Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Kitsch-en Kounter: Betty Crocker's ColorVision Cake

Usually, I don't go in for boxed cake mixes.  Sure, they can be doctored to achieve scratch-ish results; although, by the time one does the doctoring, it is just as easy to measure one's own dry ingredients to achieve a superior product.  No really, I'm not a cake snob (well, maybe a little...but it would be unforgivable to not have a refined palate after consuming such an unholy amount of baked goods).  It's just that if I'm going to put in all the effort of baking a cake, I simply want it to be the best cake possible.

Everywoman's Magazine - April 1952

Inspired by the cover of Everywoman's Magazine from April 1952 (doesn't every man have back issues of Everywoman's lying around?), I decided that enough time had passed since my last cake-baking fiasco to give the whole thing another go.  I didn't even have to "See pages 50-51 for Everywoman's April Cover Cake Recipe;" all I had to do was flip the magazine over to find a recipe perfectly suited to my abilities (fingers crossed).

Betty Crocker's ColorVision Cake
The instructions are simple: prepare a box of Betty Crocker's Yellow Party Cake Mix as
directed on the package, add just three tablespoons of your favorite Jell-O flavor (in
powdered form), and bake as directed for a "new kind" of spectacularly-hued cake.
  That's...well...a piece of cake!

I am in love with Technicolor.  I find it hard to articulate but in my mind the whole world used to appear in Technicolor.  I don't mean that in reference to a popular color palette; I mean that, based on the countless movies I've seen, I would expect that, given the opportunity to go back in time, I would find a world of texture and color much like the advertisement above - saturated but soft, intense but hazy, bold but bashful.  I know it isn't so; I know that the colors and textures we this year are the same as yesteryear but it's nice to dream!  I figured the closest I'd get to my bold vision of color was a Technicolor cake in the form of Betty Crocker's ColorVision Cake.

Feeling a bit like a hypocrite, having just preached an entire sermon on my preference for scratch cakes, I decided to be true to Betty Crocker circa '52 - prepared cake mix to the rescue!  Using one box of cake mix and one box of Jell-O, I followed the instructions to the tee.

Or as closely as I could...
Searching the pantry for Jell-O, I came a cross a yellow
cake mix of a different manufacture.  Surprised that it was
still within the "Use By" date, I figured that it would be more
prudent to use the cake mix I already owned rather than go out
to buy a new one for the sake of brand loyalty - economy first!

I love peach-flavored everything - candy, soda pop, ice cream.  Thusly, I felt the choice of peach gelatin was truly inspired...until about halfway through the process.  Given the myriad of color/flavor options available to create a TECHNICOLOR CAKE, I went with the one that was, for all intents and purposes, REGULAR CAKE colored!  I actually had a box of Jolly Rancher, green-apple-flavored gelatin dessert in the cupboard and I still went with peach!  I am a peach fiend!

I read somewhere that creating an aluminum foil snuggie around the cake
pans results in cake layers that are less-domed...I thought I'd give it a shot.

In doing a little internet-based research, I discovered that Betty Crocker's website still offers the ColorVisioCake cake among its current catalog of recipes.  I also noticed that a few alterations to the recipe had occurred over the last 61 years.  Firstly, the new recipe calls for a white cake mix; that one actually makes sense as a white cake will allow for a more accurate representation of the desired color.  Secondly, the icing recipe underwent a complete overhaul moving from a Swiss Meringue to a more traditional buttercream.  A flavored buttercream would have been much easier but again, I intended to see this cake through just as 1952 Betty would have wanted me to.

The original icing recipe is as follows:

The remaining powder from the Jell-O packet
2 egg whites
1 C. granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar (I had to eyeball that one.  Is there an 1/8 tsp. measure?  If there is, it wasn't on my measuring spoon ring.)
1/4 C. Water

Combine all ingredients in the top of a double boiler and beat on the high speed of an electric mixer or with rotary beater until icing holds stiff peaks.  Remove from over boiling water and beat about one minute longer.

I don't have a hand held mixer so I used a whisk and then transferred the
contents to a stand mixer to whisk further.  Until just now I couldn't for the
life of me figure out why my arm ached for the rest of the day.
I'm obviously out of shape, whisking and otherwise.

That's what we in the business call a "stiff peak."
The icing ends up being a frothy hybrid of meringue and
marshmallow creme - kind of interesting, kind of unusual.

So much for the aluminum foil "snuggie"
Exaggerated only slightly by the angle of the photo and the hack job
 I did with the icing, this ColorVision Cake was seriously doming. 

What better to treat you with
 than candy peach rings?

For the filling I went rogue.
Determined to use what I had on hand (a cup of white chocolate morsels and some sweetened condensed
 milk), I created a faux ganache, adding both food coloring and some of the dissolved peach Jell-O. 

If there is a theme, in this instance "processed and peachy," I'll run with it.
I served the cake with a dollop of whipped cream and some sliced, canned peaches. 

The Top 5 Realities of Making Betty Crocker's 1952 ColorVisioCake:

1. It takes a lot more than a few scoops of powered gelatin to make something a ColorVisioCake.  Disappointed with the colors (partially my fault for choosing peach), I added a heck of a lot of food coloring to every step (cake, filling, and icing) and still wasn't amazed by the color.
2. I am not a frosting guy anyway, but the foamy meringue/marshmallow creme thing really wasn't doing it for me.
3. Next time (although I have it on good authority that there will not be a ColorVisioCake next time) get wild.  There are unusual flavors, colors, and combinations that can be achieved with Jell-O and I went with something pretty mundane - next time green apple or nothing!
4. Cakes never look as great as they do in the pictures.
5. One should always bake cakes from scratch.

Have you tried any old recipes lately?  Have you had any baking disasters/triumphs about which we should know?  What's your favorite flavor of Jell-O?  Will you give the ColorVisioCake a try?  If you do, please let us know how it turns out.


Mr. Tiny


  1. I applaud your efforts at economy and authenticity in the making of this cake. I have my mother's Joys of Jello cookbooks (the original, and the New Joys of Jello). I'm not much for cake mixes, but I'm sorry that jello molds and fancy jello desserts and salads have fallen into such disfavor.

    1. Thanks Anon!!! I'm with you - thumbs down for boxed cake mixes & thumbs up for Jell-O. I think the reason molded desserts have seen a decline is because they can be tricky. I still haven't gotten the hang of anything more advanced than a single-flavor gelatin mold. Suspending fruit/layering flavors takes a steady hand a watchful eye. I'm going to keep trying!!

  2. I love vintage color photos. I swear they must have colored them in to get such pretty bright colors.

    I love making banana bread and home made biscuits from scratch. I love the smell and sense of satisfaction of baking something delicious. If you do the math it's much cheaper and tastier to make things from scratch. Of course, it's always nice to go out to dinner too.

    1. I agree! I think scratch desserts can actually be easier too; if one has a relatively well-stocked pantry, all the necessary ingredients are available and open for a wider variety of options. it time for another cake already?

  3. By the way, how long past the packing date will Jell-O still make up into successful Jell-O? I mean, roughly, in terms of decades?
    Maybe it should be thrown into some other project, such as this one. Unless it's had time to become poisonous...

    1. The Jell-O never lasts long enough to test the expiration date at our house. I LOVE Jell-O and eat it fairly regularly. Maybe I'll keep one box around for scientific purposes...

  4. Thanks for sharing. This cake looks great! I especially love the touch with the candy peach rings. I'm going to have to give this recipe a try.

    1. You're most welcome. I would love to hear how that cake turns out! I say go for something really wild - black cherry, blue raspberry, green apple!