Betty Crocker's Cooky Book
by Betty Crocker Editors
Published by John Wiley & Sons
156 pages, 2002
101 Things to do With A Cake Mix
by Betty Crocker
Published by John Wiley & Sons
255 pages, 2002
Reviewed by Carem Bennett
Fact: there is no such person as Betty Crocker, nor -- as the General Mills Co, who owns Betty's identity are the first to admit -- has there ever been.
According to General Mills, Betty Crocker was created in 1921 when the Gold Medal Flour Company ran a contest. The company received thousands of entries and "a flood of questions about baking." The company says that Betty Crocker was created "as a signature to personalize the responses to those inquiries. The surname Crocker was chosen to honor a popular, recently retired director of the company. Betty was chosen simply as a friendly sounding name."
"Betty Crocker" remained a name -- and a signature -- until 1936 when artist Neysa McMein was commissioned to give the fictional spokesperson a face. Her portrait has been updated seven times over the years -- in 1955, 1965, 1972, 1980, 1986 and 1996. She doesn't age, but her "hairstyles and clothes have changed to reflect the changing fashions of the American woman."
Though there is still no real person behind Betty Crocker, the fictional spokesmodel has seven real kitchens, each representing a different area of the United States. In addition, there are three "camera kitchens" where photography for packaging, cookbooks and recipes take place. Clearly, there are few fictional people who pack the real world punch Ms. Crocker does. And -- fictional or no -- we trust Betty Crocker. We know that, under her label, good things come to table. And we've known that for generations.
A dog-eared, grease-stained, smudged and much-loved copy of Betty Crocker's Cooky Book sits in my grandmother's kitchen. Granny takes down this cookbook for holidays and our annual Valentine's tea party. I've been scheming to find a way to get it out of her kitchen for years, to no avail. I was recently overjoyed to discover that it had been reprinted. Betty Crocker's Cooky Book was originally printed in 1963. And, yes: it is cooky, not today's cookie. Ms. Crocker's face hasn't been the only thing to change over the years.
* * *
The 2002 reprint includes only two short paragraphs of introduction on the title page. The new paragraphs provide warnings about today's ingredients and food safety concerns. They encourage you to ask your mother or grandmother how to make cookies if you don't understand the ingredients or the recipes. What a great way to share a family heritage, by baking cookies together!
The cookbook is divided into six sections: Cooky Primer, Holiday Cookies, Family Favorites, Quick 'N Easy Cookies, Company Best Cookies and Betty Crocker's Best Cookies. The Cooky Primer section includes instructions on how to "measure flour by dipping," Necessary Utensils (including a "rotary egg beater,") Baking Hints and a Q&A section that covers self-rising flour, correcting cooky dough and how to prevent soft cooky dough.
The Cooky Primer section includes a color picture at the bottom of each page, showing the finished cookies and brownies. The Cooky Primer includes a recipe for Butterscotch Brownies. This recipe is my husband's favorite. All it calls for is butter, brown sugar, an egg, flour, baking powder, salt, vanilla and walnuts. This brownie recipe spells out the secret to baking perfect brownies: "Do not overbake!" My Uncle Glen is a commercial chef, and he taught me that little gem at the precocious age of 10. These brownies have a wonderful butterscotch flavor and come out of the oven chewy and golden brown.
In the Heritage Cookies section, I baked the Old-Fashioned Sour Cream cookies. This recipe is a little more complex, it calls for shortening, sugar, an egg, vanilla, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and "commercial sour cream." These little cookies retain their shape beautifully, without using parchment paper. Their delicate texture is accented with a touch of nutmeg, making them a wonder for lovers of spice cakes. One batch made 53 individual cookies.
The editors truly saved the best for last with this cookbook. The final section, Betty Crocker's Best Cookies, features favorite cookie recipes over time beginning with Hermits from the late 19th century. Starting with 1880, the cookie recipes move in 10-year increments. For example, 1890-1900 Cinnamon Jumbles. 1920-1930 Brownies. 1930-1935 Molasses Crinkles. These heritage recipes are accented by historical highlights and humorous anecdotes such as "the first brownies were a fallen chocolate cake." This section is made for cookbook lovers of all ages. If you ever wondered what cookies children ate when they got home from school in 1900, you'll find your answer here: Cinnamon Jumbles.
Betty Crocker's Cooky Book is a classic cookbook, a staple for your baking library. Whether you're a harried, slap-it-all-in-the-oven baker, or a finessed professional, these recipes have stood the test of time. These cookies will be meeting children after school for many more years to come.
In 1949, my great-grandmother bristled at paying $0.36 for a Betty Crocker Party Cake mix. "Cake mixes? What for? All you need is sugar, flour, eggs, butter, some flavoring, a pan and a mother to give you a good recipe." If only Alma Jane could see the variety of cake mixes and flavors today. Everything from fluffy angel food cake mix to my husband's favorite butterscotch. Cake mixes are here to stay, Alma Jane. Betty Crocker's Ultimate Cake Mix Cookbook features over 100 cake mix recipes, including favorites from the last 50 years of "sweet magic from a mix."
This cookbook comes in a handy spiral-bound edition, so there is no propping pages open with bags of flour or pounds of butter (as I have been caught doing in the past). The book is printed in full-color and the pictures are bright and glossy. About 80 per cent of the recipes include a picture of the finished product. There is an intriguing introduction in which the editors take you on a journey through the mystical world of cake mixes. They begin in 1943 in the Betty Crocker labs and kitchens and move from there through the trends of the 1960s and into the future of cake mixes in the 21st century. The pictures and magazine ads they reproduce in this book are historical and fun. Before the recipes begin, there is a how-to section on preparing your pans, servings per cake, how to cool and split (torte) a cake, frosting and glazing cakes and even high-altitude baking.
The recipes are divided into chapters: Bake-and-Take, Wonderfully Indulgent, Special Celebrations, Heavenly Holidays, Come for Brunch, Scrumptious Desserts, Easy Cookies and Bars and Fabulous Frostings and Glazes. The cookbook also adds sections on Helpful Nutrition and Cooking Information, and an alphabetical Index.
The Heavenly Holidays section features cakes for beginning cake decorators. These cakes require no previous cake decorating experience and look beautiful. There are chocolate heart cakes for Valentine's Day (no heart pan needed), an adorable Easter Bunny, a Flag Day cake made with fresh fruit, a Jack O' Lantern cake (no 3-D cake pan needed) and even Rudolph Cupcakes that children can help make.
My favorite recipe from this cookbook is the Chocolate Turtle Cake. If you like nuts combined with chocolate, this one is for you. The recipe includes a full-color picture, a tip for serving and -- like all of the recipes in the book --nutritional information. The turtle cake recipe calls for a devil's food cake mix, water, oil, eggs, caramels, evaporated milk, pecans and chocolate chips. The cake is moist, gooey and a favorite for entertaining, especially when served warm.
The Chocolate Graham Streusel Cake is a classic recipe from the 1970s. The recipe features an advertisement that was used in the 1970s, a tip for glazing the cake, nutritional information and a yellow graham variation. The recipe calls for graham cracker crumbs, nuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, devil's food cake mix, water, oil, eggs and a recipe of glaze (included elsewhere in the book). It's a good recipe for a morning brunch or family coffee-style cake.
Even without a picture for every single recipe, this cookbook is an excellent value. The recipes are tried-and-true winners and are family-friendly. The nutritional information for each recipe and the dietary guidelines in the back are an added bonus, it is a feature that most cake mix cookbooks prefer to gloss over. The full-color printing, alphabetical index and spiral binding make this cookbook easy to use. A winner! | January 2003
Carem Bennett is a freelance writer and cake decorating enthusiast.