Chocolate cake is a cornerstone of any home baker’s repertoire. Right up there with apple pie and chocolate chip cookies, it’s a perennial favorite. (See our tried-and-true chocolate cake favorites, here.) But let’s face it: From-scratch recipes can be a hassle. If you’re short on time and need a quick fix, the obvious answer is a boxed cake mix.
Shuddering at the thought of using a mix? We don’t blame you. Like blue jeans and coffee beans, the options seem endless, and making the wrong choice invariably leads to disappointment. Some mixes result in dry or bland cakes, while others can pass pretty easily for homemade. With a team of cake-loving Taste of Home staffers, we compared five of the most popular cake mix brands in a blind taste test.
About the Test
After surveying the options, devil’s food seemed like the best choice for side-by-side testing. Since the key characteristic of a devil’s food cake is its richness, we figured we’d be able to judge more fairly by basing our test on the big brands’ most indulgent offerings. Next, the pros in our Test Kitchen baked each cake according to the directions on its package. To rid our bakers and testers of any preconceived biases, we prepared and compared each brand without its flashy packaging or marketing claims.
Ready to know which brand took the cake? Follow along to see which brands ranked best.
For Fudge Lovers: Betty Crocker Super Moist Devil’s Food Cake Mix
Average score: 5.2/10
“Tastes like a brownie.”
“Super different, but I like it.”
“I wasn’t really expecting one of them to be fudgy…”
The Betty Crocker mix stood out from the bunch with its rich, fudge-like flavor. Tasters noted that this cake was so moist it was almost soggy. While most commended it for its rich, full flavor, the texture was a bit too moist for our liking.
Betty Crocker might not have won our cake taste test, but here’s where the brand was best in show.
For Fans of Fluffy Cake: Duncan Hines Classic Devil’s Food Cake Mix
Average score: 5.2/10
“Looks like the surface of the moon.”
“I’m still missing the chocolate!”
“The texture was so fine, it almost melted in my mouth.”
The Duncan Hines cake was light and fluffy. What’s more, its superfine texture practically melted in our mouths. The chocolate flavor was there, but our tasters were left wanting more of that rich, indulgent experience one expects from devil’s food. A few remarked that it tasted like a standard chocolate cake.
Our Top Pick: Williams-Sonoma Devil’s Food Bundt Cake Mix
Average score: 7.1/10
“THIS is how I like my cake!”
“It tastes homemade.”
“It’s super dense and definitely chocolaty.”
This devil’s food cake was the clear winner. Williams-Sonoma’s mix was dense, moist and delectable. Its defining quality was its deep, indulgent chocolate flavor—so rare in boxed mixes. Many taste testers asked if this one was homemade. What’s Williams-Sonoma’s secret, you ask? There’s coffee in the mix!
Pro tip: To upgrade any chocolate cake mix, substitute the water with brewed coffee. (Make sure it’s cooled first.) Here are some other surprising ingredients you should be adding to your chocolate cake.
Boxed Mixes Are (Almost) All the Same
Turns out there are only slight differences between big brands like Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines. Pick one at random and you’ll wind up with a similar finished product. When wrestling between these brands at the store, consider going with what’s on sale.
Sick of cutting coupons? Try a few of our favorite money-saving grocery store hacks.
Put the Icing On the Cake
Though this taste test determined which cake we prefer, it’s worth noting that there was one ingredient missing—the frosting! It’s easy to imagine that many of these brands would have tasted sweeter, more moist and flavorful with a dollop of creamy frosting on top…unless, of course, you’re on board with the naked cake trend. Even if you don’t have a five-star boxed mix on hand, delicious icing can go a long way toward improving a so-so cake.
Quality Comes At a Price
Our top pick for cake mix comes with a catch. Williams-Sonoma’s devil’s food costs a whopping $15 per box. (Plus you can only buy it online or in-store.) Don’t get me wrong, this chocolate cake was really, really tasty, but is it worth the money and a trip to the mall? That’s for you to decide. If you’ve got a budding baker in your life or want to put together a nice housewarming gift, we recommend this product 110 percent. But if you’re just looking to make a quick, tasty cake, there are other, more accessible brands that fit the bill…or you could always make something from scratch.