March 13, 2011

Tip of the day—DIY your cakes

Yesterday I made almost 100 cupcakes.  The cost for all of those was less than $15, which includes cupcake papers, cake mixes, ingredients for the cake mixes, and homemade frosting (cream cheese, butter, and powdered sugar).  The last time I bought cupcakes at the grocery for Kid Konnection a dozen were around $3 each, meaning that if I had bought that amount at the grocery they would have cost almost twice that amount of money.  Had I bought them at a bakery, the cost would be at least three times as much, if not more. 

Do a little cost benefit analysis—I spent more time making the cakes, but hands on time wasn’t really that bad.  I made up a big batch of cake batter, popped the cupcakes in the oven, and had 15 minutes to do other activities.  The frosting takes about 5 minutes to make, and I didn’t bother piping the frosting and just used an off-set spatula.  In my humble opinion, the homemade frosting made these cupcakes far superior to grocery store frosting made with shortening and goodness knows what else.  More time, better quality and taste, less money—homemade wins that analysis for me.

A few Cake and Cupcake tips:

  • If you aren’t a baker, I recommend that you stick with a cake mix.  I have friends who are caterers and cake decorators and they say that their customers prefer cake mixes to the times that they make them from scratch.  One lady I knew years ago actually had a taste test with her friends to see what was best—homemade vs cake mix.  The boxed mix won time and again.  I’d rather put a little more time and effort into the frosting than the cake.  The exception to this rule is something like a pound cake or Bundt cake—those are denser cakes and very easy to make well. 
  • Watch for sales on cake mixes.  You shouldn’t pay more than 99cts for a boxed cake mix, as at least one brand is almost always on sale.  I recently tried the Kroger brand of yellow cake mix, and I actually like it better than Duncan Hines.  Imagine that!
  • Invest in a few good tools.  An offset spatula and a good set of piping bags and tips will make all the difference in the world in how long it takes you to ice a cake or cupcake. 
  • Sprinkles hide your mess.  If you are in a rush or have a lot of cake to frost, use an off-set spatula and add some sprinkles on top.  Voila!  You are a cake decorator!
  • There are some really pretty cupcake papers now.  You can choose reusable cups made of silicone.  You can choose grown-up colors and patterns, such as a Toile black and white swirl I recently found at Kroger.  There are even bold colors offered.  Watch for sales and stock up when you see a bargain.  Price compare at places like The Dollar Store, JoAnn’s, Target, and the grocery.
  • Homemade frosting isn’t really as hard as people make it out to be.  The easiest by far in my opinion is cream cheese frosting.  Remember that you can use rapadura if you do not want to use powdered sugar.  I recommend running it through a food processor to make it finer.  Note that it will turn the frosting a caramel like color and give it more of a caramel like taste.
  • Don’t wait until the cake is toasted before pulling it out of the oven.  You want the cake to spring back when you touch it gently with your fingertip.  When using a skewer you want the cake to ever so slightly leave crumbs on the skewer.  If it comes out completely clean, then your cake will taste dry.

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