There are a lot of vanilla cake mixes on the shelves of your local grocery store. You probably see them every time you go to the store and walk past them or grab a box without thinking too much of it. But if you’re looking for the best vanilla cake mix and frosting for guaranteed delicious cakes and cupcakes every time, you should definitely consider which mix you get.
I tested three of the most common mixes on the shelves of the local grocery store to see how they compare in terms of instructions, ingredients, and outcomes. I also tested their frosting counterparts to see how they compare. Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, and Pillsbury are all household names that have similar mixes for easy quality comparison. It’s really hard to find “vanilla” cake mixes (they tend to be yellow or white, even though the flavor on both is actually vanilla), so I went with the classic white cake for all three. Most of the time, a white cake is a vanilla cake that is made with egg whites, while a yellow cake is a vanilla cake made with whole eggs. With cake mixes that line is blurred some because white cakes are extra white and yellow cakes are super yellow and the directions often allow for the use of either whole eggs or egg whites. For the purposes of this post, we’ll call the white cake a vanilla cake, since that’s what flavor it really is. I made the mixes with whole eggs, except for the Duncan Hines because the directions specifically called for egg whites and I wanted to ensure that the results were as accurate as possible. I also used the same size ice cream scoop to portion the batter, so any differences in size of the cupcakes were due to the way the batter rose, rather than differences in the amount of batter used.
So what’s the result? In terms of frosting, get whichever is cheapest. I could not detect a significant difference in taste or texture of any of the frostings. I even left the frosted cupcakes outside on a hot day for 15 minutes to see if any of them held up better than others and…nothing. They are virtually identical. For the cakes, my vote for the best all-around is Betty Crocker. I was actually surprised by this because the batter was really runny and I was afraid the cupcakes would be too flat. However, they had a good shape for a basic cupcake.
The main differences between the mixes is the proportions of eggs, oil, and water. The Duncan Hines cupcakes turned out the driest, with a crumbly texture. They also didn’t have as much flavor as the others. This is to be expected because the total liquid was less than the other 2 mixes, and only egg whites were used instead of the whole egg. Whole eggs help add moisture and depth of flavor to a recipe. The cupcakes had fairly flat tops. The Pillsbury recipe was the most domed of the three, so if that’s the look you’re going for, this is the mix for you.
Overall, the mixes turned out fairly similar in taste, so you should be pretty safe picking from any of the three. If you want a good, standard cupcake Betty Crocker is my pick. If you really need a flat or domed cupcake, Duncan Hines and Pillsbury would be your best respective options.