Ever wonder about a boxed mix you've seen in the store? Is it any good? Could it replace something you'd otherwise make from scratch? Welcome to Mixed Review, where the whole point is putting boxed mixes to the test! —The Mgmt.


[Photos: Lucy Baker]

Halloween is a time to celebrate sugar, and is there any cake on earth more unabashedly sweet than Pillsbury's Funfetti? I baked up the seasonal version and slathered on the canned orange frosting for this week's Mixed Review. Gourmet baking, this was not. But there is something inherently comforting about preparing a Pillsbury cake mix. Much like donning a pair of faux-fur bunny ears and scarfing down a plastic pumpkin full of miniature Snickers, it makes me feel like a kid again.


I found the mix on sale at the supermarket for $1, and the frosting for $1.25. Even with the added ingredients (1/3 cup of oil, water, and three eggs) the entire 9x13-inch sheet cake cost less than $3 to make. Not bad. That's cheaper than most bags of trick-or-treating candy (if you go for premium brands--no circus peanuts or Necco wafers, please!). Inside the box was a package of standard yellow cake mix and a small pouch of "Halloween candy," which turned out to be plain old black and orange sprinkles.


Before I get on to reviewing the cake's flavor, let me at least say that Pillsbury is nothing if not consistent. The baking times listed on the instructions need no adjustment, and the yields are exact. My cake emerged from the oven with a perfectly smooth top and no hint of lopsidedness. It puffed up nicely, filling the pan without threatening to overflow it. I also appreciated how golden-brown the edges were. And once it was cut, the squares of cake came out of the pan easily, with no tearing, clumping, or resistance.


Despite the cake's pleasing appearance, the consistency and flavor were disappointing. The cake was sticky, gummy, and moist to the point of seeming damp. Inside, the black and orange sprinkles had melted completely and didn't offer any crunch or variation in texture. The cake itself was intensely sweet, and the thick, goopy frosting was even sweeter. It practically made my teeth hurt.

But wait--isn't that the point of Halloween? To gorge yourself on treats so over-the-top sugary that they would make your dentist shiver in fear? If so, Pillsbury's Halloween Funfetti Cake Mix is a smashing success. If, however, you're looking for a dessert with superior flavor, I suggest you keep searching. One thing I've learned while writing this column is that good baking mixes are like houses that hand out full-size candy bars: tough to find, few and far between, but totally worth it.


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