I love to bake cakes from scratch, but I am often curious about cake mixes put out by more gourmet retailers to see how they stack up to the real thing. A good example was the expensive, but outstanding, Ad Hoc Yellow Cake Mix. Trader Joe’s ever-expanding line of baking products includes cake mixes, as well as convenient frosting mixes, so I wanted to see how Baker Josef’s Golden Yellow Cake Mix stacked up.
There is a lot to like about this cake mix. It is made with all natural ingredients and contains unbleached flour, dried cane syrup (i.e. raw sugar) and buttermilk as a flavoring. Nothing that you can’t pronounce. You add eggs, water and oil or butter, mix and bake. Most cake mixes are designed to give you almost fool proof results, and this one is no exception with its very simple directions. It turned out a cake with a slightly buttery flavor and a tender, somewhat crumbly, crumb. It turned out to have a much better flavor and texture when made with butter than with oil, even though oil was suggested as an alternative to butter on the box.
Unfortunately, I can’t help comparing it to the Ad Hoc yellow cake mix – which really did produce an excellent cake, mix or not – and I have to admit that it is not nearly as good as that one even though they have similarly “gourmet” ingredient lists. That said, it is also a fraction of the price. Taking all this into account, I would definitely consider keeping a box of this mix in the back of the pantry if you like to have a cake mix on hand for those times when you’re not going to make your own from scratch. It is minimally processed, with recognizable ingredients and is easy to make on top of it. I’ll also take a homemade yellow cake over this one, but if you put a nice layer of chocolate frosting on top I wouldn’t complain about eating a slice!
Update: Based on some reader comments, I went back and tried this mix again. I would say that the cake seemed much more crumbly and somewhat more coarse than the first time I tried it. The flavor wasn’t too bad, but it did make me wonder if they had changed the formulation. I’m keeping the original review up, but I don’t think I would recommend this mix at this time! Let’s hope TJ’s gives their formula a tweak and improves the texture of the cake, bringing it up to the standards of the rest of their products.
There are some cake recipes that I go back to again and again, and this simple yellow cake is one of them. Unassuming and almost plain looking, this cake has a great flavor and a soft, tender crumb. It is easy to make and perfect for eating any day of the week in big slices with a glass of milk – rather than waiting for birthdays or other special occasions.
The cake is made by creaming the butter into a mixture of cake flour and sugar. This creates a cake that has a much finer crumb than most cakes made with the regular creaming method. The mixing method given below may sound a bit unusual compared to some other yellow cake recipes, but it doesn’t take too long to put the cake together and the results are well worth the effort. The finished cake has a nice balance of vanilla and butter flavors in it, with the buttery notes coming from both butter and buttermilk in the cake batter. The tenderness of the cake gives it an almost melt-in-your-mouth quality to it.
This cake gets its name from its pale, yellow color. While yellow cake mixes might get their color from food coloring of some kind, the yellow color of this cake comes from egg yolks. For comparison, when I’m making a white cake, I only use egg whites to keep the finished product as light and white-looking as possible. I frosted it with an easy to make chocolate cream cheese frosting, but you can really use any kind of frosting you like, or even serve it with fresh berries and whipped cream if you want to keep things simple!
Honestly, I like baking my own birthday cakes. I always have and always will. I feel like there is a lot of freedom for me to choose what my favorite cake is. Unfortunately, I don’t really have a favorite. I like some things better than others, but when it comes right down to it, baking a birthday cake with no one’s preferences but my own in mind is a tricky thing: I want it to be for me, but I want everyone else to love it. I guess I get selfish around my birthday. After much deliberation about flavors and a strong leaning towards doing something complicated and “fancy”, I did a 180 (meaning that I changed my mind) and baked myself a yellow sheet cake.
I’m certain that the only yellow sheet cakes I have ever eaten, until now, have come from boxes. Yellow cake is a vanilla cake that gets a faint yellow color from egg yolks. Many cakes are slightly yellow, so in the realm of birthday cakes, it’s just about as basic as you can get.
I would say that there is nothing wrong with boxed cake mixes, but if I had to compare them to this cake, I would be lying. This cake is moist and incredibly fluffy, soft and tender. It is easy to make and easy to handle. It tastes amazing, not due to some exotic flavor, but because it absolutely tastes homemade.
The method is the best thing about this cake. I use the same one for white cake, actually. Beating the butter into the dry ingredients gives the finished cake a beautiful and tender crumb, inhibiting gluten development by creating a protective coating of fat around the flour. Beating the flour/butter mixture with some of the eggs gives the remaining gluten a chance to develop and incorporate air into the cake. The little bit of gluten development is a good thing in this case. I’m not going to nay-say all the warnings about over-mixing, but we do need some gluten to hold things together and let the cake rise. If we didn’t mix at all, we’re just have a big bowl of butter, flour, milk and sugar. Yum.
This cake can also be baked in round cake pans and layered. The baking time will need to be reduced, probably to 25-30 minutes, depending on the size of your pan. Also, note that the cake itself is not super rich (in fact, I used skim milk to make it, though whole and lowfat are fine), so you can go crazy with a real buttercream icing.