Carrot Cake Challenge

My husband knows to expect the unusual sometimes  in our family's quest for real food. So, he wasn't surprised when we celebrated his birthday with not one, but two competing cakes. He likes carrot cake.  I mixed up a common boxed variety, plus an old-fashioned made-from-scratch cake from a popular cookbook recipe.  Both had a homemade cream cheese frosting.

The most obvious difference was the amount of real carrots in the two cakes.  The homemade one contained three cups of grated carrots, which required about seven fresh organic carrots. The boxed mix contained "carrot flavored pieces" and "carrot powder." The box also noted that it contained artificial colors "yellow 6 and red 40." I won't even try to list the numerous preservatives and corn products.  On the homemade recipe, I substituted one cup of whole wheat flour for white flour.

The girls thought it was fun that we blindfolded their dad to let him taste both cakes. He said he liked the homemade cake best, but he misidentified it as the boxed cake. He noticed that the two tasted like "completely different flavors" to him.  The girls were evenly split on which pastry they preferred. After tasting the "real" carrot cake, all my tastebuds could detect was a funny aftertaste in each bite of the imposter.

The most amazing thing we noticed was how well the food full of artificial color and flavor mimicked the look of the homemade one, even though it was a bit lighter in color.  Those little orange-colored pieces really look like carrots!  I remember admiring the picture on the cake box when I picked it off the shelf. 

A few disclaimers: We all know that cake is not exactly a health food, even when it is chock full of something as wonderful as fresh carrots. My goal was not to produce something low-fat or low in sugar, but to make something wholesome for a special occasion.  I also realize that we all lead such busy lives that cooking from scratch can seem like an impossibility. I don't want to be critical if someone else is using a boxed mix to make their child's birthday cake this weekend. I've done it many times myself.

Closely reading the food label is giving me reason to stop thinking of boxed cake as homemade and acknowledging it for the processed food that it really is. My goal is to bake fewer sweets, but to make them from scratch whenever I do.  How do you deal with the challenge of making more wholesome food, even when you're short on time?  I'd love to hear your comments.

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