Cook of the Week: Thinking outside the cake mix box for creative desserts

  • When it comes to baking, Patricia Kutchins often relies on boxed cake mixes as the base of her treats.

    When it comes to baking, Patricia Kutchins often relies on boxed cake mixes as the base of her treats. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Patricia Kutchins cuts a slice of her Amaretto Holiday Cake.

    Patricia Kutchins cuts a slice of her Amaretto Holiday Cake. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

By Abby Scalf
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 1/20/2015 10:57 AM

Patricia Kutchins shares an ingredient that she considers her go-to when it comes to making decadent treats in a snap: boxed cake mix.

Yet the Lake Zurich cook quickly points out that she doesn't just dump the mix along with oil and eggs into a bowl.


With each mix, she adds her own inspiration and creates a dessert that would be special enough to serve to family and friends and even receive recognition.

For example, her pumpkin spice biscotti, which starts with a box of spice cake mix recently received a blue ribbon from Just a Pinch, an online recipe and coupon site for home cooks. Only 2 percent of 175,000 recipes posted on the website receive this honor.

"I was very surprised because I've been submitting recipes to Just A Pinch for a long time," she said. "I don't get a swelled head because I do it because I love it, but it's always fun to get the recognition."

A cookbook collector, Patricia first learned about utilizing the mixes to make biscotti in Duncan Hines' "Cake Mix Magic 2."

"All you do is add two eggs, a stick of butter melted and you can add nuts or chips and make it any flavor the cake mix is," she said.

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"I made cranberry nut cookies that everyone went crazy for.

"It was a yellow cake mix, some dried cranberries, nuts, eggs and butter and everyone went 'Wow!' It is so simple. I keep telling people it is not that hard to bake."

Patricia, who we first featured as Cook of the Week two years ago, continues to enjoy entering recipes competitions.

Somewhat ironic that someone who now receives accolades for recipes grew up with cooks who never really followed a recipe, right?

"It was always a pinch of this or a shake of that and tasting as you go along to make sure it tasted how you wanted it to," she said. "It was hard at first to narrow down what I was doing, but I try to write it down now that I'm aware of entering my recipes in contests."

She has submitted recipes to Taste of Home, which published her strawberry pie recipe, and Better Homes and Gardens, which chose her tiramisu as the top three recipes as determined by reader votes.


Patricia does not focus her time in the kitchen only to making sweet treats.

Influenced by her mother to make the pastas from scratch, she also is excited to bring new dishes to the table.

Patricia said she learned to make French crepes after taking a course years ago and will make a dinner from appetizer to dessert featuring crepes. It was one of those dinners that she first made for Fred.

"That's the dinner that got him when we were dating," Patricia says with a laugh remembering the menu she made for her husband of 32 years.

"There were crab meat appetizers and the main course was seafood crepes which featured shrimp and crab.

"For dessert, we made Crepes Suzette. It was a fun dinner."

Whether she is crafting a recipe for the next competition or a home-cooked meal for family, Patricia said she simply loves the satisfaction she receives when someone enjoys something she's made.

"When you love to cook, you never really lose, you win," she said.

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