“To bake a cake . . . bake the cake like the mix on the package said to do” Margie Blake, Fun to Cook Book (1955)
My Gay-Gay tells this great story about her roommates at Lindenwood coming back to the sorority house from their Home Economics class with a bewildered sort of look. “We tried this new thing called ‘cake mix’,” they said. “You just add an egg and some butter, stir it up and put it in the oven to make a cake.”
So I guess I wasn’t too surprised when the Carnation Fun to Cook Book my friend Kelly got me “To counteract (my) progressive childhood” taught our young Margie Blake (Daughter of Carnation Cooking Goddess Mary Blake) how to make a cake by simply following the directions on the box. Any box will do, I guess. I was going to use her peppermint frosting recipe, so I got plain old Duncan Hines vanilla cake.
Look, I’ve tried to bake cakes from scratch, I really have. And occasionally they turn out not-terrible, like the Moxie cake I made Matthew for his birthday, but for the most part, they turn out so mediocre that it’s not worth the effort.
A cup of oil, three eggs and a little water later, I had cake mix, only some of which was on my knees. And 30 minutes after that, I had a cake, most of which will be going directly into my gaping maw. In a way, I suppose, this was progressive–not having to bake from scratch left a woman more time to attend social functions like bridge club or the Association of University Women, allowing her to get out of the kitchen and expand her horizons.
Next, of course, came the frosting. I used the “Candy Cane Frosting” recipe, because it has Carnation Evaporated Milk, natch.
And it did not end well.
The cookbook is geared towards seven year olds whose mom still has to use the can opener for them (recipe for soup: 1 can soup, add Carnation Evaporated Milk, heat, serve) and yet I, with my MFA hanging on the wall above where I write this, ruined the recipe.
I don’t know whether it’s the humidity or that I’m a kitchen idiot, but the frosting turned out very watery and I now have a cake that looks like the Most Disgusting Sandwich in the World. It tastes okay, sure, but it’s not pretty.