Earlier this week, I was invited to Minneapolis to visit the General Mills Headquarters with a group of fabulous other bloggers and participate in an event called Baking with Betty. That refers, of course, to Betty Crocker. Unfortunately, since Betty is really just a figurehead and not a real person, we didn’t actually get to bake with Betty. We did the next best thing and did a lot of baking inside the Betty Crocker Test Kitchen!
You might recall that I visited General Mills last year during a blog event called Eat & Greet, where I toured the test kitchens and visited General Mills’ photography studios. That was also a fantastic event with lots of other great bloggers, but ever since then I have been hoping for a chance to do some baking inside of those test kitchens myself.
The kitchens are huge, set up to look like miniature kitchens on an array of beautifully outfitted kitchen islands that fill a huge, high-ceilinged room. There is so much light from the floor to ceiling windows that I think any food blogger would be wishing for a kitchen so big and well-lit! (I was!) Each kitchen has oven, refrigerators and draws full of kitchen tools that you would expect to find in any home kitchen. This is done on purpose because Betty Crocker recipes are meant to be recreated in home kitchens, so they’re developed in home kitchens and not in commercial ones.
The day started out with breakfast and a presentation about the history of Betty Crocker (pdf). She was created decades ago as a friendly face to answer the questions of home bakers who used products produced by General Mills, such as their award-winning Gold Medal flour, and – and this was news to me – was never actually based on a real person! We then moved right on into the test kitchen to start some baking.
Although there are plenty of Betty Crocker cookbooks out there and ol’ Betty has dispensed lots of advice on all kinds of cooking over the years, what she is currently best known for are her baking products. General Mills makes all kinds of Betty Crocker brand mixes, from all in one Mississippi Mud Bar mixes to plain Sugar Cookie mixes that you can transform in any number of different ways. GM was highlighting their mixes during our visit to illustrate how versatile they can be. We got to work with the test kitchen staff who develop these products and all the recipes associated with them to try them out. Working with mixes might not sound as exciting as scratch baking at first, but when you hear about all the work that goes into each product to make it as foolproof as possible, it is just fascinating!
We moved between four stations featuring Brownie Mix, Bisquick, Sugar Cookies and Cake Decorating. I started out with the brownie station, where Amanda from I Am Baker and I made some cute and delicious brownie pops and decorated them with sprinkles and chocolate. It’s an easy and decadent project, as well as a great activity to do with kids. I’ll do a whole post on them soon, they’re that fun to make. At the cookie station, I tasted and baked a couple of winning recipes from last year’s Cookie Mix Recipe Contest, including Citrus Kissed Fig Thumbprints, and also baked the test kitchen’s favorite Cranberry Macadamia Bars.
At the Bisquick station, we used the savory baking mix for things besides biscuits and plain pancakes. We made a pizza and savory crepes. Technically, we were supposed to be making sweet crepes, but after I told Marla from Family Fresh Cooking about my savory French Ham, Cheese and Egg crepes, we decided to make a variation on those (As well as one with mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil) instead. The cake decorating station was a blast because we all got to make Jack-o-Lantern Cakes and get into the Halloween spirit. The idea behind this station was to showcase how creative you can get with a mix, or any cake for that matter, just by thinking outside the box (pun intended!). As a Halloween fan, it was fun to get started early.
Last but not least, we took another quick tour of the photo studios, where we saw cookbooks being photographed as well as recipes for the Betty Crocker website. I never get enough of seeing all that amazing photography equipment, and it’s very interesting to see how they style and light the food – which they actually make in the photo studio just minutes before the food is photographed! Then, we all headed back to the airport and to our respective homes, but it was a tremendously fun experience going out there to talk to test kitchen pros, work with them, get creative with some new recipes and meet with other great bloggers. I’ll send a big thank you to everyone who attended, to Matt Holland Photography for providing some of these photos, and especially to General Mills for sponsoring the trip!