Mixed Review

We bake from the box.

Mixed Review: Manischewitz Passover Coffee Cake

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Here's the thing about Manischewitz coffee cake: it tastes just like Little Debbie coffee cake. It has the same buttery bottom layer, the same crumbly cinnamon topping. It is the definition of a foodie's guiltiest indulgence. Guilty because it's a far cry from a sophisticated soufflĂ© or a trendy tiramisu—it comes from a box and requires only two eggs and a splash of water to make. Indulgent because it is, after all, cake.

When deciding which kosher for Passover boxed mix to prepare for this week's Mixed Review, I choose Manischewitz over the alternative, Streit's, for the simple reason that it was 37 years older. (Manischewitz was founded in 1888, Streit's in 1925.) Aside from their age, the two mixes seemed identical: both needed only eggs and water, both came with their own little foil baking pans, and both cost $4.99.

I didn't have high hopes. The picture on the box looked bland at best, and everyone knows that Passover baked goods are notoriously lacking. I've certainly had my fair share of leaden, frosting-less chocolate cakes and dry, powdery macaroons. After a bountiful, filling Seder, I usually opt for nothing more than a big shard of Marcy Goldman's fabulous matzoh crunch.

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The Manischewitz box contained two separate packages for the cake and the crumb topping. After emptying the cake mix into a bowl, I opted to beat in the eggs and water with an electric mixer, as opposed to the "600 strokes by hand" the instructions also recommended (in case you're preparing it on Shabbat). Then I poured it into the little pan, sprinkled on the cinnamon sugar, and slid it into the oven.

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Surprisingly, my coffee cake rose—a lot. When I took it out of the oven it was puffed and dome-like in the center, almost like a loaf of bread. But after cooling it deflated and flattened out completely, like the surface of a really fudgy pan of brownies. No matter. It smelled like toasted cinnamon and warm butter.

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I cut out a big square. The cake was heavier than it looked and very moist. Its consistency was more like that of a serious pound cake than a simple snacking cake. The flavor was sweet, rich, and vaguely artificial, but in a comforting way. It reminded me of Hostess Cupcakes and Twinkies and Entenmann's powdered donuts.

While I certainly wouldn't serve Manischewitz Coffee Cake after a fancy Seder, or at an elegant Passover brunch, it is a great breakfast option. In addition, it will definitely appeal to kids (of all ages) who've grown a little tired of matzoh every morning.

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