Cake in a Flash: Mug Cakes and Other Treats

Food crazes come and go, and I noticed that a current one is for mug cakes of various sorts. I tried a few and have thoughts.

Mug cake, for those unfamiliar with the concept, is cake made in a mug in the microwave. Look in the baking mix section of your supermarket, if you’re American, and you’ll notice a sudden abundance of the “cake for one” concept.

The brands I tried were:

  • Namaste Organic Cake Cup, yellow cake flavor. This was the only one certified gluten free, non GMO, vegan, and “free from the top 8 allergens”. 250 calories.
  • Betty Crocker Mug-Treats Soft-baked Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix with Fudge Topping. 400 calories.
  • Ghirardelli Chocolate Peanut Butter Premium Brownie Mug Mix. 400 calories.
  • Miss Jones Baking Company Cake in a Cup Confetti Pop, 160 calories.

As far as ease of use goes, the winners were the ones where all you added was 4 teaspoons of water and mixed, and then had cake. These were Ghirardelli and Confetti Cake, while the Betty Crocker Mug-Treat required frosting drizzle plus additional sitting time, and the Namaste required both oil and milk, as well as 5 minutes additional sitting time. However, both the Miss Jones and Namaste cake cups can be made in the cardboard cup in which they are packaged, meaning no mug needed and less cleanup, since you can toss out the cup. It certainly would be nice if that was compostable, but it’s not. (Of course, with all of these, you’re eating prepackaged food and getting that extra hit of packaging trash. I mention this only because we live in a world where this is going to become more important.)

One of the points of making cake, in my opinion, is a chance to get a little cake batter from the bowl when cleaning up. This may be moot given there is no cake bowl with these, but I will note that batter in all of them tasted nasty and full of preservatives to the point of unpleasantness.

Little cake, less flavor.

Overall cake quality: None of these were good to the point where I’d recommend or re-purchase them. The best of the bunch was the Namaste, followed by the Betty Crocker. The Miss Jones was so close to inedible that only enough of it for testing purposes was consumed. It was just nasty.

Overall cake quantity: When one says mug cake, you are thinking of a mug’s worth of cake, but with most of these, it’s more like 1/2 to 2/3rds worth of cake in the mug or cup, while the Miss Jones one yielded approximately 1/3 enough cake to fill the cup supplied with it. To those curious about dumping two packets into a single mug, I have made the experiment for you and it does work, as did combining the Betty Crocker and Ghirardelli for peanut butter chocolate chip cookie cake.

The cakes themselves weren’t much better, with the exception of the Namaste brand, which was okay, if not stellar, cake. All were definitely cake and edible, and as a college student I probably would have eaten a lot of these. Nowadays if I’m going to binge on sugar, it’s going to be high quality sugar, which none of these qualify.

However, sometimes there are times one simply wants cake. In such cases one does not need these mixes. Here are three mug cakes you can make without them, which are slightly more assembly but also a lot tastier. The first two actually came from Ad Astra, the SFWA Cookbook that I co-edited with Fran Wilde, and come from a bunch submitted by Ricia Mainhardt.

Cheesecake Mugcake

2 oz cream cheese, softened for 10-20 seconds in microwave
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons sugar

Mix cream cheese and sugar well, then add other ingredients and mix again until smooth. Cook 90 seconds, stirring every 30 seconds. Cool in fridge 30 minutes.

Sugar Cookie

1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Small pinch salt
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons flour
Pinch of sugar (can be colored)

Melt butter. Add egg, vanilla, and salt. Stir well. Add egg yolk, stir. Add flour, stir. Sprinkle with sugar. Microwave 40-45 seconds.

Here is a third and very chocolate-y one in case chocolate is your jam:

In conclusion, cake is good. If I were assembling a care package for a college student, I probably would stick some of these in it. They’re not something I’d take a road trip and the taste hit that the convenience demands means that I’ll stick to my homemade versions when there’s cakely needs, or even go to the trouble of making a large scale one and inviting over some friends.

About Cat Rambo

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches near a tiny creek in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the first two books of the Tabat Quartet, Beasts of Tabat and Hearts of Tabat. She is an Endeavour, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award nominee. Among her nonfiction works are a travel guide to Baltimore, a cookbook, highly opinionated essays, and the book Creating an Online Presence for Writers. She once won a hula contest judged by Neil Gaiman. For more about her, as well as links to her fiction, see here.