TRK Box vs. Scratch: How Good Can Chocolate Cake Really Be?

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Death Match by Chocolate: 

Betty Box vs. Heather Homemade


Oh yeah, I see your eyes lighting up.


Pretty much any cake is good, even if it is the plasticy gritty sugary bad cake we have all had and regretted.  Even as we served up the second piece.  Cake is cake, and sometimes working in an office you might as well just have another piece even if it isn't that good.  Right?

As for me I usually am not into cake without some ice cream next to it.  Unless there isn't any in which case...uh....I still eat cake.

I read this most awesome guest post by "Food Babe" Vani  on 100 Days of Real Food blog.  In it she investigates store birthday cakes including the local grocery store and Costco.  Read it and weep.  And then be smarter about your delicious indulgences.  OK?

The post made me wonder about box cake mixes versus scratch cake baking.  I wondered how many ingredients, how much time commitment  there would be and would people really know the difference?  

Was it worth it to bake cake from scratch?  

(Still missing the red bowl, even after Shawna found it for me.  SAD!)
For me, I get to stay home and also love cooking and baking so from scratch ain't no thing.  (Except what I picture the finished product looking like is never what it actually looks like.  It is like my brain thinks "Martha Stewart!" but my kitchen interprets that as "Fourth Grader!".  No offense to fourth graders, I am sure they are very nice if not culinarily deft.)

I posted on my Facebook page that very soon it would be Cake Day.

Today was Cake Day.

I totally expected Hershey's to beat up Betty!
The challenge for me was to bake a box cake with canned frosting the same flavor as a from scratch cake and frosting to see how much longer it took and what the ingredient difference was.  

Then I would have taste testers determine which version had better flavor, and was it enough of a difference to bother going from scratch?

The cake mix was Betty Crocker "Super Moist" Devil's Food Cake.  The great thing was I only had to add 3 eggs, 1/2 cup of oil and 1 1/4 cup of water...easy peasy.  Stir and done.

BUT  there were 18 items in the ingredients list,  six of which I couldn't pronounce or tell you where they were from or what they were for.  The first three ingredients were flour, sugar and cocoa so I was a little impressed.

The frosting was Duncan Hines "Creamy Home-Style" in "classic chocolate".  It had 18 ingredients also (!) including coloring, oil and artificial flavoring. The first three were sugar, water, vegetable oil.  Yummy. 

Lots more stuff for me to mix up my cake batter from the Joy of Cooking cookbook.
My cake recipe was Chocolate Devil's Food from the "Joy of Cooking" cookbook. It had only ten ingredients and the first three were sugar, cocoa and sour milk for part one, sugar, butter and eggs for part two. I didn't actually have butter so I called  my neighbor Steve.  He was happy to be "Butter Boy"for me.

(Insert embarrassing jokes here, you bored and 
immature cake junkies!)

The cupcakes baked up gorgeous from both batches.  

QUESTION:  Does anyone know how to keep the cupcake paper liners from folding up into the batter when you pour it in?  I had some ugly folks and would like to know better next time.

So here is PART ONE of the big reveal:  Baking cupcakes from a box takes about 14 minutes from box to bowl to ready to fill cupcake cups.

You know how long it took me to bake the from scratch ones?


Four minutes longer, even with sifting and handling more ingredients. I will caveat that I was wrangling a one and three year old all day so my numbers COULD be a  But I think the first point is it REALLY doesn't take that much longer.

Ten Tasters, Day One
BUT according to taste testers, ten total on day one.....the actual cake flavor differences are not so great that one couldn't use a box mix here and there without shame!

PART TWO:  Frosting was another matter.  It added about 7 minutes to my time, making scratch take twice as long as box mix....but the frosting was the bigger impact according to all ten tasters the first day.  Rachel for one said she "totally" preferred the homemade frosting, and that there "was more difference in the frosting than the cake".  

Meaning: if you must, use box cake mix but make your own frosting always!

Of course I had my two trusty 'helpers' though I would rather just be honest and say there isn't much helping going on with them.

Check out those cake CRUMBS and the ruthlessly cast aside binky underneath my helper's stool.

My deepest thanks for falling on the sword of friendship and eating cake for my bloggity whims.  Steve, Whitney, Pino, Rachel, Michael, Francesca, Amber, Linda, and of course my Husband John and little girlie pies. All of these folks like cake.  Surprised? 

Poor hubby battled a baby to even taste his cake.

Hubby John wrongly guessed the  smoother frosting for homemade (guess he thinks I am just that good!).  When I asked him for more thoughts he said "I dunno, I can't think right now: screaming baby!"

The tallies were 9/10 preferred the homemade cake to the box cupcake, and Steve shouldn't really count since he doesn't' get out much.   Seven specifically mentioned the frosting as the draw and the biggest difference in cupcakes.  For me,  I got a little nervous there wouldn't be much of a difference but when I tasted the canned frosting I could actually taste the plastic packaging too.  That grossed me out bigtime.  And to think before using whole foods I bought canned frosting for everything from cake to cookies!

Day Two of the test was startling.  

For one thing, I have the kind of sense of humor to bring a dozen cupcakes to my 5:15 AM spin class at our local YMCA.  Yup.  I brought cake to an exercise class.  Let's be honest, wouldn't we all go if cake was offered?

I explained the deal and clarified that they had to have not one, but two cupcakes to taste test!  Once they stopped laughing, I enjoyed the look in their eyes.  They decide to try it before class, imagine that!  Bob, Lily, Liz and our instructor Karen.  THEY. ALL. ATE. CAKE.  Then Lorrie, Lora, Amy and Jeff from the YMCA front desk sampled too. Eight people.  And they all voted for the box cupcake hands down without exception.  I about fell over.  I was stunned and confused.  And annoyed.  I figured they are all at the gym because they have gobbled a lifetime of fake food and must not know any better.  I wondered if the early hour skewed their taste buds?  I spent the entire class befuddled and confused.

On the way home my spin pal Lindsay made a brilliant observation:  Maybe the preservatives in the box mix made it taste better the second day?  


When I got home I did what any self respecting investigator would do:  I ate cake.  

The scratch cake: dry and heavy but with awesome rich chocolately frosting.  

The box cake chock full of garbage and chemicals?  DELICIOUS.  Moist.  Springy and fresh.  I actually finished both of the box cupcakes.  The day before, I only ate half of one. I also remembered the carrot cake I baked for my daughter's birthday a year ago, and how it passed the company taste test for healthy low sugar items, but the next day tasted dry and frankly unpalatable without ice cream. (Maybe because we left them out overnight configured like a train too.  That probably didn't help!)

So I guess if you have to make a cake the day before you will be eating it....we need to come up with ways to make scratch taste fresh and light and awesome.  The best bet?  Get up early and make it real. 

Anyone have a great German Chocolate Cake recipe?  I tasted J's mom's cake three years ago and still think of it's buttery goodness.  

I would love to hear your stories of cakes-oh-so-right and cakes-oh-so-wrong.  Please include the ice cream. 

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