Yellow Cake Mixes
While we prefer the rich flavor of a homemade cake, we know that many cooks do use a cake mix to help speed up the proceedings. But does it matter which cake mix you buy at the supermarket? Can any really compete with homemade? We bought eight boxed yellow and gold cake mixes and headed into the test kitchen to find out. We served the plain, unfrosted cakes to 22 tasters, who rated each cake for flavor, texture, and overall appeal.
Our tasters weren't fooled by these mixes. All eight cakes had an unnaturally uniform crumb and extremely light, fluffy texture. Cake mixes are formulated to maximize the volume of air and moisture the batter can hold, which results in a very moist, tender, and delicate cake. Ingredients such as shortening, emulsifiers (mono- and diglycerides as well as lecithin), xanthan gum, and cellulose gum give cakes made from boxed mixes their distinctive texture.
Without these ingredients, a from-scratch cake doesn't rise as much and you end up with a tighter, more irregular crumb, which is able to withstand a heavy coating of frosting. Fluffy boxed cakes almost collapse under the weight of a rich frosting. Several of the cakes in our tasting were particularly fluffy (more like cotton candy than cake) and were downgraded by tasters.
The flavor of a boxed cake mix, even one that calls for the addition of butter, won't fool an observant taster, either--but some came surprisingly close. Tasters said that the cakes made from top-rated mixes tasted like butter and vanilla. Other mixes had an obvious artificial smell and flavor, which landed them at the bottom of our ratings.
Our favorite premium extra-virgin olive oil from a previous tasting, Columela is composed of a blend of intense Picual, mild Hojiblanca, Ocal, and Arbequina olives. This oil took top honors for its fruity flavor and excellent balance. Tasters praised its “big olive aroma, big olive taste” with a “buttery” flavor that is “sweet” and “full,” with a “peppery finish.” One taster said: “It’s very green and fresh—like a squeezed olive.” Another simply wrote: “Fantastic.”
|Spain||$19 for 17 oz|
Tasters noted this oil’s flavor was “much deeper than the other samples,” describing it as “fruity, with a slight peppery finish,” “buttery undertones,” and a “clean, green taste” that was “aromatic, with a good balance.” “It has the flavor that some good EVOOs have,” said one admiring taster.
|Italy||$19.99 for 500 ml ($39.98 per liter)|
Virtually tied for second place, this oil was deemed “round and buttery,” with a “light body” and flavor that was “briny and fruity,” “very fine and smooth,” and “almost herbal,” with “great balance.” “Good olive flavor. I could smell it and taste it,” approved one taster. In a word, “pleasant.”
|Italy||$17.99 for 750 ml ($23.98 per liter)|
|Recommended with Reservations|
A clear step down from the top oils, tasters noted “overall mild” flavor and “very little aroma,” with only a “hint of green olive” and a “hint of spiciness at the end.” In pasta, it was initially “not complex,” but gradually “bloomed in your mouth.” Overall, it was “worthy of a second bite.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$12.49 for 750 ml ($16.65 per liter)|
While some tasters found this oil “sweet” and “buttery” with “medium body” and “slight spice at the end,” others complained that it had “zero olive flavor” and was “so floral it’s almost like eating perfume”; still others noted a “bitter” aftertaste. In pasta, it was “extremely mild” to the point of being “boring.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$10.99 for 750 ml ($14.65 per liter)|
Comments: The best comments tasters could muster were “mild” and “neutral.” Some liked it on pasta (though one called it “Snoozeville”), but complaints were myriad: “metallic,” “soapy,” “briny,” “hints of dirt.” Carped one taster, “I can’t imagine what is in here, but they have a nerve calling it EVOO.”
|Spain||$13.99 for 1 liter|
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