By Danielle Centoni
Everyone should have a box of yellow cake mix tucked in the pantry for impromptu celebrations, emergency cravings, and the occasional from-scratch dessert fail. It’s like having money in the bank, but in this case it’s a sweet treat at the ready.
But if you’ve taken a peek at the ingredient list on most boxed mixes, you know that all too often they look nothing like what you’d use to bake from scratch. Alongside flour and baking powder, there are questionable dough conditioners, preservatives, corn syrup, and artificial colors and flavors.
There’s good news, though: As more people seek clean alternatives, even the big-name brands have introduced healthier versions. (They usually have the word “simple” in their name.) We scoured all of the options to find out which yellow cake mixes are worth the pantry space, and then we put them to the test.
We chose our cake mix contenders carefully, skipping over any that had artificial colors or flavors, corn syrup, palm oil, or unnecessary additives and preservatives. Bonus points for any with a non-GMO label, and if it was organic, it was in.
To keep the playing field even, we skipped brands that had alternative flours or sugar substitutes like erythritol, since these result in cakes that are pretty different from traditional.
We ended up with four to try: King Arthur Golden Vanilla, Miss Jones Baking Co. Organic Vanilla, 365 Everyday Value Classic Yellow, and Annie’s Homegrown Organic Classic Yellow.
We baked them all up and evaluated them in terms of texture and flavor. We wanted cake that was super-moist, tender and fluffy. We wanted the flavor to be rich and fragrant with vanilla, and not cotton-candy sweet. We tasted them on their own, and then topped with classic chocolate frosting to see how well they hold up.
To be honest, we wouldn’t turn down any of these freshly baked vanilla cakes. But one definitely stood out from the rest for tasting exactly like a perfect from-scratch yellow cake.
The Healthiest, Tastiest Yellow Cake Mix: Miss Jones Baking Co. Organic Vanilla Cake Mix
Miss Jones has figured out how to make cake mix that tastes just as full-flavored as a from-scratch recipe. We loved its deep yellow color, with golden browning on top. It was super moist, with a tender crumb and the perfect amount of structured chew. And its buttery richness could stand up to chocolate frosting like a champ. (We loved the brand’s chocolate cake, too.)
So what makes it so good? Made with organic ingredients, natural vanilla flavor, and sea salt, the mix calls for milk and butter instead of oil and water like most other mixes. Maybe that’s the secret to its success.
It’s relatively pricey compared to conventional cake mix. And it doesn’t yield quite as much batter as other mixes we tried. That’s great if you want just one tray of 18 cupcakes, but you might need another box if making a tall layer cake.
Buy It: Miss Jones Baking Co. Organic Vanilla Cake Mix, $6 per box
This is a good option if you want an organic mix that yields more batter and costs a bit less too. It calls for water, oil and four eggs, which is one egg more than most mixes we tried. The resulting cake was indeed a bit eggier in flavor. But we enjoyed its slightly chewy yet tender texture and finely textured sponge-cake-like crumb.
Buy It: Annie’s Homegrown Organic Classic Yellow Cake Mix, $6 per box