Pound Cake From a Box?

It looks good...but how does it taste?
It looks good...but how does it taste?
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt

True pound cake is a decadent delicacy. A pound each of butter, eggs, sugar and flour -- with an underlying hint of citrus, vanilla or even almond, depending on the recipe you use -- blended heavily together to create a cake that seems to weigh as much as a small child, but with a lightly crispy, almost crunchy exterior that gives way to a moist interior so rich you don't even need frosting.

Of course, all this decadence comes with a price: your arteries. We only eat pound cake these days when our little old Meemo makes it, which is about twice a year. But we still have that craving, causing us to look wistfully at the store-made pound cakes in Kroger that you know aren't any better for you and, in fact, cost more than making it yourself. It's a sad sort of craving, like the one River Oaks housewives must have for a carrot stick dipped in something other than carefully concealed self-loathing.

Browsing idly and slowly through the grocery store a few days ago (one of our all-time favorite hobbies, although the people at Randall's or H-E-B always think that we're irretrievably lost or simply stupid), we picked up a box of Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe classic yellow cake, more out of curiosity for what was in the ingredients list than anything else. Turning it to one side, we saw instead a recipe for pound cake.

We were intrigued.

The assembled ingredients.
The assembled ingredients.

The recipe called for the box of cake mix we were holding, along with a box of vanilla instant pudding mix (like the Jell-O mixes that were conveniently located on the next shelf, you clever little grocery store minxes, you). If there's one thing we love as much as pound cake, it's vanilla pudding. And also experimenting. And experimenting with vanilla pudding. So we bought the two boxes and headed home.

We couldn't imagine that decent pound cake would come out of the marriage of these two plastic bags of powder -- both of dubious provenance, containing ingredients like "propylene glycol mono- and diesters of fats" -- but were eager to test it out for that reason alone. We greased and floured a Bundt pan (p.s. Pam baking spray with flour is the most amazing thing to ever come out of a spray can -- we highly recommend it) and set about mixing up the batter. Here's the recipe from the box:

  • 1 package Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe yellow cake mix
  • 1 package (4 serving size) vanilla instant pudding mix
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil

Looking at the ingredients list, we immediately decided that it wasn't going to be moist enough for our tastes. So we upped the vegetable oil by an entire cup. Call us renegades. That's just how we roll when we bake. 

Pound Cake From a Box?

Mixing up the batter with our Nana's trusty hand-mixer (it's easier to clean up than hauling out the Kitchenaid stand mixer and allows for the all-important viewing of American Idol while you mix), we immediately noticed that it was taking on that familiar pudding-like consistency. If there weren't eggs in it, it looked just like we could have put in in the fridge to set and made banana pudding out of it.

Still feeling dubious about the recipe, we poured the concoction into our Bundt pan and stuck it in the oven at 350 degrees. Only 40 minutes later (far less than the 50 to 60 minutes recommended on the box), the cake was filling the house with a delicious vanilla scent and was quite obviously done. And they say a watched cake never bakes. Or is that a pot? That never boils? Either way...

Pound Cake From a Box?

The cake slipped easily from the Bundt pan onto a platter after it had cooled a bit. It had a very moist, very springy consistency that started to get us excited. Perhaps this would turn out well after all.

We frosted it lightly the next day, just before serving it to some unwitting friends, by warming up a tub of regular old Duncan Hines Creamy Home-Style frosting (chocolate, natch). What, so we didn't make the frosting ourselves? In for a penny, in for a pound...of Duncan Hines.

Naked cake. Naughty!
Naked cake. Naughty!

The result was an incredibly moist yellow cake that was richly flavored with vanilla, but not at all dense or heavy. In that sense, of course, it wasn't a pound cake. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But it was damn good for a cake from a box. Our friends agreed. Our editor-in-chief, Margaret Downing, took some slices home to her kids, who proclaimed that it was the best yellow cake they'd ever had -- big praise, coming from teenagers, who are always painfully honest.

The cake didn't last long -- always a good sign.
The cake didn't last long -- always a good sign.

And while it did contain some ingredients that we weren't thrilled with (what are cellulose gum and xanthan gum, anyway?) and most certainly wasn't a pound cake, it didn't contain a pound of either sugar or butter, used significantly less frosting than your average yellow cake would, and turned out far better than any other cake we've ever made from a box. Now, if Duncan Hines will just change the name of the recipe to something like "moist Bundt cake" or perhaps something catchier, they'll have a true winner on their hands...as far as boxed cake mixes go.


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