Sunday, November 10, 2013

Butter versus Oil a comparison using Betty Crocker Vanilla cake mix

I might not have mentioned this in the past but I like butter. I like the taste, I love how it whips up to make a delicious buttercream, how it makes my pancakes turn crisp and golden when I use it in my fry pan and the way it melts into my cheesy garlic bread. 

So now we've established I really (really) like butter, I have to admit I don't always use it, sometimes oil works out better. It depends on the recipe. Oil can result in a moister cake, it makes better salad dressing and works best in marinades.

Anyhoo, I noticed on the back of the new Betty Crocker cake mixes that there is an option to make them with oil and water, instead of the butter and milk. I thought it was interesting so I did a comparison using Betty Crocker Vanilla Butter Cake Mix.

I followed the easy directions on the packet exactly the same for both cakes - just replacing the butter with canola oil and the milk with water, popped the mix into 2 identical pans, greased and lined the same way and baked in the same oven.

So what happened?

Yup, definite difference right from go. The batter with butter and milk was light, thick and creamy. Instead of  pouring into the pan, I dolloped it out with a spatula.

The water and oil was a more fluid mixture that poured straight into the prepared pan. It was thinner and seemed a bit bubbly, so I gave the pan a few taps on the bench to try and loosen any air bubbles. The top was completely level.

Then I popped both pans into the oven using the fan forced option at the temperature recommended on the box and baked until a skewer inserted came out dry.

Visual Test

Bit of a surprise during baking. Although the top of the butter and milk cake was not level before baking the cake rose evenly. In fact I think if I had of lined the sides it would have been even more even. I decorate a lot of my cakes and a cake with an even top is a huge plus for me, I would barely need to trim the top of this one at all. The finished cake was a pretty uniform golden colour and sprang back nicely when touched with a dry feel. Once cut the texture inside the cake was pretty even without large air bubbles.

The water and oil cake cooked in exactly the same pan and same temperature peaked in the center when baking, it would be fine for serving the the kids looking like that but I would need to trim a heap off the middle to get an even finish if I wanted to decorate it. It required a little more cooking and was a darker colour when baked all the way through (tested with a skewer). The top of the cake felt a little sticky to touch. Once cut the cakes texture looked ok but there were a few air bubbles.

* Note I used a 22cm round spring form tin instead of the recommended loaf tin as I did not have 2 loaf tins exactly the same size.

Taste Test

I cut up samples of the cake unfrosted and we commenced a blind taste test.

Ok most of my testers were not completely reliable. My 9 year old, 7 year old and 5 year old asked how they were different, said they both tasted good and asked for more. I guess that is an answer in itself.

As for me, I could not tell a huge difference on the initial tasting, but there was a mild aftertaste of oil for the cake baked with canola oil and water. I think using a different type of oil could remedy this problem.


I preferred the cake made with butter and milk, it definitely won the visual test hands down and for me the taste was better, although I clearly stated my fondness towards butter at the start of this post which might make me a little bit biased towards the taste.

But the kids say any cake is a good cake, so if you prefer to use oil for taste, economy or whatever reason, who am I to tell you different.

Decorating the cake in shades of pink

I couldn't let all that yummy cake go to waste so I decided to decorate the cake, by trimming the tops and sides and frosting all over with vanilla ready to use frosting. I used an extra tub of Betty Crocker Creamy Deluxe Vanilla ready to spread frosting, divided it up and added a few drops of pink food colour to make 3 different shades. Then I spread the frosting on using a butter knife in stripes graduating darker towards the bottom.

A few sugar roses* on the top and in no time I had an easy sweet shabby chic cake made with 2 packets of Betty Crocker Vanilla Cake Mix, a tub of Creamy Deluxe Vanilla Frosting some pink food colour and a knife.

* Feel free to use fresh pesticide free roses in place of sugar roses.

Linda Vandermeer is a blogger, baker, maker and author of the cookbook ' Sweets on a Stick': More than 150 kid friendly recipes for cakes, candies, cookies and pies on the go!. Published in the US the book is available at most online book stores.

Disclosure: the ideas, words and opinions in this post are my own however this post was sponsored by General Mills.


  1. That was a very interesting comparison and very helpful. Thanks for going to all that trouble and making it such a thorough visual review too.

    1. Thanks so much Tanya for letting me know, it makes the effort worth it when I know it's been of interest to someone :)

  2. Thanks for doing this little experiment. It's funny, because here in the states the Betty Crocker Cake Mixes have always called for oil and water. They do have a yellow cake mix that calls for butter. Just this week I used milk instead of water in some Betty Crocker yellow cake mixes (the ones that also call for oil.) I liked the texture and the flavor. Next time I'm going to use butter instead of oil. Do you melt the butter or do you cream it?

    Bet @ Hungry Happenings

    1. Hiya Beth, yup Betty Crocker Australia changed just a bit back to milk and butter which I think makes lots of sense. I just melted the butter :)

  3. I love that you did this experiment - I've always wanted too give it a try with the butter instead of oil - and now I will do it for sure! Thanks!

    1. Oh yes try it out for sure and let me know what you think :)

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks for letting me know you found the post interesting, it makes the effort worthwhile :)

  5. Great experiment! I have occasionally used butter for butter cake, but never for vanilla cake. I may have to start making that substitution!

  6. Thanks so much for this post.
    I was talking with a cake decorator not long ago and she was saying that not only did the ingredients you had to use change but there was less cake mix (I think across the board with all flavours approximately 40g) in the packet.
    Not that I use much packet mix, and never in my life had I before a couple of years ago when my child said to me that he wanted a birthday cake exactly like his friend had. I was horrified at the thought of making a packet cake! Betty Crocker is not too bad to have on hand though.
    Like you I am a friend of butter and a bit of a purist when it comes to things like that.
    Thank you for your blog. I enjoy reading it. :-)

  7. Nice comparison! I'm going to try butter and milk in the next cake. Love the Shades of Pink Cake ... gorgeous!

  8. Thanks for doing this test and posting the results! Here in Canada all the mixes i have seen call for oil,water and eggs. That goes for Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines. I definitely need to try to substitute the oil and water to milk and butter! When i first read it i assumed you used room temp butter and whipped it up but in the comments i see it is actually melted butter? Is it a straight substitution? ie if it says 1/2 cup oil do you use 1/2 cup MELTED butter, and if it says 1/2 cup water do you use 1/2 cup milk?

    1. Yes...I made this substitution last night before reading this article this morning. Mine were cupcakes instead of a round cake pan. The tops were flatter than with oil and water, but to me the taste was the same.

  9. Thanks for doing this little test! I sometimes substitute the water in the recipe with milk. To me this makes a huge difference. Never thought of substituting the oil with butter. I'm definitely going to try this the next time I bake!!