My Weird Hunt And Deep Dive Into Old-School Infomercial Cooking
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It can also be an extremely dumb thing. Everyone has specific objects and places that remind them of simpler times, and not all of these are worthy of being called "treasured memories." For me, this takes the form of the infamous infomercial classic, the Betty Crocker Bake'n Fill.
I have always had a fascination with this product, far more of a fascination than it deserves. It came out when I was a kid, and for obvious reasons, I didn't need a cake pan set. Now, I'm an adult, though, and my reward for this is that I can sometimes treat myself.
This means that I got a Betty Crocker Bake'n Fill pan set.
What Is This, And Why Is It Worth Remembering?
This commercial has permanent real estate within my head. I will be on my deathbed, my brain will be nearly functionless, and the last thing I will be able to remember will be the uncanny voice in the Betty Crocker Bake'n Fill commercial saying, "Even baked Alaska!" It has an effect on me that no other commercial does. Why is that?
I think the first factor that led to this commercial being such a disproportionate memory is its timing. The commercial debuted around 2004. For late Millennials/early Zoomers like me, this was a sweet spot where I had a lot of time to watch TV. Additionally, this was not a short-run commercial. Betty Crocker must've gotten her money's worth of this infomercial because I remember seeing it for years.
There's also something about it that just hits the sweet spot of "As Seen On TV!" clichés. The narrator has that perfect infomercial voice where you can't quite tell if she's a human or just trying really hard to sound like one. The product seems cool enough, but they try to build it up as this complete game-changer. They have their version of the "call now, and we'll double the offer" through the dome pan, which most certainly is just a standard part of the pan set.
Bake’n Fill Memories
The Betty Crocker Bake'n Fill was not a life-changing product. Some people probably owned it when it was new, but it didn't change the way we enjoy cakes. Outside of maybe this big cupcake pan, there weren't products that imitated the Bake'n Fill's purpose.
But for something with such little significance, it has staying power. I remember it. I've already devoted way too many words to it. I'm weird, though. What is telling is that other people remember it.
Before I got my own Bake'n Fill set, I searched around to see if anyone else remembered the commercials as I did. I found Reddit posts about people remembering the commercials. Something about it just ignited memories in people. While some commenters mentioned having the product, most people only knew about it through its commercials.
TikTok is where the Bake'n Fill memories truly shine, though. A breeding ground for niches of even the smallest sizes and filled with users that would have been young when the infomercial was airing, TikTok being home to Bake'n Fill content is not too surprising.
This TikTok about the pan is seemingly the most popular with more than 5 million views. That isn't tremendously high by TikTok standards, but it is still impressive. While the cake made here does look good, something I noticed about content involving the Bake'n Fill pan is that no one seems to care about the spectacle. This isn't like most cooking videos where people try to craft the most elegant, creative creations. Instead, people just bake cakes with the pan. And they always, ALWAYS have the audio from the infomercial in the background. The cakes are sort of important, but the memory of the product is what matters here.
Nostalgia, The Best Natural Coping Mechanism
A discussion of the Betty Crocker Bake'n Fill pan on its own is not that interesting. It's a pan set. I know. I own one. If you have no memories of seeing the commercials, you have probably already commented something to the effect of, "They'll write about anything these days." But if there was nothing to say about the pan, people wouldn't be talking about it on TikTok or Reddit. It would have fallen out of public memory just like every other As Seen On TV product.
As dumb as it is, the Bake'n Fill set is like a highly concentrated dose of nostalgia injected straight into the heart. Nostalgia is a weird sensation. It's kind of happy, kind of melancholic, and rarely logical. Fits of nostalgia are often triggered by "retrieval cues," items that remind us of the good ol' days. Sometimes these make a lot of sense. Visiting the same park you played in as a kid might make you remember how good the grass felt under your toes when you were small enough that the playground equipment felt exciting. Other times, the nostalgic sensations come from the strangest factors.
For example, I have what might be the world's dumbest retrieval cue. I used to hate the smell of cigarettes. Those Truth PSAs must have worked wonders on me because I coughed if I was even in the vicinity of smoke. But then I spent a summer in Germany, and everyone smokes in Germany. Smoking indoors was common, and wafts of cigarette scents were almost inescapable. After a while, I guess I got used to it to the point where I might've even liked it. Fast forward a few years and jump back to the U.S., and I found myself "in my feels," as the kids say, reminiscing on my time abroad. What triggered this? Well, I thought I smelled something pleasant. Did it remind me of a bakery? Nope. It was just cigarette smoke. I have been conditioned to feel nostalgia every time I smell cigarettes.
The Betty Crocker Bake'n Fill pan, as stupid as it is, is a nostalgia cue. I remember spending summer afternoons watching the Game Show Network with my grandpa. Without fail, that ad would play during every other break. Sure, the commercial itself was funny, but I think it sticks in my head because of the good memories intertwined with it. I hear the commercial, and I think of the contexts in which it played.
And because I'm a nostalgia junkie, I needed to get my hands on the pans.
Getting A Bake’n Fill Set Today
Despite just how heavily featured the product was, once it fell off, it fell off completely. I don't ever remember seeing it make the transition to store shelves, and again, it didn't inspire imitators as you might expect. Betty herself must have stopped believing in the power of cakes filled with your favorite ice cream, as at some point, they seemed to just stop making the pan sets. Tragic, I know.
This means that to get one, you have to find people selling old sets. This is not hard to do, as complete, unopened Bake'n Fill kits are easy to find online. They all appear to be from that initial run, complete in their 2004 packaging. I've heard that Bake'n Fills are common finds at thrift stores, but I couldn't find any near me.
My set came complete in the box with the domed pan that I was promised if I called the number on the screen all those years ago. My initial thoughts? It was certainly a four-piece pan set.
Three parts to the set look like normal pans. There's a base pan and a tall pan that both make fairly normal-looking cakes and a domed pan that does the same thing but, y'know, with a dome shape. The last pan is what makes a Bake'n Fill bake and fill. This is the insert pan. This is placed inside the tall pan or domed pan when baking a cake to create a cavity that can then be filled with fresh fruit, ice cream, a whole different cake, or anything else the infomercial lady suggested.
After washing every pan thoroughly and repeatedly due to a slight fear of eating cake from a near-twenty-year-old pan from who knows where and reading the instructions several times, I was ready to bake a cake.
Actually Using The Bake’n Fill
The instructions are CLEAR that you are supposed to use Betty Crocker SuperMoist cake mixes in the Bake'n Fill pan. Obviously … it's a pan, so it's not going to reject using any other cake batter. I followed the instructions, though, for the sake of the meme and the memories.
For my first baking experiment with the pans, I decided I was going to make a layer cake. Sure, I could fill the cavity with fresh fruits, puddings, or my favorite ice cream, but my favorite filling is more cake, so that's what I went with. I got two Betty Crocker SuperMoist cake mixes, mixed them, and poured them into the tall pan and the insert pan.
My first reaction to using the pan is that it involves a lot of unused batter. The tall pan used the whole mix, but the insert pan is meant to just be a small section of a cake to serve as, well, an insert. This is also true when you use the base pan for ice cream or fruit-filled cakes. The instructions said to use the leftover batter for cupcakes, but if it didn't go in the Bake'n Fill, then I wasn't interested.
As far as how the cakes were baked, I mean, it was like baking a cake mix. It was a bit weird checking to see if the cake in the tall pan was done because it meant I had to remove the insert pan, but it overall worked all right.
After the baking stage, it was time to truly make this a Bake'n Fill masterpiece. Unlike a traditional layer cake where the two cakes are stacked on each other, for this cake, the insert cake would go into the larger cake.
Yeah, I mean, obviously, my decorating skills could use some work, but it turned out alright. How did it taste? Well, I mean, it just tasted like cake from a mix. Good, not special.
That's how my other experiments with the Bake'n Fill went. Even when I did fill the cavity with things other than more cake, the result was just, y'know, cake. Big surprise, I know.
Baked’n Filled Conclusions
I know that this is literally a product made for baking, but the act of actually baking a cake with this was honestly not that important to me. I fully expected that the result would just be a cake with a slight novelty shape to it. Yeah, I'm sure someone could make suggestions of more fun things to do with the pan, but in the end, the results would always just be, at best, a cake with something inside it.
My experience with the Bake'n Fill has been fun, though, like a constant hit of nostalgia. Every time I look over at the pan's box, I chuckle, thinking about the commercial. I did my best to look like the overly happy housewives in the ad when I fastened the insert pan to the tall pan. Sure, it didn't amuse anyone else nearly as much as it amused me, but hey, it made me happy.
And I guess that's my big takeaway from my "As Seen On TV!" adventure. Through my own experiences with the Bake'n Fill and the ones that I see on TikTok, people don't seem to think that they struck gold by making filled cakes. We do it for a niche nostalgic experience. Plus, now I can introduce myself as the guy who owns the Betty Crocker Bake'n Fill pan. That's a good icebreaker.
When researching nostalgia, I liked the phrase "retrieval cue." I don't have memories of my mom making my birthday cake with a Bake'n Fill pan, but I do vividly remember seeing it as a kid. Being able to physically hold the pans and even make cakes with them feels like I'm sort of answering questions little me had all those years ago. If you have something that makes you nostalgic, I think there's value in finding your "retrieval cue," whether it's a dumb infomercial cooking gadget or something that's actually cool.
Top Image: Betty Crocker