Who wants cake?! Mmmmm cake. Okay, I admit it, this one was a total impulse buy. Sheer curiosity got the best of me.
Let’s pause for one brief moment. Let’s address the question that may be forming in your mind, something to the tune of, “Wait. She runs a wellness blog. What in the Sam Hill is she doing promoting cake mix?!” I know. I feel a little twitchy doing it, but there is good reason. Let me hereby establish the Five Self-Evident Truths of This Blog Post:
likelove to eat cake.
- People make cakes. For themselves, for events, for their kids.
- People use box cake mixes. Not everyone, but many people do. This post is for you, box cake people.
- Box cake mixes, traditionally, are utter garbage. (Refer to ingredients list of regular products below.)
- My blog is about making better choices. I’m not naive enough to believe that everyone is going to start making cakes from scratch. There are plenty of reasons why they may not, and I’m not here to judge. Sure, that’s the best option, but it’s not always feasible. I’m not advocating boxed over made-from-scratch. I’m not advocating that cake is healthy, or that you should start eating more cake because of Purely Simple. I’m advocating a better choice, for the times you do make a cake, whenever that may be.
Capiche? Good. Let’s head back to it.
Ah yes, so I stumbled on these little guys by accident, on sale for $2.50 each (reg.price $3.29 each). FYI, people online report finding them way cheaper, especially at Target?! So you may want to scout out the best deal. Supposedly there are coupons floating around too.
As you can see in the main photo, the packages for both Purely Simple products proudly boast,”Simply no colors, preservatives, or artificial flavors,” which had me intrigued. (Though I also think it’s pathetic that companies act heroic for removing crap from a product that should never be in there anyways, but I digress.) I flipped them over for an inspection of the ingredients, and was pleased to see that the lists are short and sweet (pun intended):
Purely Simple White Cake Mix: Wheat flour, sugar, canola oil, leavening (calcium phosphate, baking soda), cornstarch, salt, xanthan gum, natural flavor
Purely Simple Buttercream Frosting Mix: Sugar, cornstarch, buttermilk
My thoughts? First off, yes, it’s still processed cake/frosting mix. So let’s address the elephant that, as we well know, this definitely is not the same as making cake from scratch. Serious bakers are usually morally opposed to box mixes. As one reviewer wrote, you’re basically “paying Pillsbury to measure for you,” which is pretty true. Of course, making a cake from scratch and controlling the ingredients (and using high-quality ones) is the healthiest option for making cake.
And yes, because this is still a processed mix (albeit with less, better ingredients) it still includes a few ingredients I’d like to change or omit – even the “natural flavor”, because that can mean/hide a variety of things.
The way I look at it though, it’s cake mix, for goodness sake. Adults (should) know that cake isn’t a health food and should be eaten in moderation no matter what. Is this Purely Simple mix perfect? No. But it’s worlds better than using any other boxed cake mix! This mix is a great compromise especially for those of us who rarely bake cakes, but are prone to reaching for a mix when we do.
And in terms of the frosting, that’s where you’re really doing better – have you seen the ingredients in normal processed frosting lately? Ugh. Not to mention that the average frosting from a can has a terrible reputation for being pretty high in trans fats.
For comparison, here is the ingredient listing for “regular” products:
Pillsbury Moist Supreme White Cake Mix: ENRICHED BLEACHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, IRON, THIAMIN MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID), SUGAR, LEAVENING (BAKING SODA, CALCIUM PHOSPHATE, SODIUM ALUMINUM PHOSPHATE), WHEAT STARCH, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: CANOLA OIL, DEXTROSE, SALT, CELLULOSE, PROPYLENE GLYCOL, ESTERS OF FATTY ACIDS, CORN STARCH, DISTILLED MONOGLYCERIDES, XANTHAN GUM, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, CELLULOSE GUM, SODIUM STEAROYL-2-LACTYLATE, SOY LECITHIN, WHEY, SODIUM CASEINATE, PALM KERNEL OIL, CITRIC ACID AND BHT (ANTIOXIDANTS). [Ed. note: BHT is not an antioxidant in terms of one that’s good for your body! In this usage, “antioxidant” means preservative – and a dangerous, man-made chemical one at that!]
Pillsbury Creamy Supreme Buttercream Frosting: SUGAR, PALM OIL, WATER, CORN SYRUP, CORN STARCH, CANOLA OIL, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: SALT, MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, ARTIFICIAL COLOR (INCLUDING YELLOW 5, RED 40, YELLOW 6), MODIFIED CORN STARCH, POLYSORBATE 60, POTASSIUM SORBATE (PRESERVATIVE), SOY LECITHIN, XANTHAN GUM, CITRIC ACID, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS, ANTIOXIDANTS (ASCORBYL PALMITATE, MIXED TOCOPHEROLS, CHAMOMILE AND ROSEMARY EXTRACTS).
So, when you look at it that way, it’s totally clear that Purely Simple is a way better bet if you’re grabbing a boxed cake mix! In the past, 100% of the time if I was making a cake or cupcakes, I grabbed a mix. That’s not to say that I’m averse to trying a nice homemade recipe like this one though! Not at all. In fact, I think I’m more likely now than I’ve ever been!
What about nutrition? For one thing, I dislike that one serving contains 15% of your daily sodium intake – highly unnecessary. Get that out of there, Pillsbury! It would also be great to see these mixes improved by lowering the sugar quantities as well. One cake serving = 17 g sugar, which is only 1 g less than the regular Moist Supreme cake. [To be fair, a homemade, 12-serving cake made with one cup (225 g) of sugar would be in this neighborhood too – 19 g sugar per serving.] One serving of the frosting contains, well, who knows – the package says 22 g sugar per 3 Tbs dry mix. I don’t know what 3 Tbs dry translates to, once hydrated. (Regular Pillsbury Supreme Buttercream frosting contains 20 g per each 2 Tbs serving, for reference.)
All that being said, let’s move onward to the making and, of course, the tasting!
These recipes truly are very simple in terms of ingredients found in the mix and in terms of what you need in addition, but I felt there was room for improvement to make the ingredients you add healthier, so here is what I did:
- Recipe calls for: 1 stick (1/2 cup) of butter + 1 cup milk + 3 eggs.
- What I used instead: 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce + 1 cup almond milk + 1 whole egg + 2 egg whites.
- Also, per the recommendation on the box, I added in 1/2 teaspoon each of pure almond extract and pure vanilla extract!
- Recipe calls for: 1/2 cup butter + 1/4 cup water.
- What I used instead: 1/4 cup (unsalted) organic butter + 1/4 cup EVOO + 1/4 cup water. (You may be able to further reduce or eliminate butter altogether and just use all EVOO to be even more heart-healthy, but that would be some serious trial and error that I’m not sure I recommend – see my commentary below.)
- Also, I decided to add a splash of pure vanilla extract to the frosting as well. The package recommends almond, but I went vanilla.
Overall, the prep for making the cake and the frosting was very quick and easy, just plenty of mixing done with my hand mixer. Me busting that thing out is a rarity (I’m a gal who will mix by hand whenever possible), but in this instance, using a hand mixer is 100% necessary, especially for the frosting.
The resulting cake batter is exactly what you’d expect from any other cake mix in terms of consistency and pour-ability, and it bakes up nice and fluffy just the way it should.
I admit, in terms of buttercream frosting, I’m not very well-versed. I’ve sure eaten it, but never made it. To me, the final product here looks and behaves like any frosting, but is a texture that’s somewhere in between regular can frosting and a superbly-made, fluffy buttercream from scratch. (Remember, I substituted half oil/half butter instead of all butter, so this seems to be why mine came out a bit heavier). Quantity-wise, what you end up with in your mixing bowl will go a lot further than you’d expect. On average, my frosting layer was about 1/4″ thick, but some areas even thicker – no shortage here.
Taste verdict? Fluffy, moist, and flavorful – on par with (and even a bit better than) what I’ve been getting from box mixes all my life. It’s even (dare I say it?) capable of standing on its own sans frosting, if you’d like. I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I think I nailed the cake ingredients perfectly in my tinkering. You always worry as you’re subbing things that you’re screwing up your final product, but I was relieved to see that my cake came out almost perfectly. It baked for about 42-ish minutes, but our oven is strong, and ever-so-slightly overdid the edge pieces. So, next time I may shorten baking to 38 minutes (the shortest recommended time).
The frosting came out well too, even with the substitutions I made, and you definitely notice a taste difference simply from it not being chemical-filled. It’s very basic, just a super sweet vanilla. During the prep, I had put in a few drops of pure vanilla extract, which kind of over-did the vanilla-ness a tad. Next time, I want to try pure almond extract instead (which is actually what the package recommends).
OVERALL VERDICT: All things said and done, would I buy this cake mix again? Would I recommend it? Yes and yes! High marks for ease of prep, taste, quality, and value. Would I buy/recommend the icing? Yes, to try again. I want to see if: A) almond extract instead of vanilla extract improves it, and B) I can have less icing-related drama this time. I’d recommend it any day over regular frosting, of course, but not because I absolutely adore it – more so just as a better, healthier quick option.
Last but not least, the Purely Simple line has quite a few other offerings:
- Chocolate cake/cupcake mix
- Chocolate buttercream frosting
- Chocolate chunk brownie mix
- Sugar cookie mix
- Chocolate chip cookie mix
Not that I make cookies often, but I already have a recipe for homemade sugar and choc. chip cookies, so honestly, I probably won’t be trying Purely Simple’s. However, I’d be very interested to see how the chocolate cake/frosting are especially, in hopes that maybe we like the chocolate frosting better than the vanilla.
Enjoy! Please feel free to ask any questions or share your own experiences with Purely Simply in the comments!