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Best cake and other mixes? C'mon, spill.

I am a devoted scratch baler but it would be nice once in a while just to knock out a cake mix cake. I love white cake from a mix but it's been ages since I tried any others, except for the Betty Crocker cinnamon streusel muffin mix - which produces a very good, extremely tender muffin. Which ones do you love and use?

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  1. BT: The Butter-recipe Devil's Food from Betty Crocker was my favorite for fast cakes for the longest time. Decent taste (I added chocolate chips and cheesecake filling and nuts to the batter), really tender crumb, no oiliness, nice rise.
    Duncan Hines makes a white cake that was excellent as the base for an apricot-pistachio cake when you hit it with a tsp. of almond extract; one of the best quick cake recipes I ever, ever used.

    6 Replies
    1. re: mamachef

      That apricot pistachio sounds great, what else do you do to it?

      1. re: buttertart

        I know you can take it from here: toss a cup of snipped apricots with enough amaretto, peach, apricot or orange liquer to moisten, toss in 1/2 c. chopped pistachios. Almond extract as indicated in mix; add fruit/nut mixture. When layers are done, brush with a combo of whatever booze you used with enough confectioner's sugar to make a light glaze. Sometimes I go absolutely insane and use a skewer to poke the layers with so they'll absorb more glaze. A very thin layer of apricot jam thinned with either booze or a little more juice is a fine filling, and I like an almond/brown butter glaze (extract, brown butter, confectioner's to "right" consistency,) but I've also done a classic buttercream with almond or apricot extract and that was great too. The cake is always dense and moist: I've never had any left. Of course if you don't want to work with booze, you can use apricot nectar and even make a curd out of it for the filling; makes it a little more family-friendly. I've got another for a spiced maple- pecan cake if you'd like, same mix.

        1. re: mamachef

          Very nice. Not as keen on spiced cakes but maybe someone else would be interested.

          1. re: mamachef

            "I've got another for a spiced maple- pecan cake if you'd like, same mix."

            I would!

            1. re: Jen76

              The Duncan Hines White Cake Mix as your base. Per Pkg. directions, but sub. 1/2 real Maple syrup for liquid (not shortening) called for, and add 1 tsp.maple extract and 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. ginger, 1/2 tsp. mace, 1/4 tsp. cardamom, and 1/4 tsp. cloves to base. Beat well. Blend in 1 c. pecans (walnuts are also fine in this.) 2 9" cake pans, per timing and temp. on package. Filling is a cream-cheese buttercream jazzed up with rum or brandy extract (or a dash of each indicated spice, if you don't care to use booze), and so is the frosting. Garnish with toasted nut of choice, crushed;sift w/ powdered suger, and sprinkle with cinnamon. This is some rich stuff. Recipe will serve 10-12 easily.

            2. re: mamachef

              As it would turn out, Mr. has offered to do my a.m. errands if I make the apricot version tonight, so I guess I'm not going to the bakery!

        2. Hands down, the King Arthur Flour cake mixes, both chocolate and yellow cake. I, too, am a dedicated scratch baker, but I discovered these mixes one year when trying to figure out how to bake 125+ cupcakes for our annual BBQ. The year before, and this was when my son was little and had lots of little friends at the BBQ, I made a batch of cupcakes for the kids, and, of course, all the adults snagged them. So the following year, I made more, and those disappeared too. Now, my DH and I make all the food for this shindig, so it was getting ridiculous, so I decided to test out the KA Flour cake mixes, and huzzah, the next year, everyone again told me what great cupcakes I make. I had to laugh a few years later when one of our guests begged me for the "recipe," afraid that I wouldn't part with it.

          13 Replies
          1. re: roxlet

            Sometimes that's why people won't part with recipes!

            1. re: buttertart

              Yes, I had to have her promise that it would be our little secret.

              1. re: roxlet

                ;-)
                Just noticed I typed I am a devoted scratch baler...sheesh...

            2. re: roxlet

              Roxlet, where are you buying the KA mixes. I'm afraid that in my area the only thing available from KA are the flours, and even those are not in wide distribution here. I'm guessing if I want to try them I may need to order on-line

                1. re: Jay F

                  Yes, that's right. I buy them on line or from their catalog. I particularly like them as mixes because the ingredient list contains only ingredients that I can pronounce.

                    1. re: roxlet

                      I have never made a cake from a mix, but I'm tempted to try the King Arthur mix.

                      1. re: Jay F

                        I used to love cake mix cakes when I was a kid. It was a thrill to bake them and I remember many a cake baked for a bake sale. I think my Easy-Bake-Oven cake mixes were the first I ever used. Now, when I encounter a commercial cake mix cake, it just smells and tastes like chemicals to me. I just can't get past that, which is why I like the KA mixes -- they do not have that chemical taste/smell.

                    2. re: Jay F

                      Thanks for the link. Looks like some interesting products other than just cake mixes

                      1. re: DiningDiva

                        They do. Unfortunately. Lots and lots of interesting products. I've actually been to the bricks and mortar store 2 or three times, and it's great fun too.

                    3. re: DiningDiva

                      I've seen them at Whole Foods, if you have one near you.

                      FWIW, America's Test Kitchen did a test on yellow cakes and Betty Crocker came out on top, even against KA.

                  1. Ghirardelli brownie mix--the one with chocolate chips in it-- is well worth buying.

                    I tried one King Arthur quick bread mix, I *think* it was date/nut -- didn't like it-- not sweet enough, dry. Could have been a fluke, but I never tried one again. My SO said "burlap loaf".

                    One thing I appreciate about boxed mixes-- I've sometimes left out an egg (or two), or forgot the oil, and they still rise and look nice and taste fine, a little different texture, but not disasters. I've always wondered if they've made them *fool*proof on purpose, or it just works because of chemicals/preservatives etc.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: blue room

                      Ghirardelli has at least three varieties of brownie mix and at least two have chips. I've never used the walnut one (I add my own) so not sure about that one. The double chocolate is sold in multi-packs in warehouse clubs. It's very good, but I recently discovered the dark chocolate, one of three types that my supermarket sells. I add nuts and use melted butter instead of oil. Even better, half melted butter, half coconut oil. Slightly underbaked. Insanely chocolatey and rich. One box makes 24 mini-muffin size, which I like because you get more crust that way, and the mini-size is all I want when the chocolate is so intense. Trader Joe's truffle brownie mix is also good. I haven't compared head to head but I think the Ghirardelli has the edge.

                      On CH recommendation, I tried and like Duncan Hines red velvet cake mix.

                      Trader Joe's Meyer lemon cake mix, using melted butter and a cup of shredded coconut. Cream cheese frosting from scratch.

                      Trader Joe's cornbread, made with buttermilk. I cut back slightly on the buttermilk and oil, making up the difference with a couple of tablespoons of real grade B maple syrup. Makes a great sweet cornbread or muffin.

                      1. re: greygarious

                        The Ghiradelli Triple Chocolate is very good but I don't see it around as often as I used to.

                        Also, TJ's was sampling a cookie recently, made using their cornbread mix and bag of rosemary pecans and dried cranberries. Very good! I think they called them Fall Fest cookies or something like that.

                      2. re: blue room

                        I'm staring at a box of the dark chocolate brownie mix, on my work desk. Why at work? Because I mix some in a coffee mug with a bit of milk and eat it as my mid-afternoon snack. It is that. Insanely. Delicious.

                        They used to have a chocolate muffin mix that I found only at Cost Plus/World Market, but haven't seen it in months... A shame, because it made the best chocolate cakes on the planet!

                        1. re: muirne81

                          The muffin mix IS available online: http://mybrands.com/BrandsHome.aspx?b...

                          Interestingly, if you go to the Ghirardelli website you will find neither their baking mixes nor a link to the Krusteaz website, which is apparently the maker and/or distributor.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            GG - you've made my week! Thank you for the link.

                          2. re: muirne81

                            That sounds wonderful. I used to eat dry Ovaltine and dry Carnation Malted Milk Powder.

                            1. re: Jay F

                              Dry Quik and Tang, when I could get away with it, not mixed of course.

                        2. The only ones I really buy and use are Classic Yellow and Angel Food cake mixes. No particular brand - one of the big 3 (DH, BC, Jiffy). I can't help it, but I love yellow cake and angel food from box mixes. I've made both from scratch and they were fine, but I just prefer the box mixes. I guess it's what I grew up with and I only make them a couple times a year, so no big deal. I make all other cakes from scratch. I just made the spiced applesauce cake posted on Smitten Kitchen for my Dad's B-day. It was pretty good, though I thought it was more the texture of a quick bread.

                          I do sub finely grated zucchini for the oil in the yellow cake. I use about a cup of zucchini and it makes the cake so light, soft, and moist. Makes the best cupcakes that way, too. I make my own chocolate-cream cheese frosting to go on the cake. My husband says it's one of his favorites.

                          Angel food cake I eat straight up. I love it, especially the slightly crispy, flaky brown top.

                          I am curious to try the King Arthur mixes now. I try to avoid trans fats as much as possible.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: Jen76

                            When I was younger I always made the box angel food cake. I would bake the cake in a loaf pan and slice it like you would bread. For breakfast I would eat it like toast (toasted on lowest setting w/butter and jam).

                            1. re: viperlush

                              I have never heard of anyone doing this and I love the idea! Seriously, it sounds tasty and it's certainly lighter than most (all?) breakfast pastries. Love it, viperlush, Thanks!

                                1. re: viperlush

                                  I do this with pound cake! with a spot of jam, and some clotted cream if I have it.

                              1. Oh, and I forgot the TJ's Truffle Fudge Brownie Mix. I've used it when I thought I'd have to "settle", and as it turned out, I wasn't settlin' for nothin'.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: mamachef

                                  The TJ Truffle Brownie Mix is great. I don't even use oil (I use applesauce). Everyone loves them.

                                2. Serious Eats (www.seriouseats.com) has a column called "Mixed Review" devoted to reviews of different types of mixes. I'm also a snob about scratch baking -- I swear I can taste the chemicals in cheap cake mixes, and I'd rather save the money and bake a simple cake from ingredients I have at home than buy the better mixes. But some of the things they've reviewed have sounded tempting.

                                  1. You know you could always measure out your dry ingredients into a ziploc bag (quart or gallon size), write an abbreviated recipe on it, and just take it out and throw it together when you get the urge but want speedy results.