Which Cake Mixes Taste The Least Fake/processed??

Decorating By caker123 Updated 31 Dec 2008 , 4:14am by vteventrider

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caker123 Posted 3 Sep 2008 , 9:19pm
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I am a scratch baker, yet I was raised on boxed mixes. Because of that, I can recognize that fake cake taste from most boxed mixes I try. This wkd, I was curious and tried the much-raved-about WASC recipe and was surprised to see that 9 out of 10 people who tried it thought it was very yummy and not the least bit fake tasting!! Whereas I could easily identify the fake cake taste (though it was yummy). Is this your experience too? I am so curious about this...I figured it was mental because I knew it was cake mix but no one else did!

There was a topic I spotted a week ago called something like 'Why use a cake mix' but I searched for an hour using the search tool and could not find it.

So my Q here is...which in your experience is the 'least' fake tasting cake mix? Brand and mix itself (aka Betty Crocker Devils Food).

For example, I think most chocolate cakes don't have as much of that fake cake taste as white and yellow cakes do. Is that because of the cocoa masking some of the processed items? In white and yellow there is less 'flavoring' going on. Also, if you use melted butter instead of oil will it make it taste more 'scratch'? Is buttermilk better at hiding the fake taste than milk or water?

Any tips or comments re: turning a boxed mix into the absolute closest it can get to scratch would be helpful. You might be wondering, well why not just make scratch then...since I love it so much?? icon_smile.gif

Well I love scratch taste BUT cake mix provides such a visual uniformity and ease of use for when you are in a hurry. I would like at least two 'cake mix' recipes that I can fall back on when I am limited on time and/or need to make something I know will work. Trying to figure out what those might be (ideally a vanilla cake and/or white cake!).

Thank you!!

56 replies
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pottedmeatchunks Posted 3 Sep 2008 , 9:51pm
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You are right that the chocolate mixes taste less "fake vanilla" than the yellow or white mixes. My favorite yellow mix is betty crocker's golden butter mix (takes butter in place of oil). The absolute worst box mix for fakey flavor is betty crocker's golden vanilla, stay far far away.

I add in a pudding mix to make the consistency of the cake more dense, and for that I recommend jell-o's white chocolate flavor. You will be able to taste it if you put in regular vanilla pudding, white chocolate is definitely the best.

this is just my experience not sure how others feel.

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TexasSugar Posted 3 Sep 2008 , 11:28pm
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I guess my taste buds are just not up to par with others since cakes made with cake mixes do not taste fake to me. They taste just like cake. *shrugs*

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ceshell Posted 3 Sep 2008 , 11:45pm
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Great idea for a thread. I myself have recently been wondering the same thing. I had the same experience with the WASC, everyone LOVED it but I wasn't comfortable with the chemical flavor which apparently only *I* detected. However, I'm doing a cake later this month and was contemplating throwing in cupcakes for the kids. I only bake scratch cakes but I think it's a wasted effort on 3-year-olds, who will not detect the flavor nuances and most of whom only eat the icing anyway! LOL. Yet I don't want them to be gross, in case an adult does eat one.

Pottedmeatchunks how can you keep that straight -- only BC golden butter/not golden vanilla? I am going to chant that so I'll remember at the market.

TexasSugar I am sure you are like most people on the planet, box mixes taste just fine and normal. There are just a few of us mutants out there who can detect the difference. icon_lol.gif Or else...perhaps you are using the right mixes, and we have not been icon_rolleyes.gif

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Deb_ Posted 3 Sep 2008 , 11:48pm
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I'm not getting the "fake" description....I bake both from scratch and from mixes that I doctor up. While I'll agree there is a difference in texture/taste between the 2, they both still taste like a cake. The mix ones don't taste like something pretending to be a cake.....it's a cake and that's what it taste like. icon_confused.gif

Now, instant mashed potatoes or mashed potatoes made from real potatoes.....instant in my opinion taste like "fake" potatoes. Something pretending to be "real" mashed potatoes.
But, I've never had anybody tell me that my doctored cake mix tastes...fake icon_rolleyes.gif

It's all what your used to.....IMHO one is not any better than the other, just "different" that's all thumbs_up.gif

I'd never want any of the great bakers/decorators on this site think that their cakes taste fake if they use a mix. If you prefer to ALWAYS bake from scratch that's your choice, if not that's also o.k. Whatever works for you is great.

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indydebi Posted 3 Sep 2008 , 11:49pm
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Originally Posted by TexasSugar

I guess my taste buds are just not up to par with others since cakes made with cake mixes do not taste fake to me. They taste just like cake. *shrugs*

Me too. Although I can understand how a scratch-person would be able to tell the difference.

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leah_s Posted 3 Sep 2008 , 11:50pm
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blargh. I can taste the chemicals is all brands of boxed cake mixes.

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ceshell Posted 4 Sep 2008 , 12:10am
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I suppose it's just a matter of semantics: I agree, it doesn't taste like "fake cake" to me of course. Cake is cake. But I can taste the additives. Ditto that for freshly made custard versus those refrigerated Jello pudding cups, there is an obvious difference.

It could be the corn syrup, or the xanthan gum, or the distilled monoglycerides, or the dicalcium phosphate, or the "natural and artificial flavor". I don't think it's unusal that some people would detect these additives, and some wouldn't.

If you don't have a problem with them then more power to ya, you are done baking a cake and already creating a beautiful masterpiece while I am mixing up batch #2 because I've mucked up some $&^% fragile step in a scratch recipe icon_lol.gif

As the op mentioned, we acknowledge that many, many people cannot tell the difference (or have no issues with box mixes) and I for one think that's fine. I agree with dkelly, it's just a matter of preference. However it's still interesting to me to determine if, for those of us who CAN detect the additives, there are some brands with minimal flavor impact from that stuff that we might feel comfortable baking when scratch is just not a great option.

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lorrieg Posted 4 Sep 2008 , 12:12am
post #9 of 57

My son and I can tell the difference just from the batter, never mind the baked cake. But most people seem happy with the WASC so I pick and choose what I use depending on the customer and the cake. I agree the chocolate tastes less fake. And I did it in lemon and that wasn't as bad either.

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dawncr Posted 4 Sep 2008 , 12:31am
post #10 of 57

Probably depends on if you are a "supertaster" or a "nontaster" or somewhere in-between. There is lots of very cool research on differences between individuals in terms of their sensitivity to bitterness (includes things like coffee, broccoli), fat percentage, and sweetness. The differences appear to be genetically-based.

Do those of you who can detect the "chemical" taste of box mixes also detect the "chemical" taste of sugar substitutes and avoid other foods because of this sensation? It would be interesting to see if those who think American buttercream tastes "too sweet" (which baffles some people) also have greater or lesser sensitivity to some of the other taste variations. From my experiences with my own family, I classify persons into two categories: 1)Those who love American buttercream (and think European buttercreams are too buttery-tasting); 2) Those who prefer S/IMBC and think American, powdered sugar buttercreams taste "too sweet."

Scientists have identified the genetics behind at least one of these forms of supertasting, but I don't know if they've identified all of them. I don't have a good, recent summary of the data, but if you google "supertaster" or "taste" with genetics, you should get some of them.

Maybe we should give a taste test to our customers. Those who are supertasters to the "chemical-tasting" foods get the scratch cakes, and those who are nontasters to these do fine with good old box mixes.

Yes, I'm kidding about the last part.

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lorrieg Posted 4 Sep 2008 , 12:53am
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Originally Posted by dawncr

Do those of you who can detect the "chemical" taste of box mixes also detect the "chemical" taste of sugar substitutes and avoid other foods because of this sensation? It would be interesting to see if those who think American buttercream tastes "too sweet" (which baffles some people) also have greater or lesser sensitivity to some of the other taste variations. From my experiences with my own family, I classify persons into two categories: 1)Those who love American buttercream (and think European buttercreams are too buttery-tasting); 2) Those who prefer S/IMBC and think American, powdered sugar buttercreams taste "too sweet."

Yes, artificial sweeters leave a kind of "filmy bad taste" in my mouth. American buttercream is way too sweet to me. I prefer S/IMBC myself but find most people that I do cakes for love the american buttercream and love cake mixes.

My son and I can smell rain from inside a closed room. Of course I live in a 100 year old house so it's not exactly air tight.

To the rest of our family we are just plain annoying and tapedshut.gif .

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caker123 Posted 4 Sep 2008 , 1:16am
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Thanks for the responses! As noted, I grew up on cake mixes and LOVED them.

But now that I have baked from scratch almost solely for a year, I notice that mixes DO have that distinct taste difference for me...and yes as some noted, other people do not seem to really notice! I do have one friend who is like me who notices...but we are it.

And yes, I do really 'super taste' things, all artificial sweeteners to me taste fake or rather 'chemical' not like 'natural sugar' as in something like honey.

I love baking from scratch but I agree that sometimes it's tempting to forget creaming the butter and sugar and blah blah, just grab a whisk and go to town. So that is why I would like to hear from I guess other people who ARE super sensitive about taste and hear what they find are the least chemical tasting cake mixes.

Then I don't have to make 10 more batches of random cake mixes (like the butter vanilla vs butter, never would have figured that!) and dump the cakes to find out.

So anyone else have recommendations on potential cake mixes I can try that might taste less chemical and more 'scratch'? I am going to try my hand at one tonite ... I think this French Vanilla one I picked up...we'll see.

Oh and to those who are sole cake mix adapters...I would gladly eat whatever cake you plunked in front of me...I *love* cake in any shape or form and still do harbor a secret love in my heart for Betty Crocker with the from-the-can chocolate frosting. Ahh.

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Edit Posted 4 Sep 2008 , 1:21am
post #13 of 57

If one is used to the flavor of boxed cake mixes, that person probably won't be able to tell if it is a mix or not. (The "fake" in OP's post referred to the artificial taste of the the cake mixes. It wasn't offending at all.)
When someone eats more natural foods (without the added chemicals, enhancers, MSG and others), yes, that person can tell the artificial from the pure. Anybody can do it if we give our taste buds a break and eat natural foods for a while.

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angelbaby612 Posted 4 Sep 2008 , 2:50am
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What is WASC?
As far as box mixes tasting "fake" I think it depends on the mix and/or the person. Some brands, Pillsbury being one of them, tastes very off to me. Sometimes it may just be the person eating the cake.
I worked at a local bakery who used a popular brand mix for their white cake. They did add some flavoring, but not much. I made a cake for a friend who has eaten cakes from the bakery quite often. The cake was made from scratch (which I have received many compliments for) of the same flavor. The person did not like my cake because it was, as they said, "box quality". They liked the bakery's cake better becuase it had a "home made taste".
So I think it just depends on the person.

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Nicolle711 Posted 4 Sep 2008 , 2:56am
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I couldn't resist this thread because I just recently crossed the tracks and made my first boxed cake in years!!!

I first learned how to bake when I was a kid by box mixes. My mom would buy them and I would make a cake or cupcakes. But box cakes are what paved my baking experience.

Now I am all grown up and have been strictly making cakes from scratch. I can definitely taste the difference between a cake made from scratch and a box cake. Like someone mentioned in this thread (I believe Edna), if you are very accustomed to eating scratch cake and then try a piece of boxed cake, you will taste the difference in ingredients. There is a big difference from natural and artificial. Take for example freshly squeezed oj and oj from concentrate. You can pin point the artifical sweetners and preservitives very easily.

I too am very sensitive to artificial sweetners like spenda and nutrisweet. I get an immediate headache as soon as I have something that is fat free which contains these chemically enhanced sugars. When I go to Starbucks I have to make sure they understand I want a skim vanilla latte and not a vanilla skinny latte since the skinny latte contains artifical sugars which is why it is half the calories of my original latte.

So this past weekend I was in a rush to bake a cake and I picked up a recipe from CC for a chocolate box mix cake which called for sour cream and a small package of chocolate pudding (powdered). To my surprise it was delicious and did not have so much of an artifical taste to it. It was different then my regular chocolate cake from scratch however I didn't seem to mind it. My co-workers raved all afternoon on my cake which in the end is the best compliment I could possibly get.

I am now eager to try the Duncan Hines French vanilla Cake mix with vanilla pudding to see how that one turns out. I am hoping just as good as the chocolate one. However, in the end, I will never give up on my scratch recipes. icon_biggrin.gif

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cookiecakemonster Posted 4 Sep 2008 , 4:26am
post #16 of 57

I didn't grow up on boxed cakes. I noticed when i came to USA that most people just buy these.
i can tell when it's from a box. no matter if it's doctored or not...
i went to a really good bakery here and the lady swore she was giving me a scratch cake.
I was dissapointed when i got home, tried it and it tasted like BOX cake!!!
i went back and asked her if she was sure it was from scratch because it tastes like from a box. she said...
ohhhhhhh it is a doctored box mix!!!!

to me that's not a scratch cake... It's a doctored box cake icon_wink.gif

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caker123 Posted 4 Sep 2008 , 5:37am
post #17 of 57

I continued this convo tonite with a friend about box vs scratch and taste. She is from Slovakia and her dad is a chef. When he visits, he makes us fabulous desserts from scratch and they are so not as sweet as 99% of what we eat here in the US. They are typically made with fruit and yogurt and are all 'fresh' kind of ingredients. Very different from how many of us grew up. Funny because when he comes here and bakes or cooks, he always says the ingredients are not QUITE the same either. aka flour is not just the same flour they have over there. Same with sugar. It's really interesting from a science perspective.

Anyway, I wanted to report back on my boxed mix experiment tonite for anyone interested. I used the Betty Crocker French Vanilla cake mix. I adapted the mix similar to WASC recommendations, with flour, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, vanilla bean paste, melted butter instead of oil, whole milk *and* sour cream. I added a LOT of vanilla bean paste as I like to see the flecks in my scratch vanilla that everyone loves. I also bake a peanut butter cup in sometimes...which I did this time to try to get as close of a comparison to what 'scratch' recipe people seem to love the most.

The difference was that these cupcakes were in the oven in 1/2 the time that it takes me to make my scratch vanilla bean recipe.

I was VERY pleased with the outcome of the cupcakes from a taste perspective. They still *smelled* somewhat like box cake mix, but the taste was about 85% of my natural scratch recipe. The other 15% you weren't quite sure what it was but it didn't have that boxed flavor that I tasted in the WASC recipe I tried (which by the way tons of people loved, just not me).

I also had a friend who tastes almost everything I make try it and she said that while it was more dense and not as fluffy as my regular recipe (which uses the creaming method), the flavor was very similar and it was very close...she knew it was different but not quite how.

So this seems to work for a 'fall back' recipe when I don't have the same amount of time to make a scratch and/or I have to make a lot of cupcakes and it might be easier to adapt from a box.

Next up is a chocolate recipe...I am intrigued by all these chocolate mix and pudding combos I hear about !!

Anyone else have suggestions on other box mixes I can try or added ingredients to try to make them taste a little more natural??? icon_smile.gif I am all ears!


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ceshell Posted 4 Sep 2008 , 5:53am
post #18 of 57
Originally Posted by caker123

I also bake a peanut butter cup in sometimes...

Stop! You are hurting me. I am salivating right now icon_razz.gif

Thanks for the report, this is very helpful. If you ever try the BC golden butter sthat pottedmeatchunks suggested early on, please post the results back here! I'll be watching for your chocolate results. Love the idea of having a backup plan.

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peg818 Posted 4 Sep 2008 , 12:48pm
post #19 of 57


i have grown up on box mixes, and even i can't stand the chemical taste of a yellow mix. I'm talking straight up yellow mix.

I use only white cake mix, add real vanilla, butter and milk and whole eggs, it changes the whole consistency of the cake, it will still have under laying tendencies of a box mix, but is often mistaken for scratch.

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Deb_ Posted 4 Sep 2008 , 7:09pm
post #20 of 57

Hi All,

Caker123, I'm glad to hear that you had good luck with that box golden cake you tried. It is definitely quick and great in a pinch.

I read on a post last week here on CC that there is a "homemade" mix that you can put together with all dry ingred. and I think shortening. You place it in containers and when you're ready to use it, you use a few cups and than add all the wet ingredients. So it's kind of like a "homemade cake mix". I'll try to find it. It sounded interesting and I thought I was saving it but I'm not very computer savvy and I couldn't find it just now.

If I'm in a hurry and need a chocolate cake I use DH devils food, and I switch out coffee for the water amt., a box of sugar free inst. choc. pudding, 1 tsp.of butavan extract, 3 eggs, 1/3 cup oil and 1/2 cup sour cream. The coffee really inriches the chocolate flavor and you can't tell it has coffee in it. My kids love this one thumbs_up.gif

Over the years I'd say my cakes are probably 75% scratch and 25% doctored mix. It depends on the client, I get mostly repeat clients and I've gotten to know what they prefer. I love my scratch cakes, don't get me wrong, but sometimes it's nice to just throw everything in the KA and let it rip! I notice the younger client prefers the sweeter doctored mixes. I guess that's how I know a mix cake, it does taste sweeter to me.

Try the chocolate cake and let us know what you think.

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banananutmuffin Posted 20 Dec 2008 , 6:33pm
post #22 of 57

I wish you had gotten more replies to this... it was an interesting question!

I'm a newbie so don't have much to offer, but will add this: So far I've been making WASC with Duncan Hines Classic White, and it's been getting a lot of compliments. (I have tried almond extract and coconut flavoring, and both were well received.)

The one time I tried a doctored Betty Crocker mix (I believe a white cake mix), the cake didn't rise right and had a definite "processed" taste, IMHO.

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Callyssa Posted 20 Dec 2008 , 6:59pm
post #23 of 57

I'll throw in my two cents! I have extremely sensitive tastebuds, and sense of smell as well. I CANNOT taste a "fake" taste to box mixes!!! I just don't get it! I obviously know the difference between scratch and box and could most likely choose correctly in a blind test, but that would be more based on texture and sweetness, not any kind of chemical taste. I did grow up on boxed mix so that may be why.

Now here's something really odd though; it seems almost everyone here loves the taste of Satin Ice; even mixed half with homemade fondant it STILL tastes like car paint to me! I can't imagine ever choking it down, yet so many people love it (and I adore homemade fondant). I think it really all does depend on tastebuds.

I need some awesome scratch recipes to try though; maybe I just haven't tried the right ones yet? Any great suggestions?

Oh yeah, and I do LOVE WASC.......

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jules1719 Posted 20 Dec 2008 , 7:46pm
post #24 of 57

All box mixes taste bad. Period. Even WASC. Unless of course you like the taste of chemicals... then rock on... stay deluded.

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JanH Posted 27 Dec 2008 , 9:45pm
post #25 of 57
Originally Posted by jules1719

All box mixes taste bad. Period. Even WASC. Unless of course you like the taste of chemicals... then rock on... stay deluded.

jules1719 you're assuming facts not in evidence.

#1, that everyone in the world has YOUR tastebuds.

#2, that anyone who doesn't agree with your opinion is delusional.

Taste, and smell are quite complex and personal perceptions:



Treatment is available for the taste/smell impaired:


Having an opinion, even a strongly felt opinion is fine. (We're all entitled to our opinions.)

But judging us harshly for liking what we like can be seen as being narrow minded and divisive. (As well as being insensitive to the taste/smell impaired.)

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BrendaS104 Posted 28 Dec 2008 , 3:18am
post #26 of 57

See I've tried scratch mixes and as someone who grew up on the Box.. I think scratch cakes taste a wee bit.. hmmm... how do I describe? Earthy? icon_lol.gif I'm all for natural ingredients too.. except for cake.

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vteventrider Posted 30 Dec 2008 , 11:06pm
post #27 of 57

Like some of the posters I can definately tell artificial sweetners and flavors and think American BC is overly sweet. This is one of the reasons I prefer scratch cakes for myself. That said I loved this thread as I am always looking for a good doctored box recipe for times when I want to not do all the crazy work of scratch and want something that will turn out perfect each and every time. I also find a lot of people associate what they know as cake with the textures and taste from the box and therefore do not always like the density of some scratch cakes. Thanks to all for sharing, now I just have to try these ideas.

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dailey Posted 30 Dec 2008 , 11:21pm
post #28 of 57

no one can argue that box mixes have a "smell" that is unmistakable...some may like it...and others may think it smells awful (like me). if you want to mask that smell/taste, then i suggest adding a block of cream cheese and 1 tablespoon of vanilla to your mix...makes a world of difference.

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Lenore Posted 30 Dec 2008 , 11:27pm
post #29 of 57

I too was very disappointed when I tried the WASC cake as I also found that it tastes just like a box cake to me. I do not like box cake doctored or not. I only bake from scratch. My family even can tell if I used all-purpose flour vs. the cake flour I usually use in my scratch cakes. They will eat a piece and say, "you used AP flour!" in disappointment. Rough crowd here at home.

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Kitagrl Posted 30 Dec 2008 , 11:36pm
post #30 of 57

I do both scratch and boxed. My main boxed is the average yellow cake, doctored. Most people LOVE it. I don't know how to explain it but the doctoring makes it taste alot better than just plain cake mix. And I only use Duncan Hines, too.

I have two different pricing tiers...the regular doctored cake mix stuff and then the "gourmet" (scratch) flavors. Because the scratch cakes that I do are more expensive and pretty rich. Most people, especially ones buying for kids parties, really like the plain doctored yellow cake just fine. Its what they are "used to" plus a step "up" (doctored and moist and fresh) so they are happy.

Most other flavors though I end up doing scratch. However yellow is still my most requested flavor!

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