Mix or scratch: How should you prepare your desserts?

Should you make your next dessert from a mix or from scratch? 

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August 15, 2018 4 min read

Carl Sagan once said, “if you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” And while he’s technically not wrong (no universe, no pie), making any type of dessert from scratch is generally more involved than going the “mix” route.

But connoisseurs swear they taste a difference in mix versus scratch, and there’s a case to be made that mixes contain emulsifiers and other ingredients that affect texture. Still, it’s smart to weigh your options, and it certainly helps to know the pros and cons of mix versus scratch.

Cost, time and effort

Let’s say you’re baking a cake or making dessert brownies. Mixes are generally inexpensive for these purposes. There’s the price of the actual mix, which varies by brand, paired with the cost of eggs, oil, frosting and any add-on ingredients (walnuts, coconut flakes, etc.).

But when making a dessert cake from scratch, you’ll need to buy individual ingredients that would otherwise be included in the mix: butter, salt, flour, baking powder, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, milk and any other add-on ingredient you wish to include. This means scratch may be slightly more expensive per serving than mix.

However, it’s negligibly close, especially if you consider that many of the same ingredients used to make the batter from scratch can be used to make the frosting, which most mixes don’t include.

In terms of time and effort, there aren’t too many additional steps involved in making a cake from scratch; you just start with more separated ingredients that go into the batter. The preparation might take longer, but baking should take the same amount of time.

The bottom line: The mix may be marginally cheaper, but that partly depends on the dish, the brand of mix and whether you intend to make your frosting from scratch. However, flour, milk, sugar, cream and other make-from-scratch ingredients can be used in a variety of dishes, which, in a sense, adds a layer of cost-effectiveness to scratch since a mix can only be used for one type of dish. As for time and effort, scratch demands some additional prep and time spent purchasing individual ingredients. Overall, mix barely edges out scratch for cost and convenience. Mixes limit you to what’s on the market, meaning you have a smaller dessert universe to work with. This is not ideal if you want to try your hand at a variety of desserts.

If you want to get creative and expressive with your desserts, you'll need to venture beyond the mix.

If you want to get creative and expressive with your desserts, you’ll need to venture beyond the mix.

Diversity and creativity

For instance, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an apple-pie mix, a chocolate truffle mix or a tiramisu mix. Want to prepare frozen desserts such as ice cream, frozen key lime pie or a frozen cheesecake? Forget about it!

Granted, many of the individual components of say, an apple pie, come pre-prepared (e.g., crust, fruit filling, the universe). These may save you some time, but probably not that much money.

More importantly, making your desserts from scratch (whether it’s a devil’s food cake or a gluten-free rhubarb crisp) gives you more creative liberty. You have room to experiment, and an opportunity to create your own “signature” batter.

The bottom line: You can do much more when you make desserts from scratch than when you buy a mix. Sure, you can experiment and add your own unique touch to a mix. And yes, if you’re still learning, you might feel more comfortable starting off this way. But for a comparable cost and some additional time, you can create something tastier, more wholesome, more creative and ultimately more “you” by making desserts from scratch. And who knows, you might become sweet on making desserts from scratch, in which case, our online academy is a great resource for culinary enthusiasts at all levels.

Whatever you choose, remember: At least there’s no wrong way to eat dessert.

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