February 10, 2019 | Posted by Stephanie Banyas
As a child of the 70’s, a few boxes of cake mix could always be found in my mother's kitchen pantry. Even though Mom made most desserts from scratch, the one box mix that she used often was the yellow cake variety. She made the mix according to the directions on the back of the box (water, eggs, vegetable oil) and then used the cake as the base for double layer birthday cakes, Boston Cream Pie, Pineapple Upside-Down Cake and one of my favorites Jello Dream Poke Cake!. If she was really short on time or just not in the mood to be creative, she would bake the cake in a 9 x 13 baking pan and frost it with a canned icing or just simply dust the top with confectioners’ sugar. My brother and I happily ate them all!
As I grew older and my interest in baking piqued and my tastebuds got more refined, I realized that I didn’t love boxed cake mixes any more Sure, when it comes to convenience, you gotta give props to cake mix. But when it comes to flavor, texture and just about everything else, I am willing to bet that in a blind taste test, no one would ever pick a cake baked from a box over one baked from scratch.
I hadn’t used a yellow box mix in several decades but decided to give it a try again. Perhaps my memory had failed me? Perhaps the brands of my childhood had improved? I made the two best known grocery store brands exactly as directed on the box: water, eggs, oil. Let’s just say that I am still not a fan. No tea, no shade.
Since I had good luck with Trader Joe’s Banana Upside-Down Cake for my last baking "In the Mix" post, I decided to give that brand a try again for this test and so I purchased the Yellow Cake and Baking Mix with Madagascar Vanilla Bean. As I stated in the last post, the way to improve the flavor and texture of a boxed cake mix is to swap out oil for butter, water for a flavored liquid (coffee, milk, fruit puree) and to add a good spoonful of a pure flavoring such as vanilla or almond or rum to mask the artificial flavor of the mix...None of those things were necessary with this mix because it calls for butter (an entire stick, melted), eggs and milk and I am convinced that is one of the main reasons that the flavor and texture of this cake mix is very close to cakes made from scratch. The mix also includes real Madagascar vanilla beans and you can actually see the tiny vanilla bean flecks emerge in the batter and taste the floral notes. I imagined the cake would bake up soft, tender, and fragrant with vanilla and you know what? It kinda did. On its own, unadorned, it was delicious.
As I mention above, one of my favorite cakes that my mother made me as a child using yellow box mix was the Jello Poke Cake (I know, I know but as I said, it was the 70's). I decided to make an updated version of a poke cake, perhaps the original poke cake, actually, the mother of all poke cakes: Tres Leches Cake. Tres leches literally means, “three milks” and tres leches cake is an ultra light sponge cake soaked in a sweet milk mixture.
In order to get that spongy almost angel food-like texture, I separated the 2 eggs called for in the directions instead of adding them whole.For additional flavor and moisture, I added a few overly ripe bananas that I had hanging out in the test kitchen, some dark rum and an extra splash of pure vanilla extract (not that it is needed but I love vanilla.).I combined the yolks with the bananas, milk and butter and whipped the whites to soft peaks and folded them into the batter.
After baking and cooling the cake it was soaked in three milks overnight and then slathered with lightly sweetened whipped cream right before serving. Macerated berries and a drizzle of chocolate sauce adds that banana split thing...
This cake is moist and creamy and decadent and delicious. Itis perfect for Valentine’s day or any time you want to serve an impressive looking dessert that, thanks to the help of a cake mix, really is easy as pie.
Banana Split Tres Leche
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 medium overripe bananas, peeled and quartered
1 cup plus ¾ cup whole milk, divided
2 large egg, separated
2 tablespoons dark rum, divided
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 box Trader Joe’s Vanilla Cake and Baking Mix
1 16-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups three milks
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled, thinly sliced and macerated with 2 tablespoons sugar
1.Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Liberally spray an 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick spray.
2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium high heat until deep golden brown. Remove from the heat, transfer to a small bowl and let cool for 5 minutes.
3. Combine the bananas, melted butter, 1 cup of the milk, egg yolks, 1 tablespoon of the rum and the vanilla in a blender or food processor and process until the mixture is smooth. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, add the cake mix and whisk until just smooth.
4.Put the egg whites in a medium bowl and whisk using a whisk or hand-held mixer until soft peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the cake batter and mix until completely incorporated.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake on the middle rack until lightly golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Remove and let cool completely in the pan on a baking rack.
5. Whisk together the remaining ¾ cup milk, condensed milk, evaporated milk and remaining 1 tablespoon of rum in a medium bowl. Remove 1 ½ cups, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve the cake.
6. Poke holes over the entire surface of the cake using a skewer or fork. Gradually pour the three milk mixture over the cake. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 12 hours to let the cake fully absorb the liquid.
7. Just before serving, spread 2 cups sweetened whipped cream over the top. To serve: Cut the cake into six equal squares. Drizzle about 1/4 cup of the remaining milk mixture into a shallow bowl, top with the cake, scatter some of the strawberries around and drizzle the top with chocolate syrup.