Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Doing Odd Things With Cake Mixes

I aim to stay away from the highly processed foods of modern life. I have every intention to eat plain foods cooked at home, and here on Droop Mountain, far from fast food outlets and big, variety-filled grocery stores, there's not all that much temptation to stray from the path.

However, I also have a deep-seated need for bargains, so when there's a really good sale on cake mix boxes in Marlinton, I simply must stock up. Besides making "normal" cakes as the box directs, I like to try non-standard variations.

Last month, I made a sour cherry cake that turned out pretty well. I prepare cherry pie filling with our own sour cherries and freeze it for pies throughout the year. It's really simple, although our cherries are small, and pitting a quart of them takes quite a while.

I used a yellow cake mix as directed, except that I left out all the water the box called for, and substituted the quart of thawed out pie filling. The stuff I make is much runnier than canned commercial pie filling, and the batter I got was much wetter than that of a normal cake mix, so it took longer to bake.

I topped it with chocolate cream cheese frosting, and we really liked the results. I'm the only one who likes cherry pie at our address, so this is something I can make for a change. I think next time, I'll try a chocolate cake mix, for, perhaps, a pseudo-Black Forest cake.

Sour Cherry Pie Filling
1 quart (four cups) pitted sour cherries, and their juice
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour

Mix in a bowl, pour into a quart-sized freezer container,
and freeze until you're ready to bake a pie.

(Of course, you could just go ahead and make a pie crust and have
a pie right away.)
Cherry Cake
1 box yellow or white cake mix. (Chocolate might be good,
    but I don't know for sure.)
3 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 quart of frozen sour cherry pie filling, thawed.

Beat the eggs to mix, add oil, pie filling, and cake mix. Mix
ingredients thoroughly, and pour into a greased 9" x 13" pan.

Bake at 350 degrees F until a toothpick inserted in the center
of the cake comes out clean. My cake took about 50 minutes,
but this will vary depending on how wet your pie filling is.

This winter, I had a few cake mix boxes nearing their expiration date, so I tried a recipe I had "digitally clipped " from Hints from Heloise: Cake Mix Cookies. Here's her basic recipe.

Cake Mix Cookies
1 (18.25-ounce) box cake mix
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Choose your favorite flavor--I like chocolate,
and the lemon mix makes tasty lemon cookies.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix only the above ingredients
(although you can add 1/4 cup chopped nuts, raisins or
chocolate chips) in a large bowl until blended. Drop the
batter by spoonfuls about 2 inches apart onto an ungreased
baking sheet. Bake on the middle rack for 8-10 minutes,
watching them carefully. They'll brown quickly, so stand by
the oven for the first batch. 

I made a batch of chocolate cookies with no inclusions, and they were quick to make and tasty, although much sweeter than homemade cookies. For my second batch, I used a yellow cake mix, added a scant cup of chocolate chips, and made the cookies very, very small. A normal-sized drop cookie would have just been too, too sweet. These didn't last long, so I'm not the only one who liked them. Next, I'm going to try chopped nuts, or maybe a little cooked oatmeal, to cut the sweetness and add heft.

When I was a teenager in Iowa, a hot new recipe making the rounds was the "Dump Cake." It was yet another riff on the non-standard cake mix recipe, and I remember liking it. However, I moved to Connecticut for grad school, and Yankees are way too sophisticated for cake mixes. (They go to the store and buy Carvel's or Entemann's, which are, no doubt, all natural and hand-made products.) Anyway, after an evening of ridicule at the potluck, I quit making "Dump Cakes" (a really unfortunate name) and lost the recipe.

However, Heloise has come through for me again this month, with This Cake Is in the Dumps, and, bless her heart, she provides a prettier name, The No-Mix Cherry-Pineapple Nut Cake.

Dear Heloise: I have lost my copy of your recipe for DUMP CAKE. Could you please provide me with a copy? -- Carolyn Stonesifer, via e-mail

I believe you are requesting the NO-MIX CHERRY-PINEAPPLE NUT CAKE, because you just dump the ingredients into the pan. It is an easy-yet-delicious cake to make. This is what you need:

1 (20-ounce) can of crushed pineapple in heavy syrup
1 (21-ounce) can of cherry pie filling
1 (2-layer size) package of yellow cake mix
1 (3-ounce) package of pecans, or 1 cup chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine (chilled works best)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Spread the pineapple with its syrup evenly in the prepared pan. Spoon the pie filling evenly over the pineapple. Sprinkle the dry cake mix evenly over the fruits, then sprinkle the chopped nuts over all. Slice the butter into thin slices, then place the pieces evenly over the top. Bake for 50 minutes or until golden. Serve warm. Makes 12 servings.

This is only one of many unique and delicious recipes in my fabulous four-page cake pamphlet. To order a copy, just send $3 and a long, self-addressed, stamped (61 cents) envelope to: Heloise/Cake, P.O. Box 795001, San Antonio, TX 78279-5001. Extra tip: This cake also can be made with other fruit combinations, like pineapple/strawberry, pineapple/apple, pineapple/blueberry, apple/cherry, etc. Serve it with vanilla ice cream and/or whipped cream. -- Heloise

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