Kris Jenner is a pro at whipping up a boxed lemon cake — among many other things she's good at making (money, fame, grandchildren). The Kardashian family matriarch proved her skills on a recent episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians in a family bake-off with Khloé. Khloé made her dessert from scratch (winning the contest) but Kris used a handy box recipe (and hers was chosen as the dessert to be served at the family holiday party).
Which got us thinking... if you’re invited to a holiday party, and asked to bring a plate/dessert, can you just bring a cake you made from a box? Yes, sure. But must you tell your host? Or can you just pretend you made it from scratch?
We turned to an etiquette expert and a few chefs for their take on the box/from scratch controversy.
The head chef at New York’s Hotel Chantelle, Seth Levine, says, “As a guest at a party, if you know the chef or host is going out of his or her way to cook for you, it would be nice to bring something homemade, not from a box. It adds to the camaraderie of the night."
He adds, "I️ wouldn’t care if they made it from a box if they made a lighthearted comment like ‘I️ needed help from a box.' But if they lie about it and say they made it from scratch when I️ know they didn’t, I️ would wait for dessert time and play with them, and eventually call them out in a funny way in front of everyone.” Ouch.
Chef James Shannon, who runs a culinary team of 20 at The Crowne Plaza Hotel in White Plains, N.Y., is famous for his fresh ingredients.
“I don't think they need to mention if they made the cake from a boxed mix,” he says. “The most difficult part of making a cake is frosting it and decorating it perfectly. The baking of the cake itself is just measuring the ingredients and following a recipe. The real skill is making it look beautiful. If they went out to a bakery and bought it, that would be a different story and would take little to no effort. The effort is what should be taken into consideration. If somebody is willing to put in the effort to bake a cake, even if it comes from a box, that shows they care about the people they are preparing their dish for. If I were going to bake a cake from a boxed mix, I would make sure it was the best boxed mix I could get, and I would add some fresh items to it. Maybe chocolate, berries, or something that would make it more than just a cake from a boxed mix.”
That’s a good attitude…but what if they lie?
“If they lie about it coming from a box, I wouldn't challenge them on it. Boxed cake mixes save time. Most people are busy and don't have the time for a lot of baking, especially during the holidays. Perhaps they are just not comfortable with the methods and processes of making a cake from scratch but still want to have a good product. The real art is in the decorating. Holidays are for appreciating people and what you have. If somebody is willing to take the time to prepare a cake, their efforts should be appreciated. If they made a cake from scratch and it didn't come out as well as a cake from a boxed mix, chances are nobody would comment on it negatively. Holiday parties are about the people and most people want to give their best. If a cake from a box is it, then thank them for what they've done.”
Does it really matter?
“If somebody is a really great baker and they choose to make a cake from a boxed mix, then yes it definitely matters. If baking is what you are known for and you're asked to bring dessert, then you should go all out,” chef Shannon says. “The expectations are obviously greater if you are a chef bringing the dessert to a party and people find out you neglected to bake something from scratch. If you are in the culinary world, people expect you to create something from scratch. However, if you are attending a holiday party and you are not a baker, the expectations are vastly different. If you want to impress guests, you could spruce up the cake with pulled sugar flowers, spun sugar, marzipan roses, or ganache toppings. As a chef with 40 plus years in the culinary world, I've seen people try to do things far above their skill level that have turned out as disasters. I would rather have something simple than have somebody try to do something they are not capable of and do it poorly.”
But etiquette expert Diane Gottsman is all about honesty.
“When you bring a dish to someone’s home, it’s important to know the ingredients because some people may have severe dietary restrictions,” she says. “If you’re using a box mix, look for key ingredients such as knots, gluten, lactose et cetera. You can tell the host what the desert is made up of… But generally speaking, if you make a special dessert and use a box mix, It’s not necessary to come clean and give away all of your culinary secrets. A matter fact, many wonderful recipes are purchased at the deli or dessert counter and then enhanced with even more ingredients to make them even better!"
She adds, "When someone complements you, simply say, 'Thank you so much.' If they ask you specifically, you can say in a friendly tone, ‘It’s a secret family recipe that I keep locked in the vault!’”
So if you want to bring a boxed cake? You can. Just throw some berries on top for good measure... and once everyone is drunk, no one will know the difference anyway.
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