Taste Test: Gingerbread Mixes

Mixed Review

We bake from the box.

gingerbread

[Photographs: Christine Tsai]

The Winners!

Best: King Arthur Flour

Runners-up: Williams-Sonoma and Trader Joe's

We love dark, spicy, molasses-laced gingerbread. Of course, there are tons of recipes for baking it from scratch. Dorie Greenspan's version includes bittersweet chocolate. My recipe has German doppelbock beer and plums. But sometimes you need a quick baking fix.

Gingerbread mixes are a great option when you're short on time or incorporating the gingerbread into a larger dessert, say a trifle.

Which brand to choose? We tested five total: three available at supermarkets (Betty Crocker, Krusteaz, Trader Joe's) and two specialty brands (Williams-Sonoma and King Arthur Flour).

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From left: Williams-Sonoma, Betty Crocker, Trader Joe's, Krusteaz, King Arthur Flour.

The Criteria

  • Texture: Gingerbread is a hearty cake. It should be a bit thicker and more toothsome than say, a fluffy yellow cake. But it shouldn't be dry, leaden, or loafy. Gingerbread should definitely be moist, but not cross over the line into greasy, gummy, or sticky territory.
  • Taste: The spices should be a well-balanced blend of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom. It should also taste of molasses. While it should taste sweet, the sugar should play second fiddle to the spices.

Why the Losers Lost

The Krusteaz mix was our least favorite; Betty Crocker was a close second-to-last. Our main criticisms were that they lacked spice, tasted bland overall, and their textures were too gummy and sticky.

The Winner

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Our favorite by just a smidge was King Arthur Flour. It had a moist, cakey texture and the most spice action. It reminded us of homemade versions, and that's the highest form of praise in this tasting.

The Runners-Up

Nipping at the heels of King Arthur Flour were two mixes: Williams-Sonoma and the Trader Joe's. We loved King Arthur Flour's ginger-rooty flavor and the tiny bits of crystallized ginger, but overall the texture was a bit too dense and dry. Trader Joe's was definitely the most molassesy but some testers found it a bit overpowering.

All The Gingerbread Mixes

Winner: King Arthur Flour ($5.95)

Winner: King Arthur Flour ($5.95)

While one tester thought it smelled "like fake maple syrup" and another sniffed out "carrot cake," the overall conclusion we'd want to eat this one the most. "Very tender," "moist" and the "most cake-like." We found its flavor gingery and well balanced, with strong notes of clove. Though it could have used a bigger hit of molasses, overall it had the best medley of flavors.

What You Have to Add: 1 1/4 cups hot water, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, and 1 egg.

Runner-Up: Trader Joe's ($2.49)

Runner-Up: Trader Joe's ($2.49)

Of all the mixes, this one came out the darkest and had the strongest molasses flavor. Though a little gummy, it also had loads of spice.

What You Have to Add: 1 egg, 1/3 cup vegetable oil, and 2/3 cup water.

Runner-Up: Williams-Sonoma ($10.95)

Runner-Up: Williams-Sonoma ($10.95)

While this one had the best ginger flavor and a great balance of spices, ultimately it was too dry and dense.

What You Have to Add: 2 eggs and 3/4 cup of water, it required 1 stick of melted butter.

Betty Crocker ($2.50)

Betty Crocker ($2.50)

While one taster chose it as a favorite, calling it "moist and molassesy," the majority of us found it "gummy," "bland," "too sweet," and noted its "chemical aftertaste."

What You Have to Add: 1 1/4 cups of lukewarm water and 1 egg.

Krusteaz ($2.75)

Krusteaz ($2.75)

One major issue here was the lack of a discernible ginger flavor. The texture was also bad (too spongy) and we didn't feel good about the grayish-brownish color. This was our least favorite.

What You Have to Add: 1 cup of water and 1 egg.