The first cake mix was invented in the 1930s by a company in Pittsburgh called P. Duff and Sons. Its purpose was to put to use a surplus of molasses. Duff’s first pastry mix was gingerbread, and it was a dehydrated powder made from molasses, sugar, flour, egg, shortening, salt, baking soda, ginger, and other seasonings. All the customer had to do was add water to reconstitute the batter and then bake it. Once the gingerbread proved successful, the company went on to develop cake mixes.
Cake mixes became really popular after World War II when companies like Betty Crocker and General Mills started selling them. Cooks appreciated the ease of using mixes because they didn’t require precise measurements or a well-stocked pantry, and cooks found a mix was more likely to be successful than a cake made from scratch. In the 1940s, Pillsbury was selling a cake mix made with powdered eggs while Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines mixes required adding fresh eggs. Both varieties were successful.
Mixes remained popular until the 1950s when sales fell off. In the 1950s, the culture had shifted. In the post-war boom, more women could afford to be housewives and were encouraged to take pride in domestic accomplishments. Consequently, the cake mix, which required so little effort or creativity from the housewife, fell into disfavor. A marketing psychologist named Ernest Dichter solved the problem by adding the element of frosting. By creatively decorating a cake, cooks could once again take pride in their effort and make the cake their own. Thanks to this innovation, sales of mixes recovered.
The baking aisle of any grocery store today still has many shelves of cake mixes, brownie mixes, muffin mixes, and cookie mixes. Most are still made by the big name companies like Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines, and Pillsbury. Now, however, you can be on the lookout for a new brand of cake mix called Just Cake from the Hampton Creek food company. Like other Hampton Creek dessert mixes, Just Cake contains no animal products or artificial ingredients like preservatives, dyes, and flavorings. Hampton Creek is focused on making healthy, plant-based foods that are cheap, delicious, and good for people and the environment.