Baking out of the Box

Dear Whoever Ate Any Brownie I’ve Ever Made,

I have a confession. I might have said the brownies were freshly baked from scratch, but that isn’t as true as it could be. Actually, it isn’t true at all. I baked out of the box. I don’t mean that I used ingredients and processes too creative to be confined within the metaphorical box of standard baking—I mean that pretty much all of my ingredients quite literally came from a box, courtesy of Mrs. Betty Crocker.

But I have an excuse for my deception: society. In my experience, there is an enormous “prestige” associated with baking from scratch, and a resulting disregard for the just-add-water-oil-and-eggs variety. But look, using actual flour and whatever else it takes entails more work, a longer Fresh Grocer receipt, and more possibilities to screw up. Plus, the end result is rarely more delicious, and the work doesn’t seem worth it. In the end, it’s all about the brownies. You wouldn’t want them from scratch (from me) anyway.

I would have told you the truth about my baking, but I couldn’t bear to trivialize the process by saying the brownies were “only from a box.” I worked hard to not over-mix the batter or burn them.

It’s not like this kind of baking is completely brainless. Case in point: for my mother’s birthday a couple years ago, my little brother Armeno saved up his money to buy a box mix of Boston cream pie that he could make for her (mostly) by himself. Unaware that mix, blend, and whip were not synonyms, and that we actually had to wait until the oven was fully preheated, Armeno and I succeeded in making a Boston cream omelet. My mother ate half a slice because she loves us, but stopped at half a slice because she is a human being with standards. I couldn’t even swallow a bite.

But I promise to be honest from now on. And I guess my brownie making is at least slightly creative: I add half a bag of small marshmallows to my old stand-by, Betty Crocker Low Fat Fudge Brownie, to make them gooier, sweeter, and pretty much irresistible. It takes more time to bake, and with my wildly inconsistent oven, the best I can do is check on them every four minutes beyond the recommended bake time.

So now if you hear me say that something is from scratch, you can trust it as the truth. You can also trust that either there wasn’t a box mix available, or that my mother made it.

Very truly yours,


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