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Commercial cake mixes are easy, well-tested and are a quick and simple way to make an oil cake, a type of shortened cake, that are especially light and fluffy. They were introduced by Pillsbury and General Mills in 1947-1948, but other have joined in since. They are a commercial mixture of dry(and many times dried fats as well) ingredients that are intended to save you time and baking ability in the kitchen.
With a cake mix you simply place the liquid ingredients, usually eggs, oil and water into your mixing bowl, add the dry mix, stir to moisten and beat for the amount of time listed in the box's directions, and then, bake. To doctor a cake mix and boost the flavor, you can try lemon zest, coffee, unsweetened cocoa powder, peppermint schnapps or fresh strawberries. To make it richer and to yield more servings, add more flour, sugar, milk, sour cream, eggs, and flavorings.
Commercial cake mixes often contain surfactants in their shortenings. These compounds improve texture and flavor, and aid in the emulsification of ingredients and the incorporation of air into the batter, which improves volume. Examples of surfactants are monoglycerides, diglcerides, polysorbate 60, sorbitol-fatty acid esters, glycerol-lactic acid esters, and propylene glycol-fatty acid esters. Batter viscosity and stability is often improved by added hydrophilic colloids such as gums and carboxymethyl cellulose.
SARAH SAYS: Some shun cake mixes and criticize those who bake with them as not being a true baker. I have the opposite view -- whatever gets a person to experience home baking and be successful at it, so much the better! You can take just as much pride in baking something from a box as you can from a recipe. Also, it's a great way to start learning how to bake a cake.