Whew! After making 100 cupcakes this week and a batch of cinnamon crumb cake, I feel qualified to review the new Trader Joe’s cake mixes. These three cake mixes, along with a chocolate frosting mix, have hit the shelves recently complete with adorable retro packaging. Not only are they pretty convenient, but they’re excellent cake mixes.
Yesterday when I served a batch of the cupcakes to a group of 2nd graders, I watched as they finished the cupcakes and then practically ate the cupcake wrappers (I’m glad I use unbleached all-natural wrappers!) Three 2nd-graders approached me afterwards asking if they could please have the “recipe” for the cupcakes. I smiled and said it was a cake mix and could they guess where I bought it (wink). “Trader Joe’s!” they yelled, jumping up and down.
Well, if it gets the unanimous approval of 2nd graders, you know it has to be good. The Chocolate Cake Mix is dark, rich, and moist. The batter mixes up smooth and silky and bakes up with an intoxicating aroma. While I was baking the cupcakes, I stepped into my front yard for just a minute and a neighbor stopped to ask me what I was making, saying it smelled heavenly. The Golden Yellow Cake Mix is equally delicious and moist.
I frosted the cupcakes with two kinds of frosting. I used the Trader Joe’s Chocolate Frosting Mix for the chocolate cupcakes and made my own lemon buttercream frosting for the yellow cupcakes. You may be thinking, “Hey, isn’t frosting mix just powdered sugar and cocoa? Is it a waste of money to buy this box?” It’s true that buttercream frosting is basically powdered sugar and the butter you add. And yes, the chocolate frosting mix is primarily powdered sugar and cocoa. However, at $2.69 for a 12 oz box of mix, the price is equivalent to buying powdered sugar ($2.79 for a 16 oz bag at Trader Joe’s). If you don’t stock powdered sugar and cocoa in your pantry, or you simply want to skip the measuring, I think the frosting mix is a perfectly fine thing to buy. The ingredients were great quality and the frosting was smooth and delicious. Make sure that when you’re mixing up the frosting, you add the hot water very slowly. If you have not made this kind of frosting before, you will be tempted to add a lot of hot water to the large amount of powdered sugar, but believe me that it takes very little. Go slowly, mix thoroughly, and stop when the frosting is smooth and spreadable.
For other frosting options, you can use a whipped cream frosting like the one we use in our Star Spangled Berry Cake. It’s flavored with vanilla and just a touch of sugar. If you like, substitute 1/4 cup of maple syrup for the vanilla and sugar – it’s a really nice fall flavor on cakes and cupcakes. For an all-natural dye-free cake/cupcake decoration, I love to use berries, chocolate sprinkles, or Trader Joe’s Chocolate Covered Sunflower Seed Drops. And for some seasonal decorating ideas, here are our Halloween cupcakes !
The Cinnamon Crumb Cake is also delicious and would be a nice and sweet add-on for a brunch. When you mix the batter up for this one, two things will happen. You will think, “this doesn’t seem like very much batter” and then you will think, “this seems too thick…did I mix it up right?” The batter will be thick like brownie batter. Just spread it in the bottom of your pan (I used an 8-inch oval dish) – it will bake up great. The smell of this one is amaaaaazing while it bakes.
When you open the package, there will be two bags of mix inside. One is the cake mix, and one is the crumb mix. They are labeled, but it’s not easy to see. The slightly larger bag is the cake mix.
These mixes are more or less foolproof, but here are some hints when baking cakes or cupcakes:
1) Preheat your oven and make sure it has reached the indicated temperature. If you try to get a “head start” by putting your item in the oven while it’s preheating, your baked goods won’t bake evenly, the texture may be affected, and final cooking times will be off.
2) Don’t skimp (or skip) when greasing and flouring pans. Nothing is more frustrating than baking a cake and not being able to pop it out of the pan. Get the butter or oil into all the corners and edges, then flour the pan if indicated. Are you baking a chocolate cake? Then use unsweetened cocoa powder instead of flour, otherwise your baked cake will have a haze of white all over it…not attractive.
3) For birthday parties, consider cupcakes instead of a cake. They’re easier and faster to serve and the pieces are all the same. And no plates or forks are necessary! There’s no cutting, no panicked plating, and no complaints over the size of piece or getting a corner piece vs. a center piece. I like to use baking cups (cupcake wrappers) – they’re available in a variety of designs as well as plain, unbleached ones.
4) Take it easy when mixing batters. Mix gently only until combined. Enthusiastic over-beating with gluten-containing flours will create gluey, chewy, and tough baked goods.
5) Don’t peek! You’re in a hurry but if you constantly open the oven door to see how far along your cake is, you’re going to disrupt the heat circulation and your baking will fall flat or cook unevenly.
And in closing, an annoucement:
Did you hear the news!?!? Our newest cookbook, “Cooking with Trader Joe’s: Dinner’s Done!“ is about to be released! We’re so excited and hope you love it too. It’s hardcover, full of great new recipes, with color photos and nutritional information for every recipe.