers to get three cups.)
2 tsp. vanilla
1 c. confectioners sugar
cream to thin

Cream the butter in the bowl of the mixer, add the marshmallow fluff and vanilla, mix. Now as for the confectioners sugar, I usually just add confectioners sugar to any frosting until it seems the right consistency to me. I can usually tell when its right for either filling, frosting or decorating. So use your best judgment, this is just an estimate, you can always add a little cream to thin it out. It should be creamy like what is normally in a hostess cupcake, not like the consistency of buttercream icing. When the cupcakes are cool, place the filling in a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip, insert the tip into the center of each cupcake and fill until the cupcake puffs up a little. If some of the filling spills out the top, just use a knife to smooth it out evenly.

Chocolate Ganache:

3/4 of a bag of semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream

In a heavy pot placed over low heat, heat the cream just until you see steam rising off the top, do not let it come to a boil. Remove from heat. Place chocolate into the cream and stir until the chocolate is melted and combined with the cream. Let cool. You can either dip the tops of the cupcakes into the ganache while it is still slightly warm and liquid or you can let it cool some and spread it on with an offset spatula. I transferred mine to a small bowl and popped it into the freezer for a couple of minutes. However you choose to do it, ice your cupcakes.

Decorators icing:

4 tbs. unsalted butter softened
3 tbs. shortening
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
cream to thin

Cream the butter and shortening in the bowl of the mixer. Add the vanila and mix. Slowly add the confectioners sugar and mix until incorporated. You can add some cream if the icing is to stiff. This should be a consistency that is pipeable, sort of like toothpaste. Place the frosting into a pastry bag fitted with a writing tip, or small round tip. If you want them to look like hostess cupcakes pipe 7 connected loops onto them (yes I counted the loops on a real one) if you want to write a special message on them just use cursive to mimic the loops on the real ones.

Final step; serve to your loved ones and enjoy the happy looks on their faces when they bite into the cream filling.

So there you have it the first entry into my "Cake Mix Challenge". Look for more to come in the following months.



  1. I absolutely love your blog! You have some of the most creative ideas in the kitchen =] And I love that you share all your recipes with us.
    I want to try making these cupcakes now!

  2. These look AMAZING! Thanks for providing such a detailed recipe, I'll definitely be trying this in the future. :D

  3. These look so yummy and pretty!