Friday, March 25, 2011

Why I Love Betty Crocker

It's terribly uncouth to admit to using any product with the Betty Crocker label on it, at least in the circles I run in, both online and in the real world.  She represents big business and stands as the antithesis of the local, organic movement.  Good cooks shun her as all food is supposed to be homemade (although I've seen crazy discussion as to what exactly that means).

For me, Betty is the beacon of my childhood.  Each year I could choose my birthday cake, and aside from a couple of renegade years when I chose angel food cake, that birthday cake was a yellow layer cake baked from a Betty Crocker mix and frosted with Betty Crocker chocolate frosting in a tub.  A fancy plastic candle holder that spelled out Happy Birthday completed the cake.  In my world cakes didn't come from bakeries, nor did my mother bake cakes from scratch and frost them with decorator icing she tinted herself and piped out in fanciful designs.

It was, however, my birthday cake.  Cakes were never baked for any occasions other than birthdays.  We were not a family that ate dessert on a regular basis.  The birthday cake was special, and each child felt special choosing his or her cake.  My sister went through a period when cherry chip was requested, and the request was granted even though several of us didn't like it.  Eventually she came around to yellow cake with chocolate frosting, which was also my mom's favorite.  I don't recall what my brothers liked.  My dad liked chocolate cake with chocolate fudge frosting.

Betty facilitated my first forays into baking, first with her Big Batch cookie mixes and then with the Stir 'n Frost cake mix line, which came with the pan and frosting right in the box and could be baked in a small toaster oven.  That was much better than an Easy Bake Oven, which I had but abandoned as it was too much work to bake enough little cakes for six people using a light bulb.  Soon enough I was mixing up Pyrex pans of Betty Crocker brownies and baking the birthday layer cakes (from her mixes) on my own.

Of course, I grew up, became a health conscious adult, and stopped baking anything that came from a mix.  I started with Tollhouse cookies but soon tweaked a Kitchen Aid mixer cookie recipe that had my friends and family begging me to bake.  I learned to bake cakes from scratch and took a class in cake decorating.  I perfected my apple pie.  I wouldn't say that I became a foodie or anything ~ I am just a woman who loves to cook real food from scratch.

When we first started a gluten free journey (for the whole family at first while we learned to adjust to J-Baby's diagnosis of celiac disease) gluten free foods were no longer in the stone age, but they weren't mainstream either.  Most baked good mixes were incredibly expensive and turned out products that were mediocre at best.  I think the companies didn't have to try to make anything good because people who had to eat gluten free were desperate for anything.  I quickly came up with a great muffin recipe, a brownie recipe that my friends swoon over despite the fact that it is gluten free (and carob), and several gluten free cookie recipes.

Once again, however, I find myself loving Betty Crocker.  She put out a line of gluten free mixes in 2009; I happened upon them at my local grocery store.  They weren't cheap at $4.99 ($3.99 on sale) but they weren't $8.99 either.  I brought home a yellow cake mix and baked cupcakes for J-Baby, and he loved them.  We all thought they were good.  We tried the chocolate chip cookie mix and were impressed because they were so much better than the other gluten free cookies mixes we'd tried (they are quite delicate though).

These mixes aren't what people think of when they think of Betty.  There are no artificial flavors or colors in them, and no preservatives.  I understand what each ingredient is.  The ingredients are actually rather simple and are the pretty much the same ingredients I use to make cakes and cookies from scratch.

But I can pull down a box of Betty Crocker chocolate chip cookie mix, add palm shortening (no butter for T-Guy), an egg, and vanilla and have warm cookies ready to serve in 20 minutes.  My boys can make the cookies themselves if they want to.  It isn't dependent on pulling out the scale and mixing gluten free flours or on having chocolate chips in the house.  It simply requires a box, a box with Betty's familiar red spoon on it.

My family has a new favorite cake, one that uses a Betty Crocker gluten free cake mix and the Applesauce Lunchbox cake recipe from The Cake Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten Free.  I can't tell you if the original recipe is good or not because I tweaked it from day one, using pureed canned organic pears blended with cinnamon and a touch of maple syrup instead of applesauce, but I can tell you that my whole family loves this cake.  Amazingly (for a gluten free cake) it is even better on the second day.  I can't post the recipe here because it isn't uniquely mine, but I can suggest that you make a date with Betty Crocker and give her gluten free mixes a try.  She deserves the love.

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