Battle of the boxed cake mixes

by Shriya Manchanda (’25) | March 31, 2023

Art by Katherine Winton (’25)

Baking is my love language: I love seeing people’s faces light up when they receive their favorite treat. Baking also provides me an opportunity to relax; while baking, my only worries are measuring out ingredients and testing flavor combinations. Unfortunately, being a high school student means that there often is not time for baking cakes from scratch. I finally decided to try something easier and much more time-efficient—boxed cakes. However, as someone who frequently bakes from scratch, I was overwhelmed with the range of choices for boxed cakes on the shelves of the grocery store. There were so many options that I simply could not choose just one box, so I chose four! I constructed an extensive testing process to find the best boxed cake based on texture, appearance, taste, timing, and price. 

To ensure my experiment was accurate, I decided that the only independent variable would be the brand of boxed cake: Duncan Hines, Pillsbury, Blue Diamond, and Betty Crocker. Everything else about the cakes was identical: the flavor (yellow cake), the frosting, and the fruit topping. Something to note is that the Blue Diamond cake contained almond flour instead of regular flour; I wanted to see if the type of flour influenced the taste or texture of the cake. Over the course of two days, I baked all four cakes and recorded the results of each one.

Duncan Hines:

For a box that advertised its cake as being “extra moist,” I was disappointed by the dryness of the final product, and I craved a tall glass of milk to moisten the consistency. I was surprised by the number of air bubbles that rose to the surface after baking. The exterior was pockmarked, and the middle of the cake was slightly deflated when it was fresh out of the oven—the appearance was not quite appetizing. However, the light vanilla flavor came through very nicely and paired beautifully with my fruit topping. The cake had a bake time of 28-32 minutes and was the most affordable of all the mixes, costing $1.38 and producing two 8-inch round cakes. 


The Pillsbury cake had a beautiful crumb and was very fluffy on the inside. However, the cake had large, bulbous air bubbles that rose to the surface while baking. Although the exterior was eventually covered in frosting, I could not ignore the initial appearance of the cake fresh out of the oven. The taste was almost indistinguishable from the Duncan Hines cake, but this cake was far more moist. While the bake time was 28-30 minutes, I took the cakes out early because they began to brown. This boxed mix cost a reasonable $3.99 for two 8-inch round cakes. 

Blue Diamond (Almond Flour):

This cake turned out denser than the others but, despite this, was not too dry. Unlike the other two, this one came out of the oven smooth but didn’t rise as much as the others and had a flat top. Additionally, the color was an unappetizing brown-ish beige. If the box didn’t say that the mix contained almond flour, I would never know, but something I couldn’t quite disregard was the density, as I felt it detracted from the taste. This cake spent 35 minutes in the oven, making it the boxed mix with the longest bake time; it was also the most expensive, costing a whopping $7.99 for just one 8-inch round cake. 

Betty Crocker:

The texture of this cake easily surpassed my expectations with its moisture, airiness, and soft, crumbly center. The exterior of the cake looked very smooth, with no air bubbles. However, due to how much it rose, there were some cracks at the crown of the cake. I had some friends taste this cake, and one reviewer proclaimed that this cake tasted like it was from a bakery. By far the most impressive review came from a taste-tester who declared that it was “the textbook definition of cake.” The bake time was 24-28 minutes, having the shortest bake time. This mix was an affordable $2.99 and made two 8-inch rounds. 

After much deliberation, this is my final ranking of the boxed mixes from best to worst: Betty Crocker, followed by Pillsbury, then Duncan Hines, and lastly Blue Diamond. It’s no surprise that the Betty Crocker cake took the sweet spot, as it was the quickest to make and had the best taste and texture. It was a close call between Duncan Hines and Pillsbury, but ultimately, Pillsbury won second as the extra moisture enhanced it. While the Blue Diamond boxed mix was the healthiest, the texture simply didn’t measure up to the standard that the other three cakes had set, and its density was very off-putting. Overall, the key takeaway is that the next time you’re in a rush, Betty Crocker has your back. 

Categories: Food

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