A baking mix is a mix of ingredients to which liquid, and sometimes oil, eggs or other ingredients are added to produce baked goods like muffins, biscuits, cakes and brownies. The earliest ones were made during the Industrial Revolution and proved helpful to those who lacked the time to stay home and carefully prepare food. These were commonly recipes for puddings or gelatin.
Biscuit and muffin baking mixes were soon offered, and were developed almost simultaneously. The big names in the US for these early mix forms were brands that are still familiar, like Jiffy® and Bisquick®. Betty Crocker® offered the first mix varieties for cake in the 1920s.
In addition to saving time, many cooks, primarily women, preferred the predictability of the baking mix. With properly measured ingredients, the likelihood of turning out nice looking baked goods could be a big help. Early mixes often asked for the addition of numerous ingredients, but soon, many mixes came with powdered eggs, rendering the separating, cracking or beating of eggs unnecessary. You’ll still find some varieties that require quite a bit of additional work. In fact, some are only slightly easier than the dry ingredients you’d mix on your own.
Other baking mix types leave very little to add, perhaps a cup of milk or water. The goal toward creating more convenient but still “home-baked” food has driven the baking industry to where it is today. It now leans toward even less work by the baker, by selling items like cookie dough that can simply be placed onto pans, or pre-baked pie shells.
One thing that baking mixes of today tend to have in common is a number of stabilizers that keep the results relatively uniform. When we bake from scratch, small differences in ingredients can lead to chaotic and unpredictable results. Stabilizers help keep cakes moist, muffins high and biscuits crunchy.
The opposite end of the baking mix spectrum offers mixes that are made of not overly processed ingredients. In specialty and natural foods stores, a variety of mixes exist that are made from organic flours, are vegan or vegetarian, are gluten-free, or contain very simple ingredient lists with few chemical additions. Mixes for scones are a popular choice.
A sort of art has flourished around the baking mix industry. Housewives in the 1930s and onward might enjoy the convenience of the mix, but were deft at adding and improving upon mixes by adding fruit, spices, flavorings, or homemade frostings. Still some bakers tend to feel that even the best mix is imperfect, and that most recipes really don’t require that much more work than the mix. It is true if you’re used to true “from scratch recipes” you may notice a chemical-like taste to the more commercial mixes. Others who’ve been raised on foods produced from baking mixes may, conversely, prefer them to baked goods made from scratch.