>> Friday, April 23, 2010
Second Son had a birthday recently, and this is the cake I made for him:
Frugal bloggers often repeat the message that you can save money on groceries by cooking from scratch. From my own experience, I can tell you that's true...sometimes. But sometimes, from-scratch food is more expensive. For example, I can get a box of macaroni and cheese for something like $0.35 at Aldi, and recently I even bought Annie's organic mac and cheese for $0.50 a box at Kroger. There's no way I could come close to making organic mac and cheese from scratch for $0.50. Does boxed mac and cheese taste as good as homemade? Absolutely not...but it works in a pinch.
I think that's the big take-home message: If you're short on time or don't need gourmet flavor every night, stick with a box or jar or can. If you want to make really good tasting food for less than it costs to buy already prepared really good tasting food, cook from scratch.
That's totally the lesson I've learned about birthday cakes. A boxed cake mix and a tub of frosting costs about $3.50, or less if you buy them on sale. But I really don't like cake mix. I mean really, really don't. For most of my life, I skipped the cake on my birthday and went with pie. And then we lived in the DC suburbs and discovered this amazing bakery called Cake Love. Holy schmoly! That's some good (expensive) cake!
So when comparing the cost of making a cake from scratch, I'm less concerned with the cost of a box mix that I don't enjoy and more concerned with the cost of a really good cake from a bakery.
The first step is finding a good basic recipe. Here's the one I use:
from McCall's Cooking School
2 1/2 c. sifted all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. butter
2 c. sugar
1 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
- Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour two round 9 inch cake pans or one 9X13 rectangular pan.
- Sift flour with baking powder and salt.
- In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Continue beating 2 minutes.
- At low speed, beat in flour mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour.
- Add vanilla. Beat just until smooth.
- Pour the batter into prepared pans. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until surface springs back when gently pressed with finger.
- Cook in pans on wire racks 10 minutes.
- Remove from pans. Cook completely before frosting.
To make my son's cake, I followed these steps:
1 c. orange juice
grated orange peel
1 20 oz. can crushed pineapple
1 c. coconut
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. coarsely chopped pecans
1/4 c. melted butter
2 c. heavy cream
- Using basic yellow cake recipe, replace milk with 1 c. orange juice. Stir grated orange peel into the batter.
- Turn 1/4 of the cake batter into each pan. Using a spoon, spread each with 1/2 c. crushed pineapple.
- Spoon remaining batter evenly over the pineapple.
- Place cake pans on center rack in oven and back for about 30 minutes or until surface springs back when gently touched with fingertip.
- Mix coconut, brown sugar, pecans, and melted butter.
- At the end of the baking time, remove layers from the oven. Spoon praline mixture onto the surface of one layer; return it to the oven and bake for 10 more minutes.
- Let second layer cool slightly in pan and then transfer it to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Remove praline layer from the oven; cool slightly. Move to wire rack to cool completely.
- Beat cream at high speed until stiff peaks hold when beaters are lifted. Place plain cake layer on a platter; spread with half the cream and remaining pineapple.
- Add the praline-topped layer; frost sides with remaining cream, piping rosettes on top. Garnish with maraschino cherries.
*Note that all costs are estimates based on prices in my area and that I use organic ingredients whenever possible. Your costs may vary.
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