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Just Bake From a Box

Everyone’s baking in quarantine, but there’s no shame in reaching for Betty Crocker

Five cinnamon rolls with icing as seen from above, in a pan.
Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

This post originally appeared in the May 18, 2020 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.

Since the start of shelter-in-place, I’ve watched friends and strangers across my social feeds embark on baking challenges: sourdough breads, yes, but also pies, galettes, layered cakes, and so much banana bread. In my apartment, I’ve baked a birthday cake, pumpkin-oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and cinnamon rolls, but not after scouring for yeast or flour or the “perfect recipe.” I made them all from premade mixes and doughs from the grocery store. I don’t regret for a minute not having done any of it from scratch: Each thing turned out exactly as it should, with the least amount of kitchen work required. My quarantine move is to embrace the box.

Given how much cooking (and, frankly, cleaning) I’ve been doing since shelter-in-place started, baking from a boxed mix is an easy way to dig into something sweet. In less than the amount of time it takes for the oven to preheat, I can have a batter poured into a pan and a mixing bowl wiped clean or placed in the dishwasher. I understand the motivation of at-home bakers looking for distractions or simply something time-consuming to do, but personally, I’m not sure there was ever an inherent moral value in doing more work for a similar outcome; I’m increasingly certain that there isn’t any at all to doing more during an incredibly scary and stressful public health disaster. There’s really never been a better time to let go of the burden of doing things “the right way” at home — embracing “good enough” can be incredibly empowering when you find yourself in the kitchen more than ever because of shelter-in-place mandates.

And boxed baked goods aren’t just “good enough.” They are actually good. Cake mixes and the like have been on the shelves for decades; these products are totally dialed in, and there’s no question about what will come out of the oven when the bake is done. The cake is always moist; the brownies always chewy. I’m a decent home baker when I do it (admittedly, I only bake once or twice a year), but my track record’s got nothing on the years of work from the food scientists behind brands like Betty Crocker and Pillsbury. And my husband and I have thoroughly enjoyed having warm baked goods on a whim to break up our days, no real planning required.

So the next grocery-store run you make, consider grabbing a box of funfetti cake or a tube of cinnamon rolls and taking it easy. You can even share your bake on social media and, when someone asks you for the recipe, answer proudly: It’s from a box.

P.S. While we’re thinking about great home-cooking shortcuts, consider that it’s also time to embrace your microwave.