I made some cupcakes and then baked a packet mix (both vanilla-flavoured, I like to keep things fair, you know) to see what the difference was. Here's what I found.
The packet mix cakes are puffier
The cupcake on the right is home-made, the one on the left is from a packet mix. On reading the label, I noticed there are a fair few extra 'raising agents' listed on the packet as opposed to my home-made cakes with its 1 teaspoonful of baking powder. Three, in fact: potassium bicarbonate, calcium phosphate and sodium hydrogen carbonate. But puffy cupcakes aren't always what you need. Quite often when you're piping buttercream roses or want to put on some fondant icing you need a flat surface to work on, so end up chiselling the domed part off the cupcake anyway. But then with butterfly cupcakes you need that bit to cut off to make the butterfly 'wings'.
VERDICT: The height of your cakes depends on how you're decorating them, so I declare round one a draw.
The packet mix cakes are lower in fat - but higher in sugar
Well, the home-made cakes do have half a block of butter in them. And with the packet-mix people substituting this for palm and rapeseed oils, which we know are lower in saturated fats, it wasn't going to be a huge surprise. The packet mix contains 3.2g fat per cupcake (1.5g of which are saturates) and the home-made cakes each contain 9.3g fat (5.7 of which saturates). But each packet-mix cupcake contains almost 3g more sugar than the home-made ones (packet mix: 13.4g sugar/home-made: 10.6g sugar). At least by making them yourself, you can alter the sugar - you could even add less than the 125g specified in the recipe. I've used 100g sugar before and it's been fine.
VERDICT: A close one, as there are arguments for each - but just because I consider cupcakes a treat and not for everyday I would want the ingredients to be as natural as possible and you do get to control the amount (and types) of sugar you use. So I go for home-made to win this one.
Taste: home-made cakes taste buttery
You could taste the butter in the home-made cupcakes. And the vanilla. They had a lovely golden crust on the top, which added a deeper flavour. But for me, the packet mix cupcakes just tasted sweet. They didn't seem to have a 'cakey' flavour of their own, and they weren't as vanilla-flavoured as the home-made ones, either. They cooked to a pale magnolia colour. And on the packet mix, the flavouring is described as just that: 'flavouring' - even if it's derived from natural sources, it would be nice to know what it is.
Home-made cakes are more crumbly
|packet mix cake|
VERDICT: Home-made cakes win. I like a crumbly cake, not a chewy one.
Home-Made: salted butter, caster sugar, eggs, wheat flour, baking powder, milk, vanilla extract.
Packet-mix: Wheat flour, sugar, palm oil, raising agents: potassium bicarbonate, calcium phosphate, sodium hydrogen carbonate; rapeseed oil, flavouring. Plus the eggs and milk you add yourself.
VERDICT: Does a cupcake really need three different types of raising agents? Plus what are the 'flavourings'? I think it should be more specific. Home-made wins. You know what's going into it.
Home-made cost for 12 cupcakes: £1.50
Packet Mix for 12 cupcakes (including the egg and milk you add yourself): £1.95.
VERDICT: Home-made are cheaper.
Do you use packet mixes to bake with? What are your experiences with them? And do you notice any differences between these and home-baked?