Can you make a good gluten-free carrot cake from a box cake mix?
What are your thoughts about box cake mixes? Time-saver or time-waster?
I grew up thinking they were a cheat's way forward and they didn't do you any favours when it came to the actual cake. For me it was a pound cake recipe and a wooden spoon all the way. Coo, it didn't half take a long time to mix!
But going gluten-free made me re-evaluate a lot of things. Cake came pretty close to the top of the list. I quickly realised I couldn't bake a decent one with my old recipes. Add a demanding job into the mix and suddenly time wasn't on my side.
Plus, seeing all the new gluten-free box mixes piqued my curiosity. Maybe cake mixes had got better. I knew gluten-free stuff had. Why couldn't cake mixes be the same?
But going gluten-free made me re-evaluate a lot of things. Cake came pretty close to the top of the list. I quickly realised I couldn't bake a decent one with my old recipes. Add a demanding job into the blend and suddenly time wasn't on my side. .
Firstly, I was rather pleased to see I only needed to add 4 ingredients. Three if you don't count water. (Oil, milk and an egg, if you're wondering, or just oil & dairy-free milk if you want a vegan version.) You may remember me moaning not so long ago about finding a banana bread mix that required you to add bananas. I mean, come on! That's not banana bread mix. That's bread mix. Admittedly, real bananas wouldn't last very long in a box mix, but there are ways around the problem...
...And with the carrot cake box mix they've made them freeze-dried. (Carrots, that is, not bananas.) They looked a bit odd, admittedly, but who cares if you haven't actually had to peel and grate a carrot yourself?
A lot of liquid was required. Milk and water, both in quite large quantities. Now I know a good gluten-free cake needs more liquid than a regular one (it's thirsty work being gluten-free) but this seemed a bit much. Still, I did as I was told, and ended up with pancake batter.
The next bit was even more dubious. The box reckons you make either 12 muffins or 2 x 20cm sandwich tins.
Being someone who bakes quite a bit, I was sure the mixture was only enough for one sandwich tin. Holding my breath, I lined two anyway and poured in the mixture.
The recipe recommended 25 minutes on a low heat (160 Celsius) and was spot on with timing.
They looked pretty good when they came out of the oven but...
As I suspected, they were wafer thin!
However, a few lashings of thick yogurt later and I was confident the cake would be an acceptable height in the end.
Sure enough, a beautifully coloured cake sat before me with a wonderful aroma.
And it wasn't long before some small people and I tucked into a hefty slice. One of us even sneaked back for seconds (*blushes*).
So what's my verdict? On the plus side, everything is very quick and you get a nice-tasting cake, if slightly too moist (that'll be all that liquid).
But it's not a patch on making your own from scratch and I felt a part of me sighing as I took my first bite.
That said, if you're not someone who has a pantry stuffed with fresh goods, Free & Easy shows it's possible to make a cake using ingredients with a long shelf life (vegan milk lasts up to a month in the fridge). Plus, the great beauty of cake mixes is you can just shove all the ingredients in and mix them up in seconds. I reckon you could be box to oven in 6 minutes, including lining the cake tins, and that's pretty good when you're a coeliac who's short on time.