Just add eggs, milk and butter: cake mixes offer time-poor bakers the promise of a simpler yet still home-made treat. But does a hassle-free cake come at the price of taste? We pitted 4 chocolate cake mixes, costing from $1.79 to $11.95, against a from-scratch recipe in a blind taste test to find out.
We enlisted the palates of 8 WelTec (Wellington Institute of Technology) patisserie students to evaluate our 5 chocolate cake samples. We simultaneously baked all the cakes in the polytechnic’s industrial kitchens according to the on-packet instructions.
Home-made vs mix
The cheapest cake mix, the Essentials Chocolate Cake Mix, was rated the worst by our taste test panel. Spending up large on cake mix may not pay off either – the Creative Sweeties mix, the most expensive though the weightiest at 800g, wasn’t all that popular overall.
Just 2 of the 8 panel members correctly picked the from-scratch recipe from the cake mixes.
The remaining tasters were split, selecting the Edmonds Moist Chocolate Cake or the Granny Delicious Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix samples when asked which they thought was home-made.
For overall taste, the Granny Delicious cake mix was the panel members’ overwhelming favourite, earning 5-and-a-half votes (one person rated it and the Creatives Sweeties mix as even favourites).
The home-made recipe was a distant second, with 2 votes.
The contents of the Granny Delicious box – cocoa, sugar, flour and raising agents – are almost identical to the other mixes. What we suspect makes the difference is the cake’s heavier use of cocoa and butter and its preparation process.
With enough butter, anything is good.
Both the Granny Delicious mix and our from-scratch cake took a similar amount of time to put together. Half the mix’s ingredients must be brought to a boil on a stovetop and whisked for 5 minutes, and then left to cool before further ingredients are added and the batter makes it to the cake pan.
The Granny Delicious instructions call for 150g of butter (or substitute) to be added – the highest of any cake. Legendary cook Julia Child is famously said to have mused: “With enough butter, anything is good.”
But for price, the homemade recipe was tops – half the cost of the Granny Delicious cake by weight. The markup on cake mix ingredients can be 3 to 4 times what you’d pay if you bought the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder and baking soda separately.
Creative Sweeties Chocolate Cake Mix
Mix price: $11.95 Price including extras: $14.43 Ingredients in pack: Sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt Required extras: Boiling water, eggs, milk, vegetable oil, vanilla (optional) Total cost per 100g: $0.94 Preparation time: 10-20 minutes Baking time: 45 minutes (extra cooking time needed compared to recipe) Sugar per serve (54g): 19g Fat per serve: 6g Taste test results: One student voted as split favourite, 2 students as least favourite.
Edmonds Moist Chocolate Cake Mix
Mix price: $4.39 Price including extras: $6.73 Ingredients in pack: Sugar, wheat flour, cocoa, vegetable oil (with emulsifiers 471, 477, soy lecithin), raising agents 500, 341 and 450, salt, natural flavour (with milk) Required extras: Butter, eggs, milk Total cost per 100g: $0.90 Preparation time: Under 10 minutes Baking time: 55 minutes (extra cooking time needed compared to recipe) Sugar per serve (58g): 16g Fat per serve: 9g Taste test results: One student voted as least favourite.
Essentials Chocolate Cake Mix
Mix price: $1.79 Price including extras: $3.82 Ingredients in pack: Wheat flour, sugar, raising agents 339, 341, 450 and 500, cocoa, canola oil, natural colour 150a, natural chocolate flavour, salt Required extras: Butter, eggs, milk Total cost per 100g: $0.57 Preparation time: Under 10 minutes Baking time: 45 minutes Sugar per serve (58g): 12g Fat per serve: 4g Taste test results: 5 students voted as least favourite.
Granny Delicious Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix
Mix price: $5.99 Price including extras: $8.99 Ingredients in pack: Cocoa, sugar, wheat flour, raising agents 341, 450 and 500 Required extras: Baking soda, butter, eggs, water Total cost per 100g: $1.09 Preparation time: Over 20 minutes Baking time: 30 minutes (extra cooking time needed compared to recipe) Sugar per serve (72g): 15g Fat per serve: 12g Taste test results: 5 students voted as favourite, one student voted as split favourite.
Home-made (Chelsea Sugar website recipe)
Ingredients cost: $5.82 Ingredients: Flour, milk, white sugar, butter, cocoa, eggs, golden syrup, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla Total cost per 100g: $0.48 Preparation time: Over 20 minutes Baking time: 60 minutes Sugar per serve: 21g Fat per serve: 11g Taste test results: 2 students voted as favourite.
GUIDE TO THE RESULTSTOTAL COST PER 100G based on weight of ingredients before baking. SUGAR PER SERVE, FAT PER SERVE from nutrition information panels for cake mixes and estimated for the home-made cake batter based on food composition database information. The home-made cake recipe serves 12.
Emulsifiers and raising agents
Often listed in numerical form, food additives can confuse anyone reading an ingredient list. Three of the cake mixes we bought list raising agents, one emulsifiers and another a natural colour.
Raising agents act in the same way baking powder and baking soda do – to increase the volume of the cake.
Raising agents 339, 341 and 450 are types of phosphate. You’ll also spot phosphates in the ingredient lists of many baking powders.
Raising agent 500 is sodium carbonate, a similar chemical to sodium bicarbonate, known more commonly as baking soda.
Emulsifiers stop oil and water from separating – without them, the oil in the ingredients could form a layer on top of the cake. You’ll find these in a variety of foods, from baked goods to ice cream and margarine.
Natural colour 150a, found in the Essentials cake, is caramel colouring.