Back-of-the-box cooking

Spaghettiville Bridge/Photo by Flickr user pag2525 used under a Creative Commons license

I have a soft spot for recipes from the back of the box. They tend to be earnest and straightforward—never anything too difficult or unconventional—and seem to me to represent a kind of cheerful, all-American “you can do it!” approach to cooking. Sort of like Rosie the Riveter, only in your kitchen, and lives are not at stake.

My favorite brownies are the ones on the back of the Baker’s unsweetened chocolate box. My friend Jordana’s excellent macaroni and cheese is from the back of the Prince elbow macaroni box.* There are some suspect box recipes, to be sure—anyone remember the recipe for “Cheez-It chicken or chops” that used to grace the back of the Cheez-Its box? That always seemed weird to me, but it seems that people make it.

I bought a package of Baker’s semisweet baking chocolate a few weeks ago for a Martha Stewart dark chocolate espresso cookie recipe and happened to notice a recipe for molten chocolate cake on the back. It had five ingredients and looked like something I could make in my sleep. “New Year’s Eve,” I said to myself. Then last week Jay and I went to Barnes & Noble, and I was thumbing through the new New York Times cookbook and noticed that they have deemed molten chocolate cake passe. I got annoyed, but then I realized a few things:

1. If this cake is so passe, why did you print a recipe for it in your cookbook, Amanda Hesser? Answer me that.
2. The New York Times isn’t coming to my house for dinner, so they won’t know I’m making a non-trendy dessert, and there will be more chocolate cake for me to enjoy.
3. Elsewhere, the same cookbook admonished me not to serve latkes with sour cream (applesauce only, it said).** What do these people know?!

And last but not least:

4. Chocolate. It is good.

Armed with righteous indignation, I made the recipe on New Year’s Eve. As written on the box, it makes six cakes, but I thirded it—easy enough to do because it calls for three eggs—and made two.

The batter is, as I suspected, ridiculously easy to assemble. The hardest part was probably getting the baking time right. My oven runs about 20 degrees hot and doesn’t have any kind of preheat indicator, so you just close your eyes and hope for the best. And monitor everything very carefully the first time you make it. I left the cakes in for 13 minutes, but next time I will go with 12 to get more oozing action in the center.

I do recommend dusting them with powdered sugar, because they’re a little funny-looking on their own. I know the version of the recipe I linked to is for a smaller number of cakes and says to top them with Cool Whip, but I don’t buy Cool Whip, and the box made no mention of it. The box does say that a serving is half a cake, and maybe we’re just pigs, but we had a full cake each. They’re small!


Chocolate. It is good.

*I can’t believe I’m relegating this to a footnote, but Prince used to have a big plant in Lowell. The plant is gone, but the bridge remains.

**I didn’t know what to make of the prohibition on sour cream. Misguided snobbery? Anti-Russian propaganda? Foolishness? We will never know, but I can tell you that I grew up eating latkes with sour cream, and you will pry the Breakstones container FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS.

5 Responses to “Back-of-the-box cooking”
  1. Sheena says:

    Desserts can be passe? This makes me sadder than it should.

    • Katy says:

      In New York Times Land, apparently. In the real world, I don’t know. I guess there are all sorts of old-fashioned desserts that no one eats anymore, but I don’t see molten chocolate cake entering the territory of strange British puddings anytime soon.

  2. Dave says:

    The best chocolate chip cookies are on the back of the chocolate chip bag (Toll House or Nestle are the same, as is, I think, even Ghirardelli).

  3. Vrylena says:

    Sour cream on everything is one of the great gifts that Russia has given to the world, like the pictures of a topless Putin with a horse and Nabokov.


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