Bakesale queen

We Tested 5 Boxed Cake Mixes, and This is the Best!

Is your go-to boxed cake brand the best option for your next bake sale or office birthday party?

Cake mixes with cupcakes

We Tested 5 Boxed Cake Mixes, and This is the Best!

Is your go-to boxed cake brand the best option for your next bake sale or office birthday party?

As a young adult whose limited kitchen supplies have to be supplemented towards the end of the week by the plastic-wrapped, take-out utensils you find on the way out of Whole Foods, baking mixes are my saving grace. Not only do I unabashedly live without measuring cups or a stand-mixer, I also bake as infrequently as it rains in southern California, so it does not make sense for me to keep a pantry full of a 5-pound bag of flour or baking powders and sodas.

And, call me crazy, but after I bake a cake for my friend’s birthday, I’d rather my kitchen not look like it was hit by a flour blizzard.

Lucky for you and me, boxed cake mixes are here to save the day. But, as a perfectionist who only wants to serve the best to my friends and coworkers, I was curious: which boxed brand is best? And, so, I embarked on the ultimate taste test. I whipped up a whopping 88 cupcakes, tasted them alongside my peers, and judged each box according to a combination of taste, ingredients, and nutrition. Read on to see which brand came out on top. And, if you’re looking for more product reviews, why not check out We Tested 10 Peanut Butters, and This is The Best! to supplement your quest for the best.

How We Graded Them

Duncan Hines cake mix batterOlivia Tarantino/Eat This, Not That!

Here are the four metrics we used to determine each mix’s final grade.

Nutrition: To level the playing field, we calculated the nutrition per actual cupcake yield, and we included the preparation ingredients following box instructions.

Ingredients: This is less about having “good-for-you” ingredients in your cake mix and more about not having “bad-for-you” ingredients in your cake mix. We split this into two categories—”ingredients” and “preparation ingredients”—so you could see what the mix contains and then how the brand instructs you to make it.

Appearance & Consistency: A category in which we can discuss any glaring issues with the cake, mouthfeel, and texture.

Taste: Yes, a cupcake has to taste great to make up for the indulgence aspect; however, because you typically eat the cupcake someone baked for you regardless of taste (honestly, many people consider the frosting the best part anyway), this category wasn’t the end-all-be-all when it came time to the final judgement.

From Worst… To Best

5

Pillsbury

Pillsbury Moist Supreme Yellow Cake MixOlivia Tarantino/Eat This, Not That!

Nutrition: (1 prepared cupcake, makes 18) 154 calories, 8 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 195 mg sodium, 20 g carbs (0 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 2 g protein

Ingredients: Enriched Bleached Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Sugar, Leavening (Baking Soda, Calcium Phosphate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate), Wheat Starch, Contains 2% Or Less Of: Canola Oil, Dextrose, Salt, Corn Starch, Propylene Glycol Esters Of Fatty Acids, Natural And Artificial Flavor, Distilled Monoglycerides, Cellulose Gum, Cellulose, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Yellow 5, Red 40, Citric Acid and BHT

Preparation Ingredients: 3 eggs, ½ cup vegetable oil

Appearance & Consistency: Pillsbury’s cake certainly wins the prize for the yellowest batter! It is alarmingly bright. The texture is light and more sponge-like than cloud-like.

Taste: One taster compared the flavor to “a stale Monster energy drink.” (To me, it just tastes like a normal boxed cake mix.) It was a bit dryer compared to others, but that could have been due to the instructions telling me to bake it for a longer time.

Eat This, Not That! Verdict:

Pillsbury cupcakeOlivia Tarantino/Eat This, Not That!

After putting out 80 cupcakes during prime snack time (3:00 p.m.-afternoon-slump), Pillsbury’s batch were the last cupcakes left standing. (And we had funfetti frosting, so that’s obviously saying something.) If you’re a die-hard, artificially-colored cake mix fan, for the same nutritionals, similar ingredients, and a better taste, we recommend going with our #2 pick, which you’ll read more about below.

4

Duncan Hines Classic Yellow Cake Mix

Duncan Hines Classic Yellow Cake MixOlivia Tarantino/Eat This, Not That!

Nutrition: (1 prepared cupcake, makes 18) 148 calories, 7 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 206 mg sodium, 19 g carbs (0 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 2 g protein

Ingredients: Sugar, Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Vegetable Oil Shortening (Palm Oil And/Or Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil), Leavening (Sodium Bicarbonate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate Monohydrate), Wheat Starch. Contains 2% Or Less Of: Salt, Propylene Glycol Mono- And Diesters Of Fats And Fatty Acids, Mono- And Diglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Dextrose, Artificial Flavors, Cellulose Gum, Xanthan Gum, Yellow 5 Lake, Red 40 Lake.

Preparation Ingredients: 3 eggs, ⅓ cup vegetable oil

Appearance & Consistency: This mix wins the prize for “most likely to taste like a flavored cloud.”

Taste: There’s a bit of a lingering aftertaste of artificial flavors and I wanted it to have a bit more flavor, but, hey, isn’t that what chocolate frosting is for?

Eat This, Not That! Verdict:

Duncan Hines cupcakeOlivia Tarantino/Eat This, Not That!

Disclaimer: I grew up on Duncan Hines mixes, so it was particularly hard for me to rank their cupcakes so low. While DH hit all the right flavor and texture notes, we had to deduct points for their continued inclusion of trans fats (partially hydrogenated soybean oil) which the FDA is requiring manufacturers to remove from our food supply by 2018.

3

Foodstirs Organic Simply Sweet Vanilla Cake Mix

Foodstires Organic Simply Sweet Vanilla Cake MixOlivia Tarantino/Eat This, Not That!

Nutrition: (1 prepared cupcake, makes 16) 212 calories, 9 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 155 mg sodium, 30 g carbs (1 g fiber, 17 g sugar), 4 g protein

Ingredients: Organic Unbleached Wheat Flour, Biodynamic® Cane Sugar, Organic Sunflower Oil, Baking Powder, Organic Vanilla Flavor, Sea Salt

Preparation Ingredients: 3 eggs, 9 Tbsp butter, 6 Tbsp milk, 6 Tbsp Greek yogurt

Appearance & Consistency: This was by far the densest cupcake of the bunch. It’s significantly lighter in color compared to the rest of them, and that’s mostly due to the lack of artificial coloring, but could also be because they recommend adding extra “white” ingredients like Greek yogurt.

Taste: Fellow testers referred to this cupcake more like a “pound cake” than the fluffy cupcakes they’re used to. The consensus was that it’s surprisingly moist, but the heaviness is a bit off-putting. It has a perfect kiss of sweetness and there are no distracting off-flavors.

Eat This, Not That! Verdict:

Foodstirs cupcakeOlivia Tarantino/Eat This, Not That!

This was the most time- and ingredient-intensive of the lot, and I wouldn’t say the payoff was worth it. The awkward preparation ingredient volumes left me with a partially-full container of Greek yogurt and a nearly-full half-gallon of milk. What was particularly odd was that the mix required 9 tablespoon of butter, which is 1 tablespoon more than a single stick.

And all these extra ingredients sure add up. Foodstirs has the highest calorie, fat, sugar, and protein count out of all the cupcakes. And their nutritionals are even higher than you might believe since the company says their mix makes 18 cupcakes, but I was only able to get 16 out of it. That being said, when I told people the cake was “organic,” people said it actually didn’t taste as bad as they initially thought. Oh, the power of health haloes.

2

Betty Crocker Favorites, Super Moist Yellow Cake Mix

Betty Crocker Super Moist Yellow Cake MixOlivia Tarantino/Eat This, Not That!

Nutrition: (1 prepared cupcake, makes 18) 154 calories, 8 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 184 mg sodium, 20 g carbs (0 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 2 g protein

Ingredients: Enriched Flour Bleached (wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), Sugar, Corn Syrup, Leavening (baking soda, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate). Contains 2% or less of: Modified Corn Starch, Corn Starch, Palm Oil, Propylene Glycol Mono and Diesters of Fatty Acids, Salt, Distilled Monoglycerides, Dicalcium Phosphate, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Xanthan Gum, Cellulose Gum, Yellows 5 & 6, Nonfat Milk, Soy Lecithin.

Preparation Ingredients: 3 eggs, ½ cup vegetable oil

Appearance & Consistency: Super light, very spongey, and perfect cupcake texture.

Taste: Picture this: you’re on vacation in the Caribbean, the sun is about to set, and you grab your partner to wander down to the ocean’s edge to watch the sun slip under the horizon. When—suddenly—clouds roll in, your view is entirely obstructed, and night falls with a yawn. That’s how I would describe the taste of this cake. I had such high expectations on the first bite, and then the aftertaste leaves you missing a depth of flavor. (It’s also in this aftertaste that the artificial flavors really stand out.) Alas, I left with mild disappointment, but I still surprisingly enjoyed the overall experience. This was also a taste-tester favorite.

Eat This, Not That! Verdict:

Betty Crocker cupcakeOlivia Tarantino/Eat This, Not That!

Betty Crocker recently eschewed trans fats from their mix, which allowed us to bump it up a bit higher on our list. The taste is there, but we hope the brand eventually steers away from artificial flavors and colors as well as vegetables oils that are high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.

1

Miss Jones Ultimate Vanilla Cake Mix

Miss Jones Ultimate Vanilla Cake MixOlivia Tarantino/Eat This, Not That!

Nutrition: (1 prepared cupcake, makes 18) 145 calories, 6 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 151 mg sodium, 22 g carbs (1 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 3 g protein

Ingredients: Organic Cane Sugar, Organic Wheat Flour, Organic Wheat Starch, Baking Powder (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate, Non-gmo Corn Starch, Monocalcium Phosphate), Natural Vanilla Flavor, Sea Salt.

Preparation Ingredients: 3 eggs, ½ cup milk, ½ cup melted, unsalted butter

Appearance & Consistency: Certainly heftier than your classic box mixes, but not as dense as Foodstirs. The cake is spongey and has similar texture when baked to the fluffy boxed mixes.

Taste: The first bite is met with a bit of resistance—which actually leads you to believe you’re eating real food rather than flavored air. The cake is slightly chewy and coats your mouth a bit as you bite into it. You can definitely tell that the “Natural Vanilla Flavor” isn’t real vanilla extract, but that’s me just being picky. It’s not overwhelmingly sweet despite boasting a higher sugar content per cupcake compared to the red box brands.

Eat This, Not That! Verdict:

Miss Jones cupcakeOlivia Tarantino/Eat This, Not That!

That yellow color that other brands have to add with artificial colors occurs naturally in Miss Jones thanks to the addition of melted golden, grass-fed Kerrygold butter. With only 2 extra grams of sugar per cupcake and better overall ingredients, Miss Jones is a clear standout in the box cake market.

Buy it now for $5.09 at Amazon.com