Monday, September 26, 2011

Homemade Funfetti Part I: An Analysis

The cult following of Funfetti cake never ceases to amaze me. It may be the only baked good that comes from a mix that some people would actually choose over homemade. Everyone loves it. Everyone can think of a special occasion consummated by Funfetti. I actually have quite a few examples from my own past:
Sara-Ashley's 19th birthday, 2005
Savannah's 5th birthday, 2006
Laura's 20th birthday, 2006
My 21 1/2 birthday, 2008
My 25th birthday, 2011
If you are not a Funfetti fan, then...
  1. Your mom probably made you homemade cakes growing up.
  2. You had no friends in high school or college.
  3. You had friends in high school or college that made homemade cakes.
If you are any/all of the above, I will educate you. Any Funfetti die-hard knows to use Pillsbury Funfetti cake mix, which is a white cake with the longish rainbow sprinkles (or "jimmies," according to some, although I have never heard that in my entire Midwest-based life) and pudding right in the mix. Betty Crocker also makes Rainbow Chip cake mix, but I have never had it, it does not have pudding in the mix, and it is not as fun to say as "Funfetti." So, it was never as successful, and why, when you mention "rainbow chip cake" to a person, no look of recognition or fond memories passes over his/her face. As far as the final product goes, to extract the most potential from a box cake mix you must watch the cake carefully in the oven. As soon as it even shows the slightest indication of being done (e.g., center no longer wiggles, toothpick comes out clean, top is very lightly/barely golden), take it out. Otherwise, the cake will acquire a kind of rubbery crust and a dry, crumbly inside.
You do NOT however, under ANY circumstances, use the Pillsbury Funfetti frosting - if you do, it is no longer a "true" Funfetti cake. ("True" in this case is determined by the people, the fans. Even though technically it is more truly "Funfetti" due to being composed entirely of Funfetti-brand components rather than just one, a real Funfetti fan will not accept it as "true" Funfetti. Just don't ask - it does not make sense, and it never will.) The correct frosting to use is actually Betty Crocker Rainbow Chip frosting. The difference is in the sprinkles: Pillsbury just gives you sprinkles to scatter over top, meanwhile Betty Crocker mixes in these rainbow chips, that, for lack of better words, I have always referred to as "chewy balls." (Pull your mind out of the gutter immediately. We are talking about birthday cake often served to CHILDREN, for god's sake). The chewy balls/rainbow chips ABSOLUTELY make this frosting and cake. Again, don't ask me why. Maybe the balls are actually crack.

So, all together, you have a light, moist, spongy white cake with a dense, creamy, sugary frosting full of chewy ball sprinkles. A cake light enough that one can easily eat a quarter of a pan without thinking. Until later when your stomach is raging full of sugar and wants to murder you. Commonly known as having an inner Fat Kid. Yummm.

Based on my strong, informed stance on Funfetti, it probably does not surprise you that I had set a personal milestone of achieving the perfect homemade Funfetti cake; it has been on my to-do list for about six months now. Coincidentally, Colleen and Mary commissioned homemade Funfetti for their engagement party cake order last week. "Do you think you can do it?" they asked. Um, I have only been living and breathing for this moment, so, YES.

Well, yes to an extent. Yes, I am willing to make a homemade Funfetti cake. But, am I capable of making a good homemade Funfetti cake? That is the question. I wasn't worried about the cake - I could easily improve upon a box-mix white cake. A homemade cake uses real butter, real vanilla, and other real ingredients, as well as techniques to get that dense-yet-surprisingly-light texture - none of that "dump everything in the bowl and mix on high for two minutes." And I can tell the sprinkles used in Pillsbury's mix are the same I could buy at a store. So, easy as pie (errr...cake).

The frosting, however, was the cause for concern. I remember the texture being a little soupy, which is the undesirable aftermath of storage in a canister for god knows how long, so I knew I could at least improve upon that. But, I couldn't even remember what the frosting itself tasted like. Not all groceries in Chicago carry the Rainbow Chip frosting, so I haven't had it in years (and thus have not had a "true" Funfetti cake in years - all impostors. Sorry, Colleen and Erin, I loved my (impostor) Funfetti 25th birthday cake, but it wasn't "true," and you know it... love you!). Was it a simple vanilla buttercream? Was there any cream cheese in it? Can't remember. I just hoped I would fumble my way around with some frosting ingredients, do a taste test, and suddenly think, "OH! That's TOTALLY Rainbow Chip frosting!" Which is extremely optimistic and naive, or else baking would be a LOT easier - a pinch of this, a smidgeon of that - "OH! That's TOTALLY Julia Child's chocolate mousse!" Uh huh...

Even more, what scared me to the point of mini anxiety attacks about the frosting was the rainbow chips, or chewy balls. I have no idea what they are made of. Grappling deep within my flavor and food descriptor knowledge while tasting it, I articulately could come up with no possible ingredients and only the words, "chewy balls. I have desperately searched the Internet for any leads on composition, to no avail. I think my last resort is to either a) get a job in the Betty Crocker test kitchen and steal the recipe, or b) get a food science degree and experiment with the ratios of the ingredients listed on the back of the canister until I sucessfully construct rainbow chips/chewy balls.

Fully knowing my last resort was not happening, or at least not in time for this order, I had to come up with a last last resort. Almost every homemade Funfetti recipe or blog post I found online used actual sprinkles in the frosting, even after acknowledging that Rainbow Chip is the proper frosting. How could you acknowledge chewy balls and then replace them with sprinkles? Blasphemy.

The ONLY blog I found about Funfetti that did not use sprinkles was Not Without Salt, who, while liking both Rainbow Chip frosting and cake mix (maybe it's not so bad - just not very catchy), perfectly captured the almost-sacred mystery of the frosting: 

"The lure of this cake is in the frosting. White so bright it illuminates the colorful miniature chips that are dotted throughout. Creamy and perfectly smooth until you bump into one of those sweet and slow-melting pieces of who-knows-what."

Finally, a blogger who knows what he/she is talking about. If she acknowledged that the frosting is the best part, there's no way she used sprinkles. So, what was her solution? Read in the next post, along with the rest of the story of my homemade Funfetti cake, pictures and all!


Courtney Schwitz said...

Ahhh I am in suspense!!! I want to know how you pulled this off. And you left me desperately craving a funfetti cake.

Meghan said...

Thought you should know after reading your blogpost I had a long discussion at the bar last night about funfetti cake. Apparently people only know about funfetti cake up to a certain age! Those 30 and over don't even know what it is! I'll have to forward your blog post so they know!

Meg. said...

I definitely agree about mixing that specific mix with that specific frosting. The chewy pieces are so yummy !! I am 24 and still want this cake for my birthday haha

Charles L said...

OMG, I was so excited to read your blog! I have been looking for the original rainbow chip frosting for years and could only find the Funfetti sprinkle kind. Every time I would try to describe the frosting to others I would always receive black stares. Which im not sure came from my description or my overwhelming enthusiasm over the product...But thank you so much! I truly enjoyed your post. This may be the perfect cake for my 30th Bday this year!