September 1, 1998

5 Min Read
Thinking Out of The Box

Thinking Out of The Box
September 1998 -- Design Elements Plus

By: Susan Murray

  As a wannabe chef at age 12, I remember scoffing at the mention of a dry baking mix. Brownies from a mix? Horrors! Biscuits in a box? Not on your life - I wanted the real thing.  However, after graduating from culinary school, I found myself doing the usual 80- to 90-hour weeks in several restaurant operations, sorely understaffed and overworked. Budgets never included enough funds to pay for any additional trained cooks or chefs. Interestingly enough, discovering AWO, or "Add Water Only," mixes was a relief. Once I discovered high-quality dry mixes, I found it extremely easy to prepare consistent, quality products that allowed for creative interaction between chef and mix. And 13 years ago, I left the all-fresh, a-la-minute world of food preparation to become one of those responsible for developing and manufacturing these valuable products.  To be truly versatile, the AWO mix must satisfy two customers: the operator (who prepares the mix) and the end user (who consumes the product). This means that a prepared cake can't just look and taste good. It must be easy to work with, easy to serve, and have some shelf life, preferably about three days prepared. The mix must be tolerant to convection and standard ovens, and allow a ±25° oven-temperature variance. It also must have been tested with ±10% water variance to allow for error in operator measurement.  Dry baking mixes can simplify food production by providing the foodservice operator with the convenience of foolproof, delicious-tasting baked goods that add menu variety and reduce labor and inventory costs. An AWO mix can be prepared just as is. Or, one can take a more creative approach, depending on the knowledge and skill level of the chef or baker and consumer preferences and requirements.  For a simple, but effective, example of product versatility with a single mix, consider a variety or basic muffin mix. This would be a dry mix that doesn't include any fruit, nuts or other particulates. The operator is able to prepare a variety of fruit muffins, taking advantage of seasonal or "turning point" fruits. Besides muffins, the operator could use the same muffin mix to create coffee cakes or loaf breads. A "specialty of the house" black currant nut muffin, perhaps with a streusel topping, could become a facility's signature muffin. Additionally, the same muffin mix can be made into peanut butter or chocolate chip cookies, a cherry or apple cobbler, old-fashioned bread pudding, sweet breakfast pancakes, or a dessert pizza. All these options are possible with a single mix off the operator's shelf.  Another example of product versatility is using AWO mixes in ethnic and regional recipes. Take a corn-bread mix. Add jalapeños, corn and diced red peppers for a spicy Tex-Mex style of bread. Or add milk and eggs to create a soft-textured, Southern spoon bread. Fold garlic, cumin and black beans into a stiff corn-bread batter, and scoop the batter onto a hot griddle for a Cuban-style side dish. For something different, combine the savory corn-bread batter with sweet, diced peaches and thyme, and bake as a muffin or loaf bread. This type of sweet and herbal combo provides a delightful and unexpected change of pace that accents nearly any pork or fowl entree.  The operator will want to consider the presentation and merchandising of these fast and simply prepared mixes. A decadent seven-layer, ganache-filled "double chocolate amaretto cake" might be prepared with only five ingredients: chocolate cake mix, water, amaretto liqueur and chocolate ganache prepared with semisweet chocolate and whipping cream. Elaborate or simple garnishes add eye appeal. Elevating the prepared masterpiece on top of a few boxes covered with a tablecloth will draw the "oohs" and "ahhhhs." Best of all, no one will be able to guess that the cake began with a box of dry AWO mix.  Further, AWO mixes can meet the needs of specific industry segments. Consider the diverse health-care industry - a booming segment offering the opportunity for considerable creativity and planning to meet various dietary needs. Individuals with minor dysphagia (difficulty with swallowing) might require a soft-textured dessert, such as a lemon pudding cake (prepared with three ingredients: lemon cake mix, canned lemon pudding and water). This type of recipe also will provide a comfort or nostalgia food that is perfect for seniors. Hospitals, where 75% of meals are served for nonpatient customers, provide many opportunities for culinary creativity. In fact, many hospital cafeterias are moving towards upscale foodservice, prepared exhibition-style by chefs.  An AWO baking mix, formulated with the proper ingredients - the right flour, leavening system, shortening and flavors - removes operator guesswork. The dry baking mix is dependable, consistent and simple to prepare. The rest is left up to the operator's creativity. In addition, versatility with dry baking mixes is one way to manage reduced inventories and simplify labor requirements.  Scratch baking still has its place, but the advantages of using AWO mixes make them hard to pass up. Particularly when the result is a product that looks and tastes as good as, or better than, "the real thing."  Susan Murray works as an R&D technical service specialist at General Mills foodservice division. She holds a bachelor of science degree in nutrition and hospitality management from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA, an AOS degree in culinary arts from the Culinary Institute of America, and a certified bakers degree from the American Institute of Baking. She currently serves on the Research Chefs Association board of directors.Back to top

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