From scratch versus cake mix: Devil’s Food Cake

no name cake mix
Another ‘convenience item’ that I decided to test out was cake mixes. Are cake mixes really so bad? I find them revolutionary – everything is pre mixed in a box and you just have to add eggs, oil and water. Brilliant! I also have a confession – for the longest time I believed that the way you made a cake was actually from a cake mix. You can believe the shocked faces I received when I decided to have some friends over to “bake a cake” and I pulled out a mix. I said “How else do you make a cake?” Their response: “With flour, sugar and eggs.” Now, in my defense I had grown up in a household where all I saw were cake mixes in the pantry and that’s all I saw my mom use when she had to make a cake so I just assumed that’s where cakes came from!
cake mix box

Today’s taste test involved three different types of cupcakes using one of the following three methods:

My thoughts:
I’m secretly hoping that the taste testers won’t be able to tell the difference between the cupcakes made with a cake mix and the ones made from scratch. I hope they choose one of the cake mix cupcakes! Measuring and sifting all the ingredients for devil’s food cake (cake flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, salt) is a pain. And then you have to mix them all together in a certain order. It’s actually quite technical in addition to being time consuming. And with people’s busy schedules these days – who has time? I would personally much prefer to open up a box, add eggs, oil and water and be done. The taste difference for the cake made from scratch had better be worth the extra effort.

Taste testers:
Please try each cupcake and comment on the taste, texture and appearance. Please indicate which one you like the most.

cake tasting
Left to right: From scratch, Duncan Hines, No Name

The Reveal:
Thank you everyone for your comments. Here are the results:

Batch A: Homemade (3 people’s favourite)
Batch B: Duncan Hines (2 people’s favourite)
Batch C: No name (2 people’s favourite)

The results from this taste test were pretty inconclusive which I found pretty interesting. The no-name cake mix was a deep, chocolate brown color. This one looked the most decadent out of the three (but tasted the most flat, dry and least chocolately), The cupcakes made from scratch looked more caramel colour in appearance (however, they were more moist and flavourful). The Duncan Hines cupcake was somewhere in between in terms of color but just as moist and flavourful as the homemade cupcakes. In terms of taste, both the cupcakes made from scratch and with a Duncan Hines mix were moist and flavourful. Either one of these win from a taste standpoint, but the Duncan Hines gets bonus points for being a darker, richer color.

The Bottom Line:
Making a cake from scratch is quite time and labour intensive compared to using a cake mix. Not only did all the ingredients have to be measured out but they had to be combined in a certain order making this method a lot more technical. However, the main benefit of making something from scratch is that you can tweak the ingredients to your liking. For instance, you could use a very high quality, dark chocolate to give the cupcakes a very rich, dark and delectable flavour.

But based on the results of this taste test, I would choose a cake mix over making a cake from scratch (unless the type of cake I want to make isn’t readily available in a mix).

8 thoughts on “From scratch versus cake mix: Devil’s Food Cake

  1. Thanks Lisa and Liz for making those wonderful cupcakes!

    Cupcake A:
    Touch : the most soft in the middle
    Look : Nice brown color
    Smell : buttery and chocolaty
    Taste : very milky and moist!

    Cupcake B:
    Touch :
    Look :
    Smell : chocolaty
    Taste : chocolate, dry

    Cupcake C:
    Touch : the most hard in the middle
    Look : the darkest and the biggest
    Smell : a bit sour and chocolaty
    Taste : dry

    Overall : I think A is homemade, B is no name and C is Duncan

    My favourite is definitely A (taste, moisture, smell) and the one that looked best is C.

  2. Taste:
    A – doesn't taste that chocolaty, slightly odd aftertaste?
    B & C – similar in chocolatiness 😉

    Texture:
    A – slightly dry, most crumbly when cut
    B – moist
    C – moist, least crumbly when cut, tastes the most "caky"

    Appearance:
    A – very light brown in comparison. Doesn't really look chocolaty. Very flat, didn't rise as well.
    B – also flat like A.
    C – looks the darkest and chocolatiest. Risen the most during baking and has a nice curved top.

    Which one I like the most: B & C are pretty close although I like the shape of C best.

    Tell me which one A is so I don't buy/make it!

    Guess as to which is homemade: C

  3. A- Lighter in colour and flatter
    B- Medium in colour and rose a little bit
    C- the darkest colour and rose the most.

    ok so my guess is
    A- Home made
    B- No Name Devil's food cake
    C- Duncan Hines

  4. A: Chocolate natural taste, nice blend of flavours, Tastes good
    B: chocolatier than A, moister, smooth mouth feel
    C: Driest of all, aftertaste in mouth, artifical flavour

    I think A is the one you made from scratch.
    I like A close second B did not like C.

  5. Cupcake A
    *guess no name cupcake mix
    -colour too light to look appealing
    -Could taste chocolate
    -Texture is "ok"

    Cupcake B
    *guess Duncan Hines
    – good colour (darker than A)
    – stronger taste of chocolte (than A)
    – better texture (more moist)

    Cupcake C
    *my guess is this one is home-made"
    – nice dark chocolate colour
    – nice moist chocolate taste

    Cupcake C was the best one

  6. I was present during the baking process so my comments would be biased if I really guessed. However, I will comment that the taste of freshly baked vs. next day was significantly different. In fact, it was harder to taste the differences between B and C today – it was much more obvious yesterday. A is on it's own; appearance and taste (not noticably "chocolatey", and lacking chocolate flavour – just buttery).

    Since I know the identity of each here's my take on my best pick:
    A: Lacking chocolate flavour, just tasted butter, didn't look that great – not what you expect a chocolate cupcake to look like, nor did they rise. But wonderfully soft and moist. But when I eat chocolate, I expect to taste chocolate.
    B: More chocolatey than A. A little drier than A though, but still soft and if I tasted B first, I'd say it was moist enough. They were drier today than yesterday as well. Didn't rise either but still look more appetizing than A. I think I’d go for this one if I had to pick it for a “chocolate cupcake”.
    C: This was a nice dark colour and rose well. Looked better than they tasted though. Very dry. Worst of the 3. And not much flavour substance… of chocolate… or anything. I'd guess this is No Name assuming cheapest quality = lowest quality.

  7. My favourite is B. I thought that it had the most pleasant taste (not overly sweet) and a nice fluffy texture. I think this is the homemade one.

    I also didn't mind A. The texture was the fluffiest but it was a touch sweeter. I think this is Duncan Hines.

    I did not really like C (hope it's not the homemade one!). It was more dense and sweet than the other two. I'll say this is the no name.

    My alternative opinion:
    I generally believe there is no difference between no name and name brand. Working with that theory I would say that DH is B, and no name is A since they are both equally fluffy, while C has a different texture all together. Since B has the nicer colour that's why I think it's DH.

    So there's my non-committal response!

  8. A: Moist, tastes buttery. Has a smooth and complex finish. I really liked the flavour of this one.

    B: Chocolately and moist. This one was also good. Just as good in terms of flavour but it didn't didn't have the interesting flavour/finish like batch A. But I would say both A and B were good. Although I liked batch B slightly more because it had a more chocolately flavour.

    C: This one was drier and not as chocoaltely as the other two. It also had a flatter flavour. This is interesting in that this batch had the darkest and richest appearance compared to the other two. This one looked the best but tasted the worst. I guess you can't always judge a book by its cover!

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