Too much convenience


Watching television last night, I saw several adverts which disturbed me for different reasons, often because they didn’t seem to do a very good job of explaining what it was they were actually advertising.  The worst offender, though, was one where the product was very clearly identified.  I was just perturbed that the product existed.

The product in question is a Prepared Ingredients pack from Waitrose for Delia Smith’s Christmas cake recipe.  Now, Delia’s recipes are greatly loved in this nation, and many Christmas tables will include at least one Delia offering (I remember the year when there was a national cranberry shortage just because she had championed them, meaning everyone rushed out to get a supply).  And almost without exception, a home celebrating Christmas will have a Christmas cake, whether home-made or shop-bought.  Either is fine.  Home-made takes longer, of course, but ultimately tends to taste better.  Shop-bought is ideal for those with limited cooking facilities or very little time on their hands.  But the idea of a packet mix for Christmas cake (they even pre-soak the fruits in brandy) really unsettled me.  When the people I was with found this amusing, I realised I needed to work out why I didn’t like the idea.

I should perhaps say up front that I have never made Christmas cake, as I have never been the person responsible for Christmas in any household (if you see what I mean).  I have made many other cakes of all shapes and sizes, but have never invested that extra time which Christmas cakes require in preparing the ingredients and then topping up the alcohol levels over the weeks running up to the big day.  So maybe I have no business commenting on this mix.  But if I may be permitted to have an opinion, it seems that a packet mix for this particular cake misses the point somewhat.  It is *supposed* to be an effort, a big production and an ongoing process.  Pre-weighed ingredients I don’t mind too much, though part of the joy of cake-making is in deviating from the recipe, in substituting one ingredient for another or deciding that adding a particular flavouring or a bit more flour would improve things this time around.  A packet mix would seem to discourage the personal touch.  The thing that really tipped me over the edge was the pre-soaked fruit, a truly strange thing.  If you don’t have time to do the things like pre-soaking the fruit, you probably don’t have the time to mix and bake the cake either.  And everyone will understand if you have to buy a cake.  It may be strange (in fact, I’m fairly certain it is strange), but this half-way house does not seem like the best of both worlds, it seems like a strange compromise.  I wouldn’t look down on anyone that chooses this option, but I’d have thought that anyone pre-disposed to make their Christmas cake would have no problem preparing, weighing and measuring their ingredients.  Perhaps not.  But it seems I need to avoid ad breaks on ITV for the next six weeks, as repeated exposure to the advert may cause me to go into permanent rant mode.  And nobody would want that.

  1. I’m with you. I guess they are going for people who are intimidated by cooking rather than short on time, but really, cake making, there’s nothing to it. Bung all the ingredients in, give them a good stir and bob’s your uncle.

    Either it’s that or people who under no other circumstances would eat dried fruit, thus saving them the cupboard space.

    • Trish
    • November 15th, 2010

    I agree too. But on the other hand I think it could be quite a good idea for a first attempt at making a Christmas cake provided the packet mix was not too expensive. I have never made one either despite having made all sorts of other cakes. There has never been a necessity as I have a relation who makes three very large ones every year and gives huge slabs to everyone (there is only so much Christmas cake a person can eat without serious dieting afterwards).

    But if there was a necessity, the thing that would put me off was having to buy a long list of ingredients which would cost a fortune with no guarantee that it was going to work. There seems to be a high risk that it could be a bit burnt, soggy or be horribly dry, which you wouldn’t find out till Christmas Day when you were trying to impress your guests.

    So you could end up a bit disgruntled, out of pocket, loads of Xmas cake left over (the birds might like it though) and a cupboard full of mixed spice, black treacle and glace cherries. Well that’s the sort of thing that would happen to me.

  2. Oh dear! Poor SL. No, we definitely would not want you to be in permanent rant mode. Hmm. The Christmas cake mix does seem a bit of a pointless half-way house to me. I would rather just have a bought one. Well, I would rather have my mum’s home made one, really. I have never made Christmas cake…yet!

    • Paul
    • November 15th, 2010

    Hehe. This reminds me of M&S a couple of years ago. They did convenience pies. Ready rolled pastry that needed placing in a pie dish, prepared fillings to place in the pie etc etc.

    I guess this is the food equivalent of flat pack furniture, you get the bits, assemble them and voila a bookcase. Cheaper than a hand made bookcase but considerably easier than taking timber and actually making a bookcase. It just does not seem to work when it comes to food though. Maybe because food when properly prepared is somehow an expression of the self.

  3. I think part of my problem with it is that it almost certainly won’t eliminate the issues that it might be setting out to solve. There is still great potential for disaster – the oven may be too hot or cold, it may be left in for too long, it might not be mixed adequately etc. etc. The only problem it definitely solves is the issue of left-over treacle, spice and cherries. Which is good, saving space in the nation’s kitchen cupboards, but doesn’t address the fundamental issues for anyone unsure about baking.

    I wonder, do they still teach baking in schools? My mum taught me, but I still remember making scones, pizza dough and sponge cake in primary school. And Boys’ Brigade taught me to cook as well, believe it or not!

  4. I was more disturbed by the liquid egg they were selling last year. How hard is it to crack an egg!!??!

    I’ve used packet mixes before and they can help people become more confident with baking so I’m not too surprised that they’ve come up with a premix cake. I’m a bit slovenly this year as I bought my fruits pre-mixed from Tescos but it was a lot cheaper to do it that way.

  5. The cookery classes in school really put me off though. The obsession with using the right knives and bowls and such. I didn’t cook again until I was at uni and redicovered the delights of using one knife, one saucepan and no scales for virtually any dish.

    It does have to be said that I just bought the doings for the xmas pud and it cost me a good 15 pounds. That would make 4 puds, but I’m only actually doing 2. Still, I’ll use the rest of the fruit up before next year somehow.

  1. December 1st, 2010

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