springlakecake Posted 14 Apr 2008 , 5:38pm
post #1 of

Okay so I have been decorating for about 2 years now. I have definitely focused on the decorating over the cake baking, and I really have no background in baking icon_biggrin.gif ! However, I think I make a pretty good doctored cake from a mix. All of my buttercreams and fillings are from scratch. I am actually pretty happy with the way my cakes taste and behave icon_lol.gif ! However, I am really thinking of getting into this more seriously in the near future (ie putting a commercial kitchen in the basement) I FEEL like people (customers) want or expect scratch cakes. Not that many people have ever asked me or complained.

I don't know why I am so afraid to try a scratch cake. I feel like they are going to turn out dry and I am going to be disappointed. Is there anything I should look for in a recipe that would indicate a good/bad recipe? I want it to be moist and I want them to hold up to stacking and what not. Are there ways to tell a good recipe or do you just try and try until something works well? I know this is silly, but I want my scratch cake to taste like my doctored cake! LOL!

I just signed up for epicurious.com and i am a bit overwhelmed. Thanks for any advice

70 replies
Sugarflowers Posted 15 Apr 2008 , 6:43am
post #2 of

Baking from scratch doesn't have to be difficult and the cakes don't have to be dry. I have attached a link to my chocolate cake recipe if you would like to try it. It's very easy and tastes great: http://www.cakecentral.com/cake_recipe-2297-1-Super-Easy-Chocolate-Cake.html

When I look at a recipe I look for balance in the ingredients. If you think the amounts are odd, then more than likely the recipe is not going to be great. This is for regular recipes, a few things are unusual and taste great. Anyway, most good recipes call for about 3 cups of flour, 1 1/2 to 2 cups of sugar, 1 cup of butter, at least 2 large eggs, 1 to 1 1/2 cups of liquid (such as milk or buttermilk), baking powder, add a dash of salt, and, of course, a good shot of real vanilla.

As you are mixing a recipe the batter should look silky smooth as it gets to the end stage of mixing. If it looks wet, then there is too much liquid or not enough flour. If it seems more like frosting, then it needs more liquid of some kind.

A lot of it is experimenting. This is my favorite part of baking. Almost every recipe in my cook book was made by starting with a basic recipe and tweaking it until I REALLY liked the way it tasted and looked.

As for what the public expects, they may or may not care if your cakes are from scratch. I got a lot of customers because I did bake from scratch. I also know some decorators who get their business from those who think scratch baking is not good. I suggest that you keep with what you are doing and slowly add a few cakes made from scratch to your options. Go with the ones that get the best response.

As with anything, there are good and bad variations. Not all scratch cakes are good (or bad) and not all mixes are equal.

I guess this probably wasn't much help. Good luck with your business though.

Michele

shisharka Posted 15 Apr 2008 , 7:27am
post #3 of

As strangely as it may sound, it may be difficult to meet the taste expectations of most customers with scratch cakesâ¦

People like things that theyâre used to. If theyâve had grocery store cakes and box mixes most of their lives, a scratch chocolate stout cake might be too much for their palette and go under-appreciated compared to a doctored mix, which has the familiar taste and texture, yet itâs better than that⦠They may EXPECT a scratch cake, but not know what it is supposed to be like⦠Also, from being in a hurry and finally finding a brand of box mix I like (yeah!), I found that by doctoring it, it can get pretty darn close to the scratch version of the same cake⦠So, while expressing an amateur opinion, I feel that for baking as a business, doctored mixes are just perfectly fine.

On the other hand, Iâm the exact opposite, Iâve baked around my mom since very young, and have half of my life of experimenting in the kitchen from scratch before I started decorating just less than a year ago. I have a handful of âstapleâ cakes that I can make in my sleep, and then I vary their filling and frostings - also a few tried-and-true versions, which I make for our large parties with friends⦠But then when I bake for my family, I hardly ever repeat a cake! I have so many books, and there are so many cakes out there, Iâd just pick one and pull a recipe and make it⦠If it turns out well, great, if not, next please!

A problem I encounter though is that I cannot, for the life of me, cannot follow a recipe! Iâd look at the ingredients, decide to âthis timeâ follow it, then mid-way though determine that it needs more of this or that, or substitute something, or throw in some extra stuff in the batter⦠So was the original recipe any good? Did I make it better? Did I completely ruin it? âCause I can never repeat it now, can I⦠heheâ¦

Personally, a Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines taste just like chemicals to me, doctored or not, and call for too much oil⦠I totally and absolutely hated the highly-praised WASC on all levels when I made it, even with the box mix I like!! But the majority of people rave about it⦠It is all about personal preferences, life-long experiences and acquired tastesâ¦

This is turning into a novel, so Iâd just say, try to have fun with the baking part, experiment, try recipes that âsoundâ interesting⦠But donât necessarily feel the need to meet customersâ expectations, as they may not know what they want in the first place⦠When you find things that work for you, offer them to the more discriminate among them⦠All the best!

springlakecake Posted 15 Apr 2008 , 3:21pm
post #4 of

thank you both so much! I hadnt realized I had gotten a response on this. I agree with what both of you are saying. I guess I just need to give it a try. I also was brought up on box cakes, so I like them. But I would prefer to bake from scratch if I can find recipes that I like. Thank you for the link to the recipe, I will give it a try.

My DH birthday is next week, so that would be a perfect time to expirement!

mrsbink Posted 15 Apr 2008 , 3:44pm
post #5 of

I have this same problem with trying to find good scratch recipes. I would suggest going out and getting the Cake Bible. Not only does she have some really great recipes in there, but she explains the "science" of it too. How everything fits together, and what reactions each ingredient causes. It's a really great book. HTH icon_smile.gif

HerBoudoir Posted 15 Apr 2008 , 4:11pm
post #6 of

I'll second "The Cake Bible" as a great cookbook to have for scratch baking. It's a wonderful place to start.

Additionally, I'll also recommend "Perfect Cakes" by Nick Malgieri and "Baking" by Dorie Greenspan. I've tried many many recipes from both of those, and I've been pleased with all of them.

Roland Mesnier's Basic to Beautiful Cakes is another favorite. One thing that he does that I really love is show how you take one basic cake recipe - for a genoise, for example - master it, and then prepare the same basic recipe with additions to create completely different cakes.

This is much of my philosophy. Master the basics, be able to have recipes that you can make for a good basic vanilla cake, chocolate cake, genoise, and pound cake - then go from there. You'll figure out how "forgiving" they are and what you can add to them. Don't be afraid to make mistakes.

Once I started really getting into baking and cut out things like mixes and Crisco and cheap ingredients, and started using good vanilla, good quality chocolate, butter, etc - it made such a huge difference in my baking quality. If you improve the quality of your raw ingredients to the best you can get, then the quality of your finished product improves dramatically.

Narie Posted 15 Apr 2008 , 4:16pm
post #7 of

Merrissa-I too generally bake from scratch except I am a recipe follower. Recipes vary so much that finding those that you like is difficult and time consuming. I have the most success with product recipes, i.e. Hershey's Black Magic Cake or recipes from organization recipe books and The Farm Journal cookbooks (out for print -but available through amazon.) Over the years, I have found that even a good recipe may not be what you have in mind, i.e. You might like a lighter chocolate flavor than I do or the texture isn't light enough. Also many scratch recipes are not pretty much goof proof like box mixes; they tend to be sensitive to improper mixing, careless measurement, or over baking.
http://www.cakecentral.com/cake_recipe-3433-0-Busy-Day-Cake.html Is a very old and very easy vanilla cake recipe. The texture is coarse, but I learned to bake with it at age 10 and I still like the taste of it. Plus it is small recipe so you don't wind up with leftovers, although you can double the recipe for two layer cake.

springlakecake Posted 16 Apr 2008 , 11:55am
post #8 of

thank you again. I was thinking my next purchase would be the cake bible.

I don't know why I am afraid to try new things!!

HerBoudoir Posted 16 Apr 2008 , 9:33pm
post #9 of

Don't be icon_smile.gif Even if you try something new and it doesn't turn out well, you've learned what doesn't work and what you don't like.

But you may want to keep a box mix or two on hand to pitch hit for when that happens icon_wink.gif

Mike1394 Posted 14 May 2008 , 11:07pm

Things to remember. Sugar, honey, brown sugar attract moisture. Egg yolks contain mostly fat. Egg whites, and flour contain protien. Fat, and sugar for the most part are tenderizers. Protiens are strengtheners.

Now looking at recipes keep these in mind, and look for the ratios of flour to sugar, and milk.

Get a digital scale with a tare feature. Three people can measure a cup of flour, and they all will weigh differently. I truly believe this is one of the reasons people find it so hard to make a cake.

I have one recipe that has
70 gr flour
200 gr choc
250 gr butter
4 eggs
220 gr sugar
I doubt if your going to find a cake with such a low ratio of flour. I will tell ya though for every bite you take you will think the heavens blessed you with some kind of pleasure you'll never experience again.

Mike

cakeymom Posted 15 May 2008 , 3:17pm

I'm a beginner as well. Being in the "Deep South" scratch is expected. But, the others are right. Cakes are so often compared to box mixes. But, I have been doing a great deal of research and experimentation. I have the Cake Bible and Perfect Cakes. Another very good book is, "The Art of the Cake" by by Healy, Bruce and Bugat, Paul. It may be available in your local library. Or can be purchased on Amazon.com. I prefer the first and the later books. I have a kitchen scale, but I have been wrestling with the "True" weight of various flours. I'm a bit of a perfectionist. Warren Brown of Cakelove also has a book that was just released. In the back of his book are the conversion weights. Check out his utube recipe for yellow butter cake. I've been pleased with it. But, instead of unbleached flour I substituted White Lily AP flour. It gives a finer lighter crumb.

Good luck, and just remember whatever you do right it down, buy a kitchen scale and don't forget that this is a trial and error effort. I get closer everyday.

And last but not least, smile, have fun, and don't forget to laugh(even if it's at yourself)

cakeymom thumbs_up.gif

maryjsgirl Posted 15 May 2008 , 3:39pm

I have The Cake Bible, but I haven't tried any recipes from it. I have heard some bad reviews of the recipes in the book and the cakes being dry.

Personally I like to find recipes that use oil or I will sub some of the butter for oil. A little oil in the cake gives it more of a cake mix texture. I also look for recipes that have buttermilk, yogurt, or sour cream.

Of all the cakes I have ever made I have never had one person ask if I bake from scratch or from a mix. I don't really think its a big deal for most as long as it tastes good.

FromScratch Posted 15 May 2008 , 3:43pm

Remember..

âFrom failing, you learn,â Billie told Lewis, shrugging. âFrom success, not so much!â - Meet The Robinsons

Don't be afraid to get it wrong.. that's 1/2 the fun. Don't start off with something really complicated and you will do fine. Overmixing is the enemy.. room temp ingredients are the best.. just have fun. icon_smile.gif

I agree though that if you are good with doctored mixes and people like it.. then there's nothing wrong with that. I do understand the want to master something new though. icon_smile.gif

RRGibson Posted 15 May 2008 , 3:47pm

What I did was try the recipe as it is at first and then changed it as I saw fit, if it needed changing at all.

I do agree that people are used to what they have had before though. At first I was staunchly against doctored box mixes. But that's what some people want! I noticed that when people asked for my yellow cake, they didn't necessarily like Toba's yellow cake (which is awesome by the way). So now I have a doctored yellow cake mix that I use for birthdays, parties etc. but when my brides want yellow cake, they get Toba. So you just have to figure out what works for what customers.

Also, I'm partial to Martha Stewart recipes and my customers love them.

And I agree with maryjsgirl, recipes with buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream all tend to be more moist. And like she said if you mix butter and oil, that helps also. Also adding pudding is good as well, you can do that with scratch as well as boxed mixes.

cakelady15 Posted 15 May 2008 , 4:03pm

I use some box cake mixes and some recipes from scratch depending on what I am doing. I don't think that most people have any idea what the difference is. As a matter of fact I made a Devils Food cake from Betty Crocker mix that I didn't add a thing too and someone told me it was the best chocolate cake ever and wanted to know if they could have the recipe. It probably just depends on the person ordering the cake, but I think most people assume that decorators make their cakes from scratch and I have never had anyone ask me which I use. If you are having success with your doctored cake mixes I would say stick with them even if you open a commercial kitchen. You can always add in other flavors that are made from scratch if you find ones that you like, but you don't have to.

SugarBakerz Posted 15 May 2008 , 4:10pm

merissa~ I read your post and one thing jumped out at me about customer expect or might expect scratch. I run a biz and I only use scratch recipes for traditional cakes like pound, german chocolates, carrots.... as for my decorated cakes, I use doctored (heavily) mixes... I always add an extra egg, more oil, and flavorings depending on the order. I have never had 1 customer refer to my cake as box mix.... in fact I get all panicky when I head to the grocery for mixes because I don't want to get caught... but I see it this way, I run a one woman show here and if someone else wants to do the mixing of dry ingredients let them. I know some of the box mixes have a chemical taste to them, but I don't use that brand. Also if I find a particular flavor (for instance the French Vanilla flavor in my case) has trouble... I don't use it... I pretty much stick to whites and chocolates for my boxes. Very rarely do I get a yellow request.... anyway, I just want you to know that customers don't necessarily expect scratch, in fact most of grew up on box mixes because it was convenient for the baker...so most people know that flavor... anyway, I hope you will not look at your box mix as something bad, just remember you don't make it according to the box, so other than someone doing your flower and sugar and rising agents, you are making it from scratch, it is a short cut icon_smile.gif Good luck, I hope you come to a decision you can enjoy from now on... oh and I would imagine the cost of scratch baking would be significantly more expensive, so keep that in mind...

that being said, I do plan to try the recipe posted in this thread icon_smile.gif Good luck!

FromScratch Posted 15 May 2008 , 5:07pm

Scratch is definitely more expensive.. a 10" chocolate cake with chocolate mousse and ganache would cost me at least $40 to make. Even with buttercream it would still cost $30. That is another thing to think about. I charge an arm and aleg for cakes so I can recoup the costs and make a nice profit. I have to, but being a 100% scratch baker is a great selling point so people don't mind spending the money for scratch baking.

maryjsgirl Posted 16 May 2008 , 1:17am
Quote:
Originally Posted by jkalman

Scratch is definitely more expensive.. a 10" chocolate cake with chocolate mousse and ganache would cost me at least $40 to make. Even with buttercream it would still cost $30. That is another thing to think about. I charge an arm and aleg for cakes so I can recoup the costs and make a nice profit. I have to, but being a 100% scratch baker is a great selling point so people don't mind spending the money for scratch baking.




Isn't the ganache, mousse, and buttercream most of the cost? If someone did the same cake, but with a mix the cost wouldn't be that different.

Personally for me the WASC cake that everyone loves here costs more than the scratch yellow cake that I make. That is why I never get the whole "mixes are cheaper" argument.

FromScratch Posted 16 May 2008 , 5:08am

Not really. The ganache is more expensive than buttercream, but not amazingly so. it costs me $10 to make a batch of SMBC.. $10 to make a batch of chocolate cake batter. The ganache would probably cost $12-15.. mousse around $6-10 depending on the chocolate.

Even a yellow cake is much more expensive than a box.. a bow of yellow cake mix and a thing of sour cream and an extra egg would cost $4-ish to make an 8" double layer.. my yellow cake recipe costs $7.

I'm not saying it's an astronomical difference, but some people sell their finished cakes for what it would cost me just to make the same sized cake. I am a high end baker.. I cater to people who are looking for that. It's how I market my business.. 100% scratch all the time with the best possible ingredients. I certainly could make it cheaper.. but then it wouldn't be the same and I really like using the good ingredients.

While I would never knock someone for using a mix as their base.. I would venture to say that a betty crocker chocolate mix with some pudding and an extra egg is going to be quite a bit less expensive to make than a scratch chocolate cake made with Valrhona dark chocolate. It's apples and oranges really.

Mike1394 Posted 16 May 2008 , 10:10am
Quote:
Originally Posted by jkalman


Even a yellow cake is much more expensive than a box.. a bow of yellow cake mix and a thing of sour cream and an extra egg would cost $4-ish to make an 8" double layer.. my yellow cake recipe costs $7. .




Without divulging trade secrets. How does a cake cost 7 bucks to make from scratch? My 9" base costs under 3 bucks to make. Eggs are .09, heavy cream is 2.25 a qt. Flour is .50 a lb. Sugar is 10.80 for 25#s. Butter is 2.25 #. This cake is dense, moist, and will melt in your mouth.

I put together a banana split cake last night. I did use a box mix for my center layer. It was a DH, and there was no taste to it. I do understnd why you have to DR them up. I should've, but I didn't icon_redface.gif

Mike

FromScratch Posted 16 May 2008 , 3:55pm

Vanilla beans are $3 per bean. It will also make a 10" cake. But I still have to make the whole recipe to make an 8" cake. a 6" cake I can 1/2 it. When you do a chocolate cake you are adding $4 for chocolate alone.

Eggs here are $2.10 a dozen.. That's $.15 per egg. A 10 lb bag of king arthur flour is $7.90.. That's $0.79/lb. Sour cream costs $1 per cup. Butter is $4/lb.. $1 per stick. It depends on where you are the cost of your ingredients. When I add it up in excel where I have it all calculated out to how much everything costs per cup/ounce/pound it comes to $7.895.

Could I make it for less.. yeah.. but not a whole lot less.. even using extract it's still $7. But like I said.. I market myself as a high end bakery.. where you get the best of the best.. so I have to use more expensive ingredients.. at least that's my thought on it. icon_smile.gif

Remember too that I have no issue with a baker using mixes and doctoring or not doctoring.. it's all in what you are comfortable with/like to do. I always get sketchy talking about what I do because people in teh past have taken it as me thinking what they do is below what I do and that is NOT the case at all. icon_smile.gif

Mike1394 Posted 16 May 2008 , 5:51pm
Quote:
Originally Posted by jkalman

Vanilla beans are $3 per bean. It will also make a 10" cake. But I still have to make the whole recipe to make an 8" cake. a 6" cake I can 1/2 it. When you do a chocolate cake you are adding $4 for chocolate alone.

Eggs here are $2.10 a dozen.. That's $.15 per egg. A 10 lb bag of king arthur flour is $7.90.. That's $0.79/lb. Sour cream costs $1 per cup. Butter is $4/lb.. $1 per stick. It depends on where you are the cost of your ingredients. When I add it up in excel where I have it all calculated out to how much everything costs per cup/ounce/pound it comes to $7.895.

Could I make it for less.. yeah.. but not a whole lot less.. even using extract it's still $7. But like I said.. I market myself as a high end bakery.. where you get the best of the best.. so I have to use more expensive ingredients.. at least that's my thought on it. icon_smile.gif

Remember too that I have no issue with a baker using mixes and doctoring or not doctoring.. it's all in what you are comfortable with/like to do. I always get sketchy talking about what I do because people in teh past have taken it as me thinking what they do is below what I do and that is NOT the case at all. icon_smile.gif




Yeah your prices are higher than mine. Totally understood. I have no issues with someone using a box, or scratch. Your right it's what your comfortable with.

My wife is from southern VT, and has Sisters living in Southern NH.

Mike

FromScratch Posted 16 May 2008 , 9:29pm

Cool! I love it here. I lived in central VT for a while.. up in Waterbury by the Ben&Jerry's factory. My ex-husband came from Stamford, VT which is right over the border from North Adams, MA. It's beautiful out there. I live in Epping right now.. about 15 minutes from the ocean.

2sweetcookies Posted 27 May 2008 , 9:15pm

I went out and got The Cake Bible and tried several recipes and they all came out dry, some people sear by it, is it just me??? I don;t like the idea of using a simple syrup

Mike1394 Posted 27 May 2008 , 10:15pm
Quote:
Originally Posted by 2sweetcookies

I went out and got The Cake Bible and tried several recipes and they all came out dry, some people sear by it, is it just me??? I don;t like the idea of using a simple syrup




Post a recipe. I don't have the Cake Bible.

Mike

brogi2baker Posted 29 May 2008 , 8:14pm

what box mixes do you like? I saw several posts saying betty crocker and duncan heinz tasted bad, and another was good....which one? I try to make my cakes all scratch, but have some I use boxes for. Just curious what one brand you like. thanks!

springlakecake Posted 19 Nov 2008 , 4:01pm

I guess I lost track of this thread that I started a looong time ago. I am ashamed to admit that since then I have only make TWO scratch recipes icon_redface.gif ! I think the biggest reason is that I am struggling to keep my weight reasonable and I KNOW I will eat it! Too much taste testing. Anyhow I tried Whimsical bakehouse white cupcakes... thumbsdown.gif . They tasted okay and werent exactly dry, but they sort of reminded me of corn bread texture. My friend who I made them for didnt care for them either. I also made the orange buttercake, also from the WBH. I actually did like the cake. I made mini bundt cakes. They were a little drier the next day, however, I had put a glaze of orange juice and powdered sugar on some, where that had soaked in a bit was delicious and moist. I guess this would be similar to a simple syrup? Do you all use a simple syrup on your cakes? I am sort of afraid of putting too much on, is it just a light brushing on each layer? Thanks again for all the nice responsed, I will keep working at this!

springlakecake Posted 24 Nov 2008 , 2:44pm

okay, I tried another recipe last night. A chocolate cake from Peggy Porchen's book. I don't know if I did something wrong but it was as heavy as a brick! It was horrible. It was way to dense and it didnt taste much like chocolate. It said the batter would be liquidy and mine as kind of stretchy (kind of like brownie batter).

Oh well back to the drawing board.

cupcakemkr Posted 24 Nov 2008 , 3:26pm

merissa - the perfectly chocolate cake recipe on the back of hersey's cocoa box is a great chocolate cake recipe, try replacing the hot water with strong hot coffee.

mija10417 Posted 24 Nov 2008 , 4:00pm

Merissa,

First of all, you focusing on the cake decorating part has really worked out for you. Your cakes are amazing!!!

Second of all, I like you have also struggled for a long time thinking the customers would rather have scratch even though everyone seems pretty happy with my doctored mixes. In the past year I can't begin to tell you HOW MANY scratch cake recipes I have tried. They had to be moist but could hold up to carving. After all that time I have found the best to be Sylvia Weinstocks Classic yellow cake and for chocolate I use Barefoot Contessa's chocolate cake which is the same as the one on the back of the Hershey's Box except she uses Buttermilk for the milk and coffee for the boiling water. I have tweaked it though to make it more sturdy: Add an extra egg, use cake flour instead of AP flour, use Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa and use melted butter instead of oil. Delicious and carves nice.

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