Using boxed cake mix at home is to be expected in most people’s lives — but when the time comes, which brand should you choose? INSIDER decided to put four chocolate cake mixes to the test and settle the question once and for all.
We went to our local New York City grocery store, Best Market, and sought out the boxed cake section.
We purchased four brands: Pillsbury, Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines, and the generic grocery store brand “Best Yet.”
Each brand had a “Devil’s Food” chocolate cake mix, except Duncan Hines. Theirs was “Swiss Chocolate.” The image on the box looked similar enough to the other three that we decided to buy it anyways, figuring chocolate cake is chocolate cake, right?
We soon learned how wrong we were, but more on that later.
(Side note: We have to applaud each brand for coming up with a unique take on “moist” for their boxed advertising. Pillsbury boasts a “moist supreme” cake, while Betty’s is “super moist,” Duncan’s claims to be “deliciously moist,” and Best Yet is simply “moist and tasty.”)
Step One: Mixing our ingredients.
Each of the mixes only required three additional ingredients (eggs, vegetable oil, and water) though the quantities changed slightly for some. All four cake mixes required three eggs, but different amounts of oil and water.
Below are the exact measurements we added according to each brand’s instructions:
Pillsbury and Duncan Hines:
- ½ cup of vegetable oil
- 1 cup of water
- ½ cup of vegetable oil
- 1 ¼ cups of water
- 1/3 cup of vegetable oil
- 1 cup of water
We decided to hand mix each batter with a whisk and a wooden spoon. Consistency is key for kitchen experiments!
The Duncan Hines and Best Yet mixes were noticeably lumpier, and took some extra elbow grease when it came to whisking.
We also noticed the Duncan Hines’ batter was significantly lighter in colour than its fellows. Clearly the “Swiss Chocolate” mix was not as similar to “Devil’s Food” as we’d assumed. The cake (on the box) was a lie.
Another important difference came from the Betty Crocker mix. Because of the extra ¼ cup of water required, the batter was a lot runnier than the other three, though it seemed to thicken after mixing a bit.
Step Two: Baking
Each batter was poured into a 8″ round cake pan lined with parchment paper and greased with spray-on vegetable oil.
The Best Yet batter looked promising and standard as far as cake mixes go. Betty Crocker’s, as noted earlier, was a slightly more “wet” consistency, and was also beginning to bubble more (similar to the way pancake mix does when you let it sit).
The Duncan Hines mix was a paler brown colour, which looked even less appealing right next to the rich chocolaty brown of the Pillsbury mix.
Into the oven they went — 350° for 26 minutes (the lowest time each brand’s instructions gave).
In the end, each cake except Betty Crocker was done after the allotted 26 minutes. Due to the added water and moisture in the mix, Betty Crocker’s cake required an additional 4 minutes of bake time.
Step Three: Tasting
Once baked and cooled, the real test began: TASTE. Of course, we eat with our eyes first.
This cake was a bit flatter around the edges, with a good rise in the center and decent chocolate sheen. The tast was rich, but not too sweet, and very chocolaty. A forkful held together nicely without crumbling.
The “Swiss chocolate” looked pale and un-appetizing next to all the others. The taste was definitely more of a milk chocolate than a dark, “devil’s food.” It was also on the dry side.
This cake also looked promising, with a rich brown colour and shiny finish. It was noticeably lumpier, though, and had an uneven rise. The taste was decent, and it held together with a tighter crumb structure.
The last cake looked the tastiest to us, with a perfect shiny top and not too many craters. This one also had a great flavour, slightly better than Betty Crocker’s, but it fell apart much more easily.
Best Yet lived up to its name — it was, well, the best!
Though Pillsbury made a good showing, Best Yet’s chocolate cake had the overall better chocolate flavour. The consistency was also perfect — truly moist and smooth. With a bit a frosting on top, it would be the perfect cake.
Betty Crocker’s was fine, but not quite on the same level as Pillsbury and Best Yet.
And then there’s Duncan Hines. Unless your friend or loved one has a (wrong) aversion to rich, dark chocolate cake, don’t make them this cake. The milk chocolate flavour was overly sweet while also somehow being bland.
We realise not everyone has a Best Market in their neighbourhood, but this is a lesson learned in trusting off brand products. Next time you’re in the boxed cake section of a grocery store, you can trust the (probably cheaper) store brand of boxed “Devil’s Food” cake over a ritzier name.
And if you must rely on known brands, go with Pillsbury.
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