Maryland Delights, Act II : Baking Mixes

Maryland Delights, Act II : Baking Mixes

Last week I told you about the Chocolate Cremes that Alicia had sent me in her Foods From Maryland parcel. This parcel, neatly packed up in a large box of chicken bakes, also contained three boxes of assorted baking mixes.

We do have baking mixes in France of course (yup, got ’em about the same time as electricity, early last year), but they are mostly for French specialties : crêpes, madeleines, gâteau au chocolat, entremets, crème renversée… We have dry mixes, but also liquid mixes, where the batter is completely ready to use, in a soft stand-up pouch (I just had to use the word “pouch”, it’s one of my favorites). I’ve never bought any of those mixes though, and I’m not sure how good they are, or how well they sell. Especially the latter “just-dump-it-in-a-pan” type, which seem to rob the pseudo-baker of all the fun and glory : hey, at least give me a chance to beat a darn egg in, pretend I am of some use!

We don’t even have a proper word for baking mixes. They’re called “préparation pour <fill in the blank>”. But anyway, try as we might, we could never have reached the coolness level of the expression “baking mix”. How wonderful and magic do those two simple words sound? Baking Mix. They evoke such a vivid image of the All-American home-maker in the fifties – cheerful and rosy-cheeked, with a fluffy polka-dotted skirt and pointy breasts, whipping up a batch of cupcakes for her hand-clapping little kids, a boy and a girl, blond and neatly combed – that I can’t help but feel excited to hold a box in my hands. Especially when it is as great as the ones Alicia selected for me.

The first box is for blueberry muffins, and the brand is “Raga Muffins”. I thought it an ever-so-cheeky name, but was rather surprised to see that the brand’s logo was a little girl’s head with curly hair. To me, a ragamuffin was more a weed-smokin’ rastafarian reggae enthusiast with a big Jamaican cap and a thick mane of dreadlocks, but the Merriam-Webster tells me that it is, in fact “a ragged often disreputable person; especially : a poorly clothed often dirty child”. Which denotes the good image reggae fans benefit from, and explains the little girl on the box, too. Now that you mention it, her hair does seem a little unruly. In any case, that baking mix sounds lovely, it was Alicia’s favorite as a kid, and you can even make muffins in the microwave! Muffins! Microwave! What could be more American than that! Although, as a stern, lawsuit-repellant disclaimer warns us, hopes must not be set too high, for this baking method may lead to less-than-stellar results. We’ll probably go for the conventional oven method, and Maxence will be delighted, for he is truly a blueberry muff fan. And he likes reggae, too.

The second box is for corn muffins. Oh, Cornbread, Cornbread, I’ve missed you so! Cornbread muffin mix, in the Jiffy brand (any connection with the lube I wonder?), is actually the first mix I ever used, upon our arrival in the US. Maxence knew about them, and said “we have to get these”. But corn? in bread? for muffins? didn’t that sound weird? I was very soon convinced though, and boy, did we fight for the last one! This was one in a string of things I reluctantly tried, thought I wouldn’t like, but did. It is actually around that time, four years ago, that I officially converted from assuming food wouldn’t taste good until proven otherwise, to assuming I would like it, until proven otherwise. So cornbread has a special value to me, I call it “conversion bread”. No, I just made that up.

And the last and final box is a box of Old-Fashioned Spoon Bread mix, in the Washington brand, just like the corn muffins. Hm. Wonder how he found the time to bake. Baking mixes, I suppose! I had never heard of Spoon Bread, so I looked it up : “soft bread made of cornmeal and sometimes rice or hominy; must be served with a spoon (chiefly Southern)”. Which only brings us to the next question : what in the world is hominy? “Dried white or yellow corn kernels with their hulls and germ removed. Also called ‘samp’. Ground hominy is called ‘grits’. This popular staple in the South and Southwest came to us from the Algonquin Indians.” Aha! Grits! Heard of ’em, never had ’em! So grits or no grits, that’ll be a very interesting tasting session. The box has directions to make a tempting spoon bread cheese soufflé (nothing too wildly ambitious, just add grated cheese), so although the rule of thumb should be “taste the thing on its own first”, I have a hard time doing that, and we may branch out on this one — fret not, you’ll be the first to know.

And stay tuned for the writeup of the last item in Alicia’s package!

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  • “at least give me a chance to beat a darn egg, pretend I am of some use!”

    It’s funny you should mention that. Just yesterday, I was listening to All Things Considered on NPR and they interviewed, Laura Shapiro, an author who wrote Something From the Oven, a book about the emergence of convenience foods in the ’50s. She related a story about the original boxed cake mix: The first version to market had powdered eggs, and the only additional ingredient needed was water. The boxes sat on the shelf. Women felt that this was some sort of irresponsible way to show their love for their family, since no effort was needed to baje the cake. The marketers just could not make this product attractive to housewives. Then a consumer psychologist suggested that they omit the powdered egg, letting the consumer add in their own egg, thus letting the consumer feel useful in the baking process. It also produced a better cake since powdered egg did not make for the best results. Wouldn’t you just know, the new product sold like hotcakes (sorry, couldn’t resist).

    If you are interested, you can read an excerpt from the book and listen to a recording of that segment of yesterday’s show here:

  • nattie (back from running away howling with despair)

    My first reaction to this post: “I love Clotilde! She mentions pointy breasts on a food blog!”

    Moving right along… I thought a raga muffin would be something exotic and Indian and possibly musical ;-)

    As for cornbread… mmm! I must make some of that sometime soon. You wouldn’t believe how difficult (in a silly way) it is to get cornmeal around here – you can find it cheaply in the Chinese supermarket of all places, but regular shops seem baffled by such a request. Harrumph.

    Nope, no real point to this comment, just me being vvv silly :-)

  • John A.

    Hi Clotilde: long-time reader, first-time poster.

    This is the most yummy thing to do with Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix.

    1 can whole kernel corn, drained
    1 can creamed corn
    2 eggs, beaten
    1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
    1 stick butter, melted
    1 c. sour cream
    1/4 – 1/2 tsp. garlic powder (opt.)
    Shredded cheese (opt.)

    Mix all ingredients except cheese. Sprinkle shredded cheese on top, if desired. Bake in casserole dish or 9″x13″ baking dish for 30 to 45 minutes or until fully cooked in center.

    Personally, I omit the cheese (adds no flavor, really) and substitute finely minced onion for the garlic powder.

    I make this for carry-in dinners, and get raves far out of proportion to the effort involved.

  • carla

    i’m not really a baking mix kind of gal, but jiffy cornbread is one that i enjoy without guilt…makes great pancakes, too. also, bisquick is a brilliant blank canvas for many bakeable treats.

    that book “something from the oven” was featured in the nytimes last week. really interesting stuff about food marketing from that era. who knew? i bet my own foodie mom was lured in by some of it!

  • Sophie

    I had a lot of pleasure reading your baking powder article, especially the remarks like ‘yup.early last year”……. and dump-em …………just wanted to let you know that I like your blog!

    By the way I linked your blog to my site (NL only no use of mentioning it)

    Greetings from Holland

  • cheesy chilaquiles

    A box of Jiffy Cornbread Mix added to an 18.5 ounce box of Yellow Cake Mix (and all the ingredients called for by each recipe printed on the back of each box) makes a perfectly delicious roadshow version of “Amor Polenta”, a classic Florentine Corn Meal Cake. Bake this in a deerback loaf pan (as do the Italians) and sift powdered sugar lightly overall. Nice!

  • You have electricity now? (Kidding!)

    Spoon bread is great stuff. My mom used to make it as a side dish. It’s a country cousin of a souffle (and not as tempramental).

    That Ragamuffin box is awfully cute. Have fun!

  • Holly – Thanks for the story and link, the book sounds very interesting! I miss NPR…

    Nattie – Oh, I’m with you, who ever said comments had to have a point? :)

    John A – That recipe sounds really good, thanks! I don’t think we can get creamed corn here though. What’s in it?

    Carla – Oh, would you share how to make pancakes from a cornbread baking mix?

    Sophie – Thanks for the comment and the link! And even if it’s in dutch, I’d be interested in seeing your site. What’s it about?

    Cheesy – That cake sounds good, I’d never heard of Amor Polenta…

    Charlotte – Did your mom make the spoon bread from scratch?

  • shelley

    mmm, spoon bread.
    Try it with butter and jam.
    Primo comfort food.
    What a great site!

  • Clotilde, yes, my mother did make spoonbread from scratch. We lived in California, not the South, so spoonbread mixes were not stocked at the grocers. She’s a pretty good scratch home baker.

    I had no idea there were mixes! I obviously zoomed right by them at the grocery in Charleston (SC).

  • .kaite boltain

    can you send me a recipe from the fifties on a lovely chocolate cake or what was populat at the time please to my email

  • .kaite boltain

    can you send me a recipe from the fifties on a lovely chocolate cake or what was populat at the time please to my email

  • .kaite boltain

    can you send me a recipe from the fifties on a lovely chocolate cake or what was populat at the time please to my email

  • .kaite boltain

    can you send me a recipe from the fifties on a lovely chocolate cake or what was populat at the time please to my email

  • .kaite boltain

    can you send me a recipe from the fifties on a lovely chocolate cake or what was populat at the time please to my email

  • .kaite boltain

    can you send me a recipe from the fifties on a lovely chocolate cake or what was populat at the time please to my email

  • lawrence skeete


  • In Italy

    Greetings all,

    To spice up the muffins add corn, some diced onion and jalapenos. The amount will depend upon your specific preference.

  • E

    I can no longer find the “Washington Spoon Bread Mix”.
    Does anyone know what company made the mix and how to contact them to find out information? Thanks

  • Louzetta Kellam

    Could you tell me where I could get “Washington Old Fashion Spoon Bread Mix”? Our stores use to carry it and now they don’t. It is the greatest.

  • Louzetta kellam

    Anyone out there know where I an find “Washington Spoon Bread Mix”. Sure would mean allot.

  • I am trying desperately to find the ‘Washington’ brand of mixes. It was in a small yellow box – Spoon bread, gingerbread and others. I use to buy it at grocery but since we moved I cannot find or find the company to order on line. Please help if you can get me a contact for them.

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  • Its nice article, thanks for sharing!

    Daftar Taruhan Euro Via Mobile

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