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The Best Chocolate Cake Mixes

Boxed cake mixes are convenient and reliable. But do any of them yield cakes with the intense chocolate flavor and moist, delicate texture of homemade versions?


Published May 14, 2021.

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What You Need To Know

As a former professional baker, I’ve made many elaborate cakes. And after baking so many cakes from scratch, I find the process relaxing. However, I also understand the appeal of cake mixes. They’re reliable and convenient, and they often take only a few moments to mix together.

I set out to find a great option for people who want a boxed cake mix but don’t want to sacrifice the flavor and texture of homemade cake. The cake mix market has been dominated for years by three brands: Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines, and Pillsbury. I included mixes from these companies as well as options from five other nationally available brands. I focused on one of our favorite flavors: chocolate. If a brand offered more than one chocolate cake mix, I included the version that a company representative said was the most chocolaty. I baked the cakes according to the directions on the sides of the boxes and then tasted them plain, with the help of a few chocolate-loving friends. As a final test, I baked our two favorite cakes from the first test and prepared chocolate sheet cake, a simple and superchocolaty recipe. We tasted the three cakes plain and then topped with milk chocolate frosting.

Making the Cake Mixes 

Cake mixes are supposed to be fast and convenient, and some of them were. Some of the products we tested, however, didn't speed up or simplify the cake-making process. Four required us to haul out a stand mixer or handheld mixer, while the rest asked us to simply whisk together all the ingredients by hand. All the cake mixes call for eggs, an essential ingredient that binds, thickens, emulsifies, and leavens. Two mixes called for two additional perishable items: milk and butter. The rest required just water and oil. We preferred the latter style, as vegetable oil is a pantry staple we were more likely to have on hand. 

Chocolate Flavor Should Be Bold

We were happy that a few cakes tasted “very chocolaty.” However, several others were lacking in chocolate flavor. We examined each ingredient label and learned that every cake mix included at least one type of cocoa powder. Seven contained cocoa processed with alkali, which is more commonly known as Dutched cocoa. The alkalizing process darkens the color of the cocoa powder and neutralizes its natural acidity, allowing deeper, earthy notes to come forward. The one mix in our lineup that used natural cocoa powder tasted more “mild” than the others and was “not very chocolaty.” 

One of the most chocolaty cakes contained both Dutched cocoa powder and black cocoa, an ingredient often used in professional bakeries and commercial baked goods. Black cocoa is heavily Dutched, meaning that ...

Everything We Tested

*All products reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen are independently chosen, researched, and reviewed by our editors. We buy products for testing at retail locations and do not accept unsolicited samples for testing. We list suggested sources for recommended products as a convenience to our readers but do not endorse specific retailers. When you choose to purchase our editorial recommendations from the links we provide, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices are subject to change.

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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.

Carolyn Grillo

Carolyn is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She's a French-trained professional baker.