I’ve never been much for baking. Cooking I love, because there’s a sense of improvisation to it that suits my fickle passions. I like to bop around my kitchen and find a forgotten spice or stray vegetable, and concoct a sauce or dinner around it like a mad wizard, wielding my spatula like a wand! Abrica-delicious! But with baking, you need to precisely measure ingredients. You need to follow instructions. And while I can do that in my day-to-day when the world demands, I somehow cannot when it comes to baking. It’s like my brain rebels, yowling like a petulant child, “But this is fun times and directions are WORK!” Despite all this, I fell head over heels for The Great British Baking Show.
Unlike Cutthroat Kitchen or Chopped, this is not chefs subjected to the weird whims of a mystery box or culinary sabotages. It’s a much primmer, more pleasant cooking competition, to the point where it doesn’t feel much like a competition at all! But these home bakers come prepared to impress, having planned out their specialty recipes in advance. And when forced to try a partially constructed recipe on the fly, must act like detectives to make sense of the missing pieces. If not, their dough won’t rise, their icing won’t set, or some other form of embarrassing bad bake will go down. And they might suffer the indignity of a disappointed pursed lip or an alarmed eyebrow raise from the sweet and salty judges.
The sugary, lo-stakes drama drew me in, and I craved to give baking another go. And then, like none-too-subtle Facebook magic (I.E. targeted advertising), I came across Box2Bake, a subscription service that sends you precisely measured ingredients and instructions to enable you to make treats from around the world! Now, you know I am a sucker for international delights. And with the promise of organic and all natural ingredients, it sounded like a perfect opportunity to dip my toe into baking. After all, Box2Bake’s mission is “to prove anyone can bake like a pro!” As the cooking enthusiast who loathed Blue Apron, who better to take this subscription service at their word?
How It Works
There’s a selection of different subscription options to try. I got Subscription Single Adventures, which not only includes ingredients and one special recipe, but also required baking tools. In this case, that meant a whisk. Which, I own a whisk. I’m an adult human person after all! But I’ve got to admit, this whisk was heavier and more impressive looking than the dingy, dinged up bauble gifted at some long ago bridal shower.
Box2Bake doesn’t allow you to pick your recipes. Instead, they are chosen based on the month’s national theme. Mine was Italian. So, I got a recipe for a cookie I’d never heard of before: Brutti ma Buoni, which roughly translates into Ugly But Good Cookies. The box that arrived contained the aforementioned whisk, a small bag of almonds (1 cup), a bag of sugar (7 tablespoons), a small vial of vanilla extract (3/4 tablespoon), and a red piece of paper I mistook for tissue paper. (More on that in a bit). The only other item I needed for the recipe were two large eggs. (Which would have been silly to ship.)
The box also came with a small sheet of paper, printed with instructions. The same instructions came in an e-mail, enhanced with mostly helpful pictures, as you can see below.
How It Went
I read over the instructions, then began preheating the oven as directed. I separated my egg whites. No need to measure out sugar, almonds, or vanilla, as they come at just the quantities needed! Then I hit a snag. Both the printed instructions and the e-mail assured me there was a video that would guide me on whisking my eggs and sugar to “medium-hard peaks.” Now, look. Some of you might not need such a tutorial, but I was depending on it. But no video. No link. No nothing. I searched Box2Bake’s social media accounts and YouTube, and their main site figuring I could find this alluded to video on my own. NOPE. I ended up reading this blog, and then fastidiously comparing my whiskings to the grainy pic in the email.*
Next, I folded in my almonds, and then placed them on the “prepared baking sheet.” At this point, the oven was hot, my arm was sore from whisking, and I was eager to get these baked. So I googled “prepared baking sheet” because why am I assumed to know what the hell that means?!
So I greased my baking sheet with olive oil, dolloped the cookies, popped them in the oven. Then, I used the 30 minutes of bake time to start writing this. That’s when I noticed the difference in the printed directions I was favoring: Parchment paper. Not listed at all in the printed instructions. Not mentioned in the directions of either. But listed as one of the necessary items in the email, and if you zoom in on the images for 4 and 5…is that parchment paper on the prepared bake sheet?
I honestly don’t know. I’ve never used parchment paper in baking, and what showed up in my box was bright red, so I didn’t imagine I’d be popping it in the oven to mutely bake cookies on. I thought it was tissue paper for packing more flourish. Too late now. I didn’t use it. As I type this, I’m waiting for the oven to cool to 250 degrees to do the final bake. There’s no image of the cookies in between this time, so I don’t know if I should be worried or not. But they look ugly! So that’s a good sign, right?
Waiting on cookies like:
Okay. So 250 degrees and ten minutes later, here are my Brutti ma Buoni:
And here’s the Box2Bake gold standard, per the email:
Soooooo, mine are extra brutti, bit gloopy looking. But they great! They’re essentially meringue cookies, very sweet, with a generous flavor of vanilla and almonds, the latter of which also gives them a pleasant crunch. They are not burnt either! I suspect the parchment paper makes pulling up these fragile cookies a bit easier. (My swift spatular wanding did its best!) But in retrospect, I definitely didn’t whisk these to “medium-hard peaks.” The shape is off. Still, I’m saving the recipe. I feel like I could make these on my own, and maybe master them next time. And while they look underwhelming, they taste dreamy.
Conclusion: To my surprise, I fared way better with this than I did with Blue Apron, where the ingredients made a mess in my fridge, and the recipes often turned out bland, with frustratingly small portions. By contrast, Box2Bake sent me a neatly presented box of ingredients, and a pretty simple recipe, from which I made really tasty cookies! And 16 of them, so a solid amount.
The MIA whisking video and the parchment paper confusion were drawbacks. But even with these errors, the cookies turned out good, if not pretty (even for an ugly cookie). And this was more fun than I expected. I like how Box2Bake took the whole measuring element completely out of my hands, so I was left to whisk and fold, and bake. I actually enjoyed baking, and was pretty proud of the results, even if they weren’t picture perfect. Still, there were some hiccups.
*I did email Box2Bake about the absent video, and to their credit they got back to me within 2 hours even though it was a weekend. They apologized for the mix-up, explained the video wasn’t ready, and offered a substitute. Unfortunately, I had impulsively forged ahead at that point.
I suspect if you’re a casual baker interested in expanding your skills and recipe range, Box2Bake would be a great fit. I got hung up on baking jargon, where more seasoned baking enthusiasts wouldn’t stumble. For that reason, I wish there were levels you could choose from, like novice, expert, and ABSOLUTE NEWB. But honestly, if the site made a simple glossary and included its URL in the email, that could make a world of difference.
All in all, I’d recommend Box2Bake if you’re craving some more adventurous bakes. It was a fun experience, if a bit stressful. And in the end, I earned yummy cookies!
DISCOUNT: Use the coupon code JULY50 to get 50% off the July box.
Check out Subscription Addiction reviews for Level Up, Stitch Fix, Try The World, Darby Smart, Treatsie, Chococurb, Loot Crate, Candy Club, Blue Apron, Bright Cellars, Julep, Bright Cellars Cheese, and CauseBox. In the comments, tell us which subscription service you’d like to see reviewed next.