Let them eat cake - made from scratch or an instant mix

When properly made, there is no reason for any cake made from a commercial mix to be compared unfavorably with one made ''from scratch.'' There was a time when mixes were used with skepticism, and the cook felt obliged to apologize for shortchanging her family or guests.

But because packaged mixes were supposedly foolproof, they were an encouragement to novice cooks and brides until they had learned the ''from scratch'' methods of their mothers and mothers-in-law.

Today's cooks don't feel guilty about taking advantage of timesaving devices. They like cake mixes and appreciate the variety available and the many ways to alter them by adding other mixes and ingredients.

Cakes make one of the prettiest and most practical food gifts. They're a nice way to remember a busy young mother or repay a neighbor's kindness. These have been selected because they wrap and keep well, so they'll perhaps fill a special spot for the holidays if you make them ahead of time. Pumpkin-Date Cake 1 2-layer-size spice cake mix 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1 cup milk 1 cup canned pumpkin 1/2 cup chopped walnuts 1/2 cup finely snipped pitted dates 1 tablespoon light molasses 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 2 cups frozen whipped dessert topping, thawed

In large mixer bowl, combine cake mix and soda. Add milk and pumpkin. Blend at low speed until moistened. Beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Fold in nuts and dates.

Pour into 2 greased and lightly floured 9-inch round pans. Bake in 350 degree F. oven 25 to 30 minutes or until done.

Cool. Remove from pans. Cool completely on racks. Gently stir molasses and nutmeg into whipped topping.

Spread between layers and over top of cake. Chill cake several hours before serving. Fast and Festive Fruit Cake 1 1-pound package nut bread mix (or date bread mix) 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice 1 egg 1 cup orange juice 1 1/2 cups candied fruit 3/4 cup chopped dates or walnuts 3/4 cup raisins 3/4 cup chopped pecans

Combine first 4 ingredients. Stir until dry particles are moistened. Stir in fruits, dates, raisins, nuts.

Pour mixture into a greased 4 1/2-by-13-inch baking pan, lined with brown paper. Bake at 350 degrees F. 1 hour.

To decorate, remove cake from oven after 50 minutes. Brush top with beaten egg white and decorate with preserved cherry halves. Bake 10 minutes more. Serves 18. Rocky Road Cake 1 27 1/4-ounce package chocolate macaroon ring cake mix 1 1/4 cups water 1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened 2 eggs 1/2 cup miniature marshmallows 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans 1 cup semisweet chocolate morsels, divided (6-ounce package) 1/3 cup water 4 teaspoons water

Package includes cake mix, macaroon mixture, and glaze mix. Combine cake mix, 1 1/4 cups water, butter, and eggs in large mixing bowl. Beat 2 minutes at highest speed. Stir in marshmallows, pecans, and 1/2 cup chocolate morsels.

Spoon batter into a greased and floured 10-inch Bundt or tube pan. Combine macaroon mixture, 1/3 cup water, and remaining chocolate morsels. Mix well.

Spoon over chocolate batter without touching sides of pan. Bake at 350 degrees F. 40 to 45 minutes or until done. Cool in pan 25 minutes. Remove from pan and complete cooling on wire rack.

Combine glaze mix and 4 teaspoons water. Mix until smooth. Spoon over cake. Blueberry Pecan Poundcake 1 package pound cake mix 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 1/3 cup white raisins 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries Flour 1/3 cup chopped pecans

Add spices to dry mix and prepare pound cake as directed. Dust raisins and blueberries with flour. Fold into batter along with pecans.

Bake in a greased 5-by-9-inch loaf pan as directed on cake-mix package.

Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar, or ice with prepared lemon frosting mix. Serves 10 to 12.

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