I’m going to make a little confession here. While I cook our meals from scratch, I don’t always bake from scratch. Since I try not to bake that often (because we eat it all) and occasionally need to bake a large quantity of goodies for a bake sale here and there, I have a secret weapon in my recipe file.
My secret weapon is cake mix. I happily push the “easy button” when that boxed mix is opened. And since the finished product was baked in my oven, it still qualifies as homemade. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Cake mix has been part of American history since the 1930s, although it didn’t really get going until after World War II. There’s a long story about how the grain mills had too much flour after the war and needed a way to sell it, and another story about how there was too much molasses and that also needed to be sold.
Baking a cake, cookies or sweet bread from scratch requires having on hand a whole list of fresh ingredients. Following the Great Depression, families didn’t necessarily have all the ingredients on hand to bake.
The short story is that someone developed a dehydrated combination of wheat flour, molasses, sugar, shortening, salt, baking soda, powdered whole egg, ginger, and cinnamon that home cooks could re-hydrate with water, then bake and fill their home with wonderful, wholesome, homemade scents all while “just adding water.”
It wasn’t long before folks started feeling like they weren’t really “baking” when they just added the water, so a new mix was created minus the powdered eggs, and called for “two of your own fresh eggs,” which made the sales take off again.
Add easily-made and ready-made frosting, and boxed cake mixes flew off the shelves again.
Some of the first flavors of cake mix that were introduced to the hungry public were fruit and nut breads, and also two of my favorites today – devil’s food and spice cake. The mixes sold for 21 cents, and came in a 14-ounce can.
Cake mixes have so many flavors and are incredibly versatile dessert bases. If I’m using a boxed mix, I typically spruce it up with more spices, vanilla, nuts and chocolate chips, pudding mix (another mix) or other add-ins, depending on what the goal is.
I have re-discovered an old friend in cake mix cookies. Years ago, I made Cool Whip Cookies which called for a tub of Cool Whip, a box of cake mix and an egg or two, if memory serves. Then, I discovered too many unknown ingredients in Cool Whip and gave it up, also giving up my cookie monster way of life.
My participation in bake sales over the last few years has reignited my appreciation for cake mix cookies. When one box of cake mix, 2 eggs, a ½ cup of oil and 10 minutes in the oven will yield 24 good-sized chewy cookies, I take note and appreciate it.
For a bake sale this past weekend, I grabbed boxes of devil’s food chocolate, white, yellow and spice cake mixes. I added a cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips to the devil’s food, a cup of M&Ms that I bought specifically for the cookies to the white, a cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips to the yellow, and rolled the balls of spice cake (with my added cinnamon and ginger) in granulated sugar.
Using a cookie scoop, I was able to produce two dozen cookies per box of cake mix, uniform size and shape, with so much ease that it almost made me feel guilty about not measuring out cups and teaspoons of ingredients and not having a huge powdery mess to clean up. Almost. And oh, our home smelled so wonderful.
The will-power that it took to only try a chocolate chip cookie was something otherworldly… but to bake all those cookies, package them and donate them to a great cause was motivation to keep my sticky fingers out of the cooling racks.
I cannot stress enough how easy this cookie “recipe” is… just try not to eat the whole batch while they’re still warm.
Cake Mix Cookies
(Prep time: 10 minutes. Bake time: 10 minutes. Seriously easy.)
1 (15.25 ounce) box cake mix
½ cooking oil (vegetable, melted coconut oil, avocado oil, etc.)
2 large eggs
1 cup of mix-ins (optional – your options are nearly endless!)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine the cake mix, oil and eggs in a large bowl. Stir until combined. If you have the time, refrigerated the dough for at least 15 minutes – it will be firmer and easier to scoop.
Using a medium scoop or spoon, scoop the dough onto your prepared baking sheet (I used two and baked two dozen at a time). Bake for 9-11 minutes until cookies are set (lightly press the edge of the cookie – if it’s firm and springs back, it’s set), remove from oven and let cool on sheet for a few minutes before transferring them to cooling rack.