7 days and 7 baking packet mixes; are they tasty, easy to use and why would you find them useful if you are baking with someone who is living with dementia?
I have to admit to being a bit sniffy about packet mixes. I love cooking and find baking pretty straightforward. Baking from scratch is a perfectly reasonable activity for someone with dementia and as an activity to do with a care giver. However I can also see some significant benefits to simplifying baking in some situations and for that the packet mix could be a valuable addition to the kitchen.
Which Cake mixes did I choose?
||£ Extra ingredients
||£ Total cost
|Dr Oetker Lemon Mug Cake
|Wrights Baking Ginger Cake Mix
|Morrisons Triple Chocolate Cookie Mix
|Betty Crocker Devil's Food Cake Mix and Chocolate Frosting
|Sainsbury's Victoria Sponge Cake Mix
|Betty Winters Red Velvet Cupcake Mix
|Thorntons Marbled Cheesecake
(Apart from the supermarket's own mixes most of the products are also available in other shops. Costs for extra ingredients taken from www.tesco.com)
I've baked them all, eaten too much and asked for feedback from family, colleagues and friends.
This is what we thought......
Dr Oetker Lemon Mug Cake
Mug cakes are a trend amongst bloggers, teenagers and book publishers. Honestly, you'd have to be pretty desperate for cake to make this packet mix. It was very easy to make, just add some milk, mix it and microwave for just over a minute. The result is a rubbery, tasteless, unnatural flavour that looks as unappetising as it tastes. Definitely a thumbs down.
Wrights Baking Ginger Cake Mix
If you can manage to read the tiny type on the back of the packet this is a very tasty cake. The ginger flavour is intense (in a good way), it rose nicely and looked great. I made the mix as a tray bake but alternatively you can make it into cupcakes or muffins and there are some nice ideas on the packet for additional ingredients such as chopped nuts to add and make the cake more interesting.
Morrisons Triple Chocolate Cookie Mix
By far the tastiest bake, this is the one I have to admit to eating the lions share! If I make them again I will err on the side of cooking for lower end of the recommended cooking time so that they are a nice gooey texture rather than the crispy biscuit result I achieved. Great milk chocolate taste and quite easy to do. I made 9 cookies rather than the 6 they suggest on the packet and used melted butter so that I could stir it rather than have to rub it in (lower skill level).
Betty Crocker Devil's Food Cake Mix and Chocolate Frosting
I nearly didn't buy any of the Betty Crocker range as I was quite irritated by having to buy the frosting separately which added a significant cost and made this the most expensive mix to buy. My husband and I weren't too keen on the cake's taste "very sweet and cocoa flavoured" although the texture of the sponge was great. However my daughter took most of the cake to school and it got a resounding thumbs up from a hoard of hungry teenagers!
Sainsbury's Victoria Sponge Cake Mix
Probably the most fiddly of all the mixes with 3 different components, this packet resulted in a very acceptable cake. I took it to a friend's for tea and both adults and children agreed it was light, had a strong vanilla flavour and the flavour was reminiscent of sponge fingers. The jam provided is very sweet and looks particularly unappetising in the plastic pouches but once put together it looks pretty.
Betty Winters Red Velvet Cupcake Mix
I was pleased to see the cupcake cases included in the box, but there was too much mix for the 6 cases and they overflowed. The sponge was a little rubbery but they were saved by the icing which definitely benefits from using proper butter. I also like the fact that they include the decorative sprinkles.
Thorntons Marbled Cheesecake
Easy to read instructions and looks pretty but the general consensus was that this only tasted "ok". The added ingredients make this quite an expensive bake, the method includes a lot of chilling time in the fridge and there was a lot of washing up at the end.
And the winners are .....
Best value: Morrisons Triple Chocolate Cookie Mix Great taste for a fantastic price.
Best all-rounder: Wrights Baking Ginger Cake Mix Still at the value end of the range, the flavour was natural and memorable and it was very easy to make. Suggestions of other optional ingredients means you can remake the same cake again with a variety of results.
Best for feeding a crowd (of hungry teenagers): Betty Crocker Devil's Food Cake Mix and Chocolate Frosting Bit sweet and way too expensive for my taste and budget but I can't ignore the feedback!
Booby prize: Dr Oetker Lemon Mug Cake Really, don't bother
Tips on using cake mixes.
- Often the cake size you are making is smaller than you might be used to if you cook regularly from scratch. For example the Wrights Ginger cake as a tray bake was significantly smaller than I would normally make a tray bake, and so make sure you have the correct tins before you start.
- Many of the mixes tell you to use an electric hand whisk. Bearing in mind not everyone owns one, and a care home may not have access to one, I only used a hand / balloon whisk and each of those cakes still rose and was airy and light.
- If you can, use proper butter rather than a margerine or butter spread. The taste is much better and probably masks the 'packet mix' flavour.
- When the instructions tell you to use softened butter make sure it really is nice and soft. It will result in lump free butter icing and an easy mix. You can soften butter which has been kept in the fridge by cutting it into squares and submerging in hand warm water for a minute or two. Strain off the water and you are left with lovely soft butter.
Why use packet baking mixes as an activity with someone with dementia.
I want to re-emphasise that there is no reason to automatically assume that with the diagnosis of dementia comes the end of all normal activity. If you have dementia and still enjoy and are able to cook then keep baking! If you are working with, or are the care partner of someone with dementia and you have the skill and facilities to bake from scratch then do it. There are some circumstance though for which I think packet mixes are ideal. If you want to bake with someone but
- don't know one end of a spatula from the other
- the person with dementia has limited attention span or tires easily
- you don't have access to a well equipped kitchen
- you don't want to keep lots of ingredients in the house that you are unlikely to finish
- you work in a setting which gives you a limited time to cook
then take your pick from the mixes I've tried, or see what you can find in your local shops and bake!