Taking on a home baking project can be a rewarding and fun way to experiment in the kitchen. After all, it's exciting to show off a made-from-scratch birthday cake or chocolate chip cookies to friends.
But, there are times when you want fresh-out-of-oven blueberry muffins to impress house guests, or for yourself, without having to turn your kitchen upside down or use every bowl, whisk, and pan in the process. That's when a high-quality, multipurpose baking mix comes in handy.
There are dozens of options for ready-to-mix powders in the baking aisle of the grocery store, including many for pancakes and waffles. You'll also find your classic white and chocolate cake mixes and a few cookie and brownie mixes. Then, there are the all-purpose and muffin mixes that you can turn into a variety of oven- and skillet-baked treats, including scones, biscuits, pancakes, and quick breads.
To make a quick treat, you stir the dry powder with some combination of water, milk, eggs, melted butter, or oil. The beauty is that you need one bowl, one spoon, and a baking pan or sheet.
If you're looking for a baking mix to keep in the pantry that produces a variety of great-looking treats that are also delicious, you're in luck. I've personally baked with and tasted five of the most popular baking mixes from leading brands.
Here's how these best-selling baking mixes stack up, in descending order:
Jiffy Banana Muffin Mix
This small box of baking mix makes up to six regular-sized muffins or a short stack of pancakes. It's made with "natural and artificial flavors" and contains 19 grams of sugar per serving, which is alarmingly close to the recommended total daily intake of 25 grams.
The look: These muffins didn't rise or form an attractive dome on top, unlike some of the others in my tests. They're lighter colored than other muffins and have a flatter, bumpier, and overall less uniform top. The crumb was airy and honeycomb-like, not dense or particularly consistent when compared to the muffins pictured on the package.
The taste: I didn't mind the less uniform look of these muffins, which simply looked homemade compared to the more "perfectly" shaped treats I baked with other mixes. However, the overly artificial banana taste is not for me. These muffins tasted more like banana-flavored Laffy Taffy than freshly baked banana bread. I was disappointed because I like the classic Jiffy mix for Saturday morning pancakes.
Pillsbury Banana Flavored Quick Bread and Muffin Mix
Another baking mix infused with banana flavors, this box from Pillsbury makes one standard quick bread or 12 regular-sized muffins using water, oil, and eggs. It gets its fruit flavor from dried bananas and artificial flavorings.
The look: These were the most uniform muffins I baked. They rose evenly and formed nearly identical domes on top. The edges turned slightly darker and crisper, while the top stayed golden and light.
The taste: These muffins were tasty but quite sweet. They didn't have the same punch-you-in-the-face banana flavor as the Jiffy muffins, but you still get the essence of banana. They were sweeter than I like and would be more of a dessert than a breakfast item for me.
Simple Mills Organic Nut and Seed Flour All-Purpose Baking Mix
This baking mix, made with a blend of nut and seed powders along with arrowroot, may have the healthiest nutritional panel of any of the mixes in this test. With just 5 grams of fat from nuts, no saturated fat, and 3 grams of fiber per serving, this is a well-balanced baking mix that also happens to be gluten-free. It did, however, require more ingredients than any of the other mixes I tested (eggs, water or milk, butter, and optional salt).
The look: I followed the recipe on the back of the box to make 12 drop biscuits. I know gluten-free baked goods tend to fall apart, but I was impressed by how well these treats stayed together. They were a bit lumpy and ridged on top, unlike the smooth biscuits shown on the packaging, and they had a darker brown color and wheaty smell that reminded me of a whole wheat biscuit (ironic, given the lack of wheat in the mix). These biscuits didn't rise or change shape much in the oven.
The taste: Compared to the other baked goods in this test, which I stirred together using sugar-loaded mixes, these biscuits from Simple Mills tasted the healthiest. My biscuits still had some pockets of melted butter that added richness, but if you're looking for a sweet treat, you'd need to serve these biscuits with a dollop of fruit jam.
Wegmans All-Purpose Buttermilk Baking Mix
This baking mix can be used to make biscuits, dumplings, or pancakes. It has a touch of buttermilk powder, which sets it apart from other mixes in this test, and it has a minimal 2 grams of sugar, so you can easily take this mix in a sweet or savory direction.
The look: I made drop biscuits with the Wegmans mix, which came out lumpy and uneven. I followed the instructions, which emphasized the importance of not overmixing or overhandling the dough to avoid turning it tough, but as a result, the biscuits weren't attractive. They did take on a nice golden color, however.
The taste: Unfortunately, despite my best efforts to avoid overmixing the dough, these biscuits were tougher and chewier than I prefer. Nevertheless, they still tasted great. They had a freshly baked buttery flavor that would be delicious alongside barbecue or with eggs for a breakfast sandwich.
King Arthur Gluten-Free Muffin Mix
I was surprised by the flavor, integrity, and good looks of the muffins that this gluten-free baking mix produced. With 0 grams of fat, 3 grams of fiber, and a more modest 15 grams of sugar, this mix is highly versatile and won't send you for a sugar crash.
The look: The recipe on the back of the box included instructions for adding mix-ins like fruit, nuts, or chocolate chips. I love blueberry muffins, so I added frozen wild blueberries to my batter. The berries left some marble-like blue swirls on the tops of the muffins as well as extra volume, resulting in large, fluffy well-shaped pastries.
The taste: These blueberry muffins had a springy, airy texture and held their shape well. The crumb was uniform and the blueberries were evenly dispersed throughout the muffins, rather than clustered on the bottom, which can happen if the batter is too thin. I liked that these muffins weren't overly sweet and had an almost creamy flavor complimented by the tart blueberries.