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New to scratch cakes...advice on picking recipes, long sorry

post #1 of 71
Thread Starter 
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 and i am a bit overwhelmed. Thanks for any advice
post #2 of 71
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:

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.

Don't get tired of doing what is good. Don't get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time.
Galations 6:9, NLT

Author of "The Sugar Fix" cookbook and "Bloomin' Garden" DVD.
Don't get tired of doing what is good. Don't get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time.
Galations 6:9, NLT

Author of "The Sugar Fix" cookbook and "Bloomin' Garden" DVD.
post #3 of 71
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!
post #4 of 71
Thread Starter 
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!
post #5 of 71
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
post #6 of 71
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.

Promote Frostitution - eat a cupcake!

Promote Frostitution - eat a cupcake!
post #7 of 71
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. 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.
post #8 of 71
Thread Starter 
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!!
post #9 of 71
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

Promote Frostitution - eat a cupcake!

Promote Frostitution - eat a cupcake!
post #10 of 71
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.

post #11 of 71
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 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
post #12 of 71
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.
post #13 of 71

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
post #14 of 71
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.
Accountant by day....Masked baker by night!
Accountant by day....Masked baker by night!
post #15 of 71
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.
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