- I made yellow cake using boxed mixes from Pillsbury, Duncan Hines, and Betty Crocker.
- Pillsbury’s cake cut easily into beautiful slices, making it ideal for a special occasion.
- The Duncan Hines version had a rich and buttery flavour, but I found the texture to be dry.
- Betty Crocker’s cake was sweet enough to eat on its own, so I’d recommend skipping the frosting.
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I’ve always been a fan of boxed cake mix. It’s easy to make and usually comes out tasting delicious.
For consistency, I used the same 9-inch dark cake pan sprayed with baking spray and placed in the centre of my oven. Following the directions on each box, I set a timer for the shortest recommended baking time and used the same measuring cup for each cake.
Here’s how they stacked up.
First up: Pillsbury’s Moist Supreme Yellow Cake.
This cake mix called for three large eggs, 1/2 cup of oil, and one cup of water.
I preheated my oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and whisked my wet ingredients into the dry cake mix for two minutes. (All instructions called for an electric mixer, but I had to rely on the power of my tricep, which worked just fine!)
The dry cake mix didn’t have much of a scent to it, but it became bright yellow in colour once I added the other ingredients.
This cake was easy to work with, but, in my opinion, it didn’t have much flavour.
I poured roughly one inch of batter into my dark nonstick pan. Peering into the oven during the recommended 29-minute cook time, I saw the perimeter sink while the centre of the cake rose around 1/2 inch; it then deflated by about 3/4 inch while cooling.
The instructions recommended a 29 to 33-minute cook time for this cake, but I took mine out at the 24-minute mark when it started to brown and pull away from the sides of the pan, and when a knife inserted into the centre came out clean.
After letting the cake cool for between 10 and 15 minutes in the pan and then another 10 minutes out of the pan as per the instructions, the top was sturdy enough to frost cleanly.
Tasting this cake, the centre was moist but the closer I got to the top or bottom the drier it got. I didn’t think it was that strong in flavour, and found it had a muted sweetness.
Next, I made the Duncan Hines Perfectly Moist Classic Yellow Cake.
Along with one cup of water and three large eggs, this Duncan Hines cake mix recipe called for 1/3 cup of vegetable oil specifically.
Since I was using a dark pan, I was instructed to bake this cake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit rather than 350 degrees Fahrenheit. According to King Arthur Baking Company, dark-coloured pans conduct heat differently than light-coloured pans, which will cause the outsides of your cake to cook faster than the insides. The flour company advises bakers to adjust their oven temperatures accordingly. And if you’re using nonstick pans – usually a dull metal – expect your cake to cook faster overall, according to Bon Appétit.
As soon as I cut open the Duncan Hines box of the dry mix, I could smell the iconic yellow-cake scent. And while the finished cake was lighter in colour than Pillsbury’s version, it was definitely stronger in flavour.
The cake had a beautiful colour and flavour, but I found it dry and crumbly in texture.
Pouring the same one inch of batter into my greased pan, this cake rose around one inch in the middle while in the oven, though the top mostly deflated once it cooled.
The Duncan Hines baking instructions suggested between 23 and 28 minutes plus an additional three to five minutes in the oven for my dark baking pan. I wound up pulling the cake out at 29 minutes after a knife inserted in the centre came out clean.
This yellow cake was filled with a rich and buttery flavour. Cutting a slice, I saw that the bottom and sides browned more than the centre and top. The texture throughout was dry. Each piece I cut crumbled and fell apart, which wasn’t ideal.
Lastly, I made Betty Crocker’s Super Moist Yellow Cake.
I needed three eggs, 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, and one cup of water to make this cake.
Instructions here also called for an oven temperature of 325 degrees Fahrenheit for bakers using a dark pan.
The Betty Crocker dry mix also had an identifiable smell, but it wasn’t as strong as the Duncan Hines aroma. It was yellow in colour and produced a bright batter when mixed for two minutes with the wet ingredients.
The Betty Crocker cake was sweet on the inside and sticky on top.
This cake rose around 3/4 inch in the oven and deflated around 1/2 inch once cooled. The colour of this cake was a consistent, sunshine-like yellow.
Though the recipe recommended baking for 24 to 29 minutes with an added three to five minutes for dark pans, my cake cooked completely in 24 minutes.
It still crumbled and fell apart – I lost some of the super-moist top layer to my cutting board when removing the cake from its tin – but it was easier to cut through than the one from Duncan Hines, in my experience. It was light and airy inside, but the top was thicker and stickier than the other two cakes, which made for a messy frosting job.
The flavour was buttery and very sweet, and the texture was somewhere between dry and moist and the most consistent of the three cakes I made.
I think that the best cake for you depends on what you’re looking to dress it up with.
I had recently made Pillsbury’s new chocolate Funfetti cake and found it to be flavourless and somewhat dry, so I was surprised to find that I personally liked Pillsbury’s yellow-cake mix best out of the three I tried.
That said, the best cake mix for you depends on what you’re using it for.
If you’re looking to build a layer cake with wet fillings, I think the Pillsbury mix would be a good choice. The fillings would moisten each layer while adding some necessary flavour. I also think its dry, flat surfaces make for ideal stacking.
In my opinion, the Duncan Hines yellow cake would be a good choice if you’re looking for a plain cake with a lot of buttery flavour. I would recommend slightly undercooking the cake, though, or adding a bit more oil to moisten it up.
The Betty Crocker cake cooked most consistently, but the flavour was almost overwhelming, in my opinion. If you’re sensitive to sweet flavours, this is probably not the cake for you. Though if you’re someone who plans to use more bland toppings, or just enjoys sweet treats, it could be a good option.
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This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).