Several weeks ago I had this idea to compare cakes that were made using a shop bought cake mix to one that is made from scratch from ingredients found in my cupboard. In other words, one that is homemade! I’ve baked batches of scones before to see how they fared in comparison, but never got round to actually asking my willing taste testers their opinions. Not much point to that little experiment then!
I personally would never dream of making a cake by any other means than from scratch. I love baking. It’s how I relax and it’s the only thing I’m remotely creative at. I get a little thrill when people enjoy what I have lovingly baked. I only wish that I didn’t actually enjoy eating what I produce. My ever rounding tum and bum are testament to that! So when I wander down the baking aisle of my supermarket, I’m amazed by how many shelves are filled with packs of mixes for nearly every sort of cake under the sun. Why buy them when most people have all of the ingredients as staples at home, and to whip up a cake takes no time at all, especially if it is a humble little sponge?
So it was this little humble sponge that I decided to base my little comparison experiment on. I would make four Victoria Sponges using three mixes from the supermarket and the fourth would be homemade using the creaming method. At school we drum into our pupils the importance of fair testing when doing a science investigation. Baring this in mind I had to make sure I followed the same principal. All the cakes would be baked in the same tins and on the same shelf in the oven. Any additional eggs would come from the same box. I needed to use the same taste testers for each cake (no problem there!)
Last week I finally dug out the cake mixes I had bought weeks before and armed with a camera and notebook I got cracking. So, without further ado, these are the results!
A supermarket value brand.
Additional ingredients needed-1 egg (25p)
Total cost-47p excluding jam (8 servings)
Ingredients included wheat flour, sugar, whey powder, diphosphates,potassium carbonates, carboxy methyl cellulose, polyglycerol, esters of fatty acids, soya, flavouring
This cake took all of 2 minutes to whip up. The contents in the bag pre mixing was powder like.The batter was extremely runny and almost white in colour. Looking nothing like a cake batter that I know of. Nor did it taste like one !
Baked and assembled it was flat and very unappealing in appearance, nothing like the picture on the packaging. On cutting the cake was very pale and filled with tiny little holes. Reminding me of a bath sponge! Comments from my dubious looking taste testers were ” tastes cheap” “dry” “lacks flavour” “chewy” “horrible..can’t eat another mouthful” “wouldn’t eat again” I thought it pretty disgusting. A mouthful of chemicals with a texture that started off spongy but quickly turned into chewy. Yuck!
A supermarket brand cake
Additional ingredients needed- 2 eggs (50p)
Total cost -£1.40 excluding jam (12 servings)
Ingredients included wheat flour,sugar,palm oil, rapeseed oil, mono and di-glycerides of fatty acids, skimmed cows’ milk powder, diphosphates,potassiom carbonate, soya lecithin, natural flavouring
This cake also took two minutes to mix. The packet contents were yellow and almost like a crumble mix. After mixing the batter was again runny, but this time the batter was grainy and contained undissolved bits.It tasted incredibly sweet.
Appearences were ok, apart from being slightly too dark once baked and assembled. It resembled a home made cake and looked like the picture on the packet. Once cut though, there did seem to be rather a lot of air holes. Comments from my taste testers were “a superior cake mix, if it is one” underlying artificial taste” “I’d eat this again” “can I have a second piece” “light texture” “looks home made” “tasteless” “chewy” I thought it an improvement on cake one, but yet again it seemed to collapse on eating and became claggy (my word of the week!) It tasted artificial but not unpleasant.
Homemade following a Mary Berry recipe
cost- £2.15 excluding jam ( 8-12 servings according to how greedy you are!)
Ingredients includes eggs, sugar, flour, Stork margarine, vanilla extract, milk
It took longer this time to make. Twelve minutes in total. The batter had a thick dropping consistancy and needed spreading in the pans. It was pale yellow in colour and tasted smooth and creamy.
The bake was even and once assembled looked like the photo attached to the recipe. On cutting there were some air holes but not as many in the previous two cakes. My trusty taste testers comments were “tastes homemade” “moist” “best by far” “no chemicals in this one” ” buttery” “rich flavours” “the jam is seeping into the sponge” I’m not sure if my opinion should count here but I was more than pleased with the result!
A branded cake mix
Additional ingredients- 3 eggs, oil and water (80p)
Total cost-£3.05 excluding jam (serves 12)
Ingredients included sugar, wheat flour,palm oil, monosodium bicarbonate, modified corn starch, esters of fatty acids, mono-diglycerides of fatty acids, flavouring, xanthan gum
The preperation time for this cake took five minutes. The contents in the packet were pale yellow and resembled a crumble mix. The batter had a loose dropping consistancy and not as runny as the other mixes. It was very sweet and had a vaguely vanilla taste coming through. After trying the batter my lips tingled for a good while after !
The cake cracked slightly on baking but looked decent enough, but there seemed to be several large air holes on cutting.It looked like the picture on the packaging apart fronm the slight cracking. My taste testers comments were “very sweet” “vaguely vanilla” “a funny colour” “strong artificial smelling” “looks manufactured” “yummy” “worse one” “heavy” I thought that it tasted very artificial and again was claggy and stuck to the roof of my mouth. I had an unpleasent after taste for hours after. One of my poor taste testers thought it was the cause of an IBS flare up!!
So in conclusion. Suprise, surprise, the home made cake was the clear winner! I was surprised how poorly the more expensive branded mix fared.In fact this cake turned out to be the most expensive of the four. No surprises though that the value mix got such poor reviews. A cake for 47p? What do you expect! Packet mixes are convenient in terms of time, but a homemade cake only takes a few minutes more. I’ve been making cakes for years so I can almost make one with my eyes closed. Someone lacking confidence may take a little longer. But you just can’t beat one made from scratch. A successful one tastes like a cake should. Doesn’t turn chewy when eating it. Doesn’t leave an after taste. You know exactly what’s in it !
This little comparison test was, of course for a bit of fun, and please don’t read too much into the results.My taste testers had no idea which cake was which on trying them and it was fun to see their reactions. I haven’t named the branded mix or which supermarket the own brands came from for obvious reasons! I have to say that I rather enjoyed my little foray into product testing and comparing shop bought with home made. Next week I plan to test those scone recipes again. My taste testers can’t wait!