A baking kit changed the way I make dessert

Dec 18, 2015 at 3:30 p.m. ET

Let me start by saying I know how to bake. I know firsthand that baking a cake from scratch is almost as easy as using a mix. And yet I am perfectly happy to shell out $30 for a baking kit that delivers all my ingredients premeasured and ready to go.

Mind you, I could find at least half of these ingredients in my own pantry, sitting right there on the shelf, ready to be turned into cake. And yet, when I found out about Red Velvet NYC, it was like I'd discovered the Secret Land of Baking Without Stress. I wanted to go to there.

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Like many of the meal kits that have sprung up everywhere recently, Red Velvet NYC lets you order a selection online and then ships the ingredients and recipe so you can make it yourself. I wanted a dessert for Thanksgiving, something other than the usual pie. So I ordered the pumpkin cake with spiced pepitas and cream cheese frosting, same as you'd order anything else online.

My package arrived in a big, happy, red and white box. There was a welcome card and a gorgeous, full-size recipe sheet showing steps with color photos along with some tips. In a nest of tissue paper, I found my ingredients, all carefully packaged in little containers. The pumpkin puree was chilled in a thermal pack. The only ingredient I had to supply myself were the eggs, which are understandably difficult to ship.

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The directions were perfectly clear for an experienced but very distracted home cook. I think they'd be easy to follow for a beginner as well. Sugar for frosting and sugar for the cake are clearly marked, so there was no danger of confusing the two.

I baked the cake, I made the frosting, I candied the pumpkin seeds, I put it all together, and I served it. Everyone loved the cake. I was pleased with the spice balance, the cake's soft texture and the cake and frosting ratio.

red velvet nyc pumpkin spice cake
Image: Adriana Velez/SheKnows

I'm thinking of ordering the Fancy Birthday Cake for my son's upcoming birthday next. So here's what I liked about the dessert kit:

1. It's like a gentle nudge into the kitchen. The box says, "Come on, you can do this. Here, I'll get you started." It's just what I need to do what I know I want to do but am feeling too busy/overwhelmed to start.

2. It's like hiring a prep cook and a shopper, only way less expensive. I get to swan into the kitchen and take over the fun part — mixing and frosting.

3. I get to have my cake and eat it too. I want the experience of baking. I want that smell in my kitchen, to know exactly what went into that dessert, to enjoy the satisfaction that comes from making something myself. I just want it to be a wee bit easier.

4. The packaging is so pretty. It's like a present — for me! The red bow, the tissue paper, the tiny containers to open — all of it feels like a small luxury.

5. It reduces my options. You wouldn't think this is a good thing, but we live in an age of too many choices, and that can be overwhelming — paralyzing even. Having a smaller selection of desserts to choose from cuts my decision-making time.

6. I feel the pricing is fair. Yes, it's an indulgence for special occasions, but the price ($25 – $36) doesn't feel outrageous for New York City. It's a lot less than you'd pay for a baked good of the same quality, though obviously less than the ingredients themselves cost. When you consider the time you'd spend shopping and measuring, I think it's a pretty good deal.

7. I like knowing exactly what's in my dessert. There are no funky chemicals or preservatives in there, only whole ingredients.

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I burned out on holiday baking a few years ago. I had just finished creating a bûche de Noël when I hit a wall. What am I doing? Do I even like cake? Is anyone going to enjoy eating this? Who am I really doing this for? Is it worth the mess I just made?

So I stopped baking for a long time. And to tell you the truth, I didn't even miss it for those years. But lately I've been wanting to create something for special occasions. And I wanted to recapture the pleasure I used to enjoy. That Red Velvet kit gave me back that joy.

Now if only I could order a kit that cleans up my kitchen for me after all the baking. Could someone please invent that?

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