I love cooking and baking both sweet and savoury dishes - in fact, every weekend I cook up at least one cake or batch of cookies - and I appear to have passed on my passion to the Madhouse kids. I was therefore over the moon to be picked to take part in a Betty Crocker campaign for The Insiders.
The kids are quite good at baking from scratch now but I still always have at least a couple of baking mixes in the cupboard for those days when I haven't got the time or energy, or they are in too much of a hurry to eat the fruits of their labours to waste time measuring and weighing ingredients ! We received a lovely selection of Betty Crocker products to try out - a Velvety Vanilla Cake Mix, Chocolate Fudge Brownie Mix, Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix and Velvety Vanilla Icing (which the kids can't resist scooping out of the tub with a spoon or their fingers when they think I'm not looking !).
Included in the pack was a selection of fun bakes to make - Betty's Ice Cream Cone Cakes, Brookies (a brownie and cookie hybrid), Little Fish Cupcakes, Vanilla Cupcakes with Cookies and Rocky Road Brownies.
The lovely thing about The Insiders is that we're not the only ones to have fun because we received a bundle of vouchers to hand out to friends and family. I love the fact that some of my "can't cook won't cook" mum friends have discovered how quick and simple (not to mention fun) it can be to bake, even with small children, if you use some of Betty Crocker's short cuts. Some of my earliest memories are of making cupcakes (or fairy cakes and buns, as everyone used to say back then) in the kitchen at home or the cookery room at school, so I always love keeping the tradition alive and making some happy memories for my own kids to pass on.
Here in The Madhouse kitchen, we've been using Betty Crocker products for years - just compare the then and now photos of Juliette ! - and I love the way it gives the kids total independence. You might end up with a bit of egg shell in the bowl or a cloud of cake mix wafting around the kitchen when they empty it in the bowl, but that's a small price to pay for the sense of achievement that the kids have when they eat the cakes and cookies that they made all by themselves (except for putting them in and taking them out of the oven).
I thought I knew quite a lot about the Betty Crocker brand but I learnt lots of snippets of interesting information in the project handbook. Did you know, for example, that Betty Crocker was 'born' in Minneapolis in 1921, as a fictional 'personalised' response to consumer questions at the Washburn Crosby milling company, which would later go on to become General Mills ? Apparently, Betty was named after William Crocker, one of the Washburn Crosby directors, and her first name was chosen as one of the most 'All-American' sounding names of the times. I always assumed Betty Crocker was a real person, like Mary Berry or Jane Asher ! In 1945, the fictional Betty Crocker was named the second most popular woman in the United States, second only to then-First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. That's pretty cool for someone who doesn't even exist !
Anyway, enough about Betty and on to the important thing - the products themselves. Our ultimate favourite is the ready-to-use icing. It's easy enough to make cakes and cookies from scratch, but making an icing that is as thick, creamy and rich in flavour as this is near on impossible, whether it's made with butter, margarine or even cream cheese. It holds its shape perfectly when you use an icing syringe so if you want show-stopping cupcakes, it's definitely the way to go. If you're sniggering, thinking that our sponge cake is certainly no showstopper, you're quite right, but the kids made it all by themselves and were extremely proud of the end result, however rough and ready it may look !
Our next favourite was the Chocolate Fudge Brownie Mix, which - once you've added the required oil, water and egg - makes such a rich, smooth batter that you can barely resist dipping a finger in the bowl. Everyone was lining up to lick the spoon (and yes, I know they shouldn't because it has raw egg in it but it never did me any harm when I was a child !)
There's nothing worse than a dried out brownie so I purposely undercooked mine slightly and the result was the most amazingly gooey, indulgent brownies that we have ever tasted.
As soon as the kids saw the recipe card for the Little Fish Cupcakes, they were desperate to have a go at those, so I duly threw a bag of Skittles in the shopping trolley - I forgot the foam bananas for the tails though, oops ! I created one fish to show them the idea, with coloured sweets for scales and half a Cheerio for a smile, then left them to get on with icing the rest.
They had great fun, and let their creative instincts take over so my "model" was soon forgotten !
As they used the Velvety Vanilla Cake Mix for the cupcakes, the only complicated part was being patient enough for the cakes to cool down before icing them. Juliette had a brainwave of putting them in the fridge, but even then, they were still lukewarm which is why the icing is a bit runny !
They may look a bit of a mess to grown-ups but to the Madhouse kids, these were the coolest thing ever !
How many sweets can you fit on one cupcake ?!
Pierre made me laugh when he came marching into the kitchen and said "Mum, we've run out of cakes to decorate, I need to make some more!" I donated the end of a packet of digestive biscuits and they used up the remaining icing and sweets on those. They had an absolute blast and - as Juliette succinctly put it - it was like doing crafts but at the end, you just eat everything rather than having to clear it up ! Well, what else is there to say ?!
If you want to see how Betty's Brookies come out, head over to Chez Maximka to see how Galina and her guys got on.
Disclosure : We received the products, along with some money off vouchers to hand out to friends, as part of a campaign on The Insiders.