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Baking for the Non-Baker

Mixing it up with mixes, tricks and tips for impressively easy baking!

I’ve said it before – I enjoy cooking, but I love baking. Most days I have to cook, but baking is a treat for me when I can either find the time or have a special occasion. That being said, I hate to hear someone say that they aren’t a baker. Anyone can be a baker! And to prove it, I’m going to share are some tips and tricks with you for working with store-bought mixes. 

There are, of course, some baking purists who would never bake with a mix and sure, when I have the time I choose to bake from scratch rather than with a mix. But when time is short, or you don’t have confidence in your own baking skills, or when you just want to whip up something easy and fun with your kids, don’t be afraid to go out and buy a mix or pre-made dough! There are plenty of high-quality baking mixes available these days, but my tips and tricks work just as well with those Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines classics – nothing fancy necessary. I also have no problem at all with making a mix according to the directions on the package. You really can’t go wrong. These are just some fun ways to change it up a little if you are feeling adventurous. 

If you want to cut your baking time by two-thirds, my other fun hint for dressing up a baking mix is to use your waffle iron! That’s right, make any mix according to the directions on the package, but instead of baking it in the oven, pull out that old waffle iron and put it to good use. I’ll give you some tips and tricks for this, as well.

So go on out, stock up on pre-packaged mixes, and start baking! 

Do you have a favorite baking short-cut or store-bought mix secret?  Share it with us in the comments section, below!

Soda Cake
1 Can of Soda
1 Cake mix
Your choice of frosting (make your own or buy that as well!)

That’s right … two ingredients only. Mix one can of soda with one cake mix and bake it according to the package instructions.  Don’t add any of the eggs, oil or water that the mix might call for, just the one can of soda. Some of my favorite combinations are an orange soda in a vanilla cake mix with vanilla frosting for Orange Creamsicle cupcakes, or a root beer in a chocolate cake mix for a Root Beer Barrel cake. Try a strawberry soda in a vanilla cake mix with whipped cream for a light, fresh cake. The possibilities are endless!

Soda Brownies
¾ can of soda
1 brownie mix

Same idea as the soda cake, but use slightly less than a full can of soda, mix it in with your brownie mix, pour into a greased 9x13 pan, and bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes and you will find yourself with light, amazing brownies. A cola works very well here, but try root beer or even orange soda in your brownies depending on what flavors you like with your chocolate. An old low-fat/low-calorie trick is to combine a brownie mix with a can of diet cola giving you delicious brownies that come in at around 100 calories and 1-2 grams of fat each.

Baking with Pumpkin
Pumpkin can be used in almost the same way as the sodas are, above. One 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree can be added to a brownie mix and baked according to the package (add about five minutes to the cooking time and bake until the center is no longer wet-looking or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean). This combination gives you moist, dense brownies.  You can also add a can of pumpkin to a Spice Cake mix for Pumpkin Spice Muffins. Sprinkle some cinnamon and sugar on top and bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes, and you’ll end up with delicious pumpkin muffins to impress your friends with.

Fake Fudge
1 bag of white chocolate chips
1 can of frosting (whatever flavor you would like your fudge to be)

Grease a 9x11 pan well and set aside. In a bowl, melt the white chocolate chips in the microwave in one-minute increments (stirring in between each minute) until the chocolate is smooth and melted. Whisk in the frosting (try strawberry, vanilla or chocolate) and pour into the prepared pan. Top with sprinkles or decorations if you’d like (we did hearts for Valentine’s Day) and refrigerate until the fudge is firm before cutting.

Fun with Your Waffle Iron
How many of us have a waffle iron that we never use? I did. I replaced it with a three-in-one waffle iron, panini press and indoor grill about a year ago and it was the best thing I ever did. Not only do I use the panini press and indoor grill plates all the time for quick and easy meals, but this means that I keep the entire appliance out and handy, and we’ve had all sorts of fun with the waffle plates. 

Basically anything you would bake in the oven can be “baked” as a waffle in your waffle iron. The trick is to grease the plates heavily with butter. I melt butter in a bowl and use a silicone pastry brush to brush the plates with butter before each new batch. My waffle iron makes four, 3-inch by 4 ½-inch waffles, and I find that ¼ cup of batter for each waffle is perfect, but you’ll have to adjust that depending on the size of waffles your iron makes. Also, if your waffle iron has adjustable heat settings, you should set it between medium and medium-high for baking. 

Some of our favorite breakfast waffles have been cornbread waffles from a cornbread mix (these take 3-4 minutes, and I recommend brushing them with honey as soon as they come off the waffle iron for a sweet, crunchy outside), blueberry muffin waffles from a blueberry muffin mix (3-4 minutes in the waffle iron), or my kids’ favorite is cinnamon bun waffles, made with the cinnamon buns that you can find in the dairy section in a tube.  Place the buns straight into your waffle iron and in 2-3 minutes you have fresh cinnamon bun waffles that you can spread that gooey icing all over and serve warm. 

We’ve also made all sorts of dessert waffles. Both brownie mix and store-bought chip cookie dough make delicious waffles. Either will take about four minutes in the waffle iron, and then try serving them hot with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (or both!) for a crowd-pleasing dessert.

Happy Non-Baking!

Jeanne Brown February 19, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Okay, I'll give this a shot...I really want to try the pumpkin spice muffins and the fake fudge looks like something fun to do with the kids. Question on the soda cakes--regular or diet?
Amy Simmons February 20, 2012 at 12:11 PM
I would go with a regular soda with the cakes. It probably wouldn't matter, but the cakes are a lighter flavor than brownies, and I'm sensitive to the taste of artificial sweeteners. I don't find them overwhelming when spread out over an entire batch of chocolatey brownies, but in a cake I'd worry about their taste being too overwhelming. Unless you don't mind them, in which case it shouldn't matter which kind of soda you use!

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