Friday, January 22, 2010

Of COURSE I made it from scratch…

Long before Sandra Lee had a show on Food Network (damn you FoodTV for not discovering me and making me rich!) people have been making semi-homemade stuff. My Bachi (grandmother, for you non-Polacks) would do it all the time. It's a great trick to make something special when you're short on time.

(And it makes a great blog post when you're short on time.)

If you aren't familiar with playing the substitute/add-in game, may I also suggest Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food "cookbook," which does a nice and easy job of explaining why certain ingredients act the way they do in baking - so you don't end up with a scary mess in your oven.

(There's plenty of non-baked semi-homemade creations to talk about. For the sake of simplicity, I'm focusing on baking here.)

I use whatever boxed package is on sale most of the time, but I tend to lean towards Pilsbury and Betty Crocker… with the exception of Ghiradelli for brownies (if it's on sale).

Ideas for Chocolate Cake or Brownies:

Up the chocolate content by adding cocoa powder, but if you add more than a table spoon, start taking out some of the fat (like the oil or butter).

Adding up to 1/3 cup chocolate chips to most any cake or brownie batter won't mess up the setting either.

For absolutely decadent chocolate cake or brownies, substitute half the water (if water is called for in the mix) for chilled coffee. (If water is not called for, add 1 ounce coffee and 1 tablespoon flour.)

Add up to 1/2 a shot (also known as a Pony) of your favorite sweet alcohol. (Personal favorites are amaretto, Irish cream, cherry brandy, and coffee liquor).

Ideas for Butter Cake or White Cake:

Add alcohol or chocolate chips per the above recommendations.

Zest one lemon or one orange and add that to the mix.

Replace one egg with 1/4 cup applesauce (or peach sauce if you have it.)

Replace up to half the water (if water is called for in the mix) with chilled green tea or oolong tea. (Bonus: dissolve a teaspoon of honey in tea while hot). (If water is not called for, add 1 ounce tea and 1 tablespoon flour.)

Ideas for Quick Breads:

Replace all or part of any oil component with fruit or vegetable matter. (For example, 1/3 cup canned pumpkin for the 1/3 oil. Works for applesauce, peach sauce, and can be half-substituted with orange marmalade or cranberry sauce.)

Add lemon or orange zest (particularly good with cranberry bread.

Add nuts.

Replace up to half the liquid with coffee (good for pumpkin) or tea (good for cranberry, apple, and lemon poppyseed).

Replace up to half the liquid with juice or cider.

Turn into an upside-down cake:

For apple cake: slice apples, spice them with cinnamon, sugar, and clove; layer them in the bottom of a well-greased cake pan and add quick bread mix (With apple-pie spices mixed in).

Candied orange slices work well atop cranberry quick bread, as do candied lemon slices atop lemon poppyseed. For either the orange-cranberry or the lemon, sliced almonds also work on top - as does a splash of almond extract in the batter.

Just because your cakes, breads, or brownies come from a box doesn't mean that you can't turn them into a special dish all your own. Learn how the ingredients work, and what flavors work together, and have some fun!


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