Ad Hoc Cake Mix and Prepared Frosting

Leave it to uber-Chef Thomas Keller to create the world’s most expensive cake mix.

Just how pricey?

We’re talking $14 for either the Ad Hoc Red Velvet, Chocolate or Yellow cake mixes sold exclusively at Williams-Sonoma. Add another $19.95 for a jar of either the ready-to-spread Ad Hoc Milk Chocolate or Dark Chocolate frostings, also sold at Williams-Sonoma.

That’s $33.95 to make one cake right there. Not to mention the butter, plus 4 whole eggs AND 4 egg yolks that you mix into the yellow cake batter, which is the one I received a sample of recently to try.

Boy howdy, you could buy a quite decent bakery cake for that price and call it a day.

Ahh, but then, you wouldn’t have the Ad Hoc or Keller prestige attached to it.

The mixes and frostings are made from top-notch ingredients: Guittard cocoa and Nielsen Massey vanilla. I could smell the strong fragrance of the vanilla as the yellow cake batter came together in the bowl of my stand mixer. Unlike so many other cake recipes I’ve used, the directions on the back of this box call for using the whisk attachment for the mixer rather than the paddle. The result is a batter that is very fluffy and silky-creamy — almost as if there’s whipped cream folded into it.

Although there are directions for making cupcakes, too, I decided to make the standard layer cake. After the two layers baked and were cool enough to handle, I smeared my sample jar of the thick Dark Chocolate frosting on them.

The cake was quite buttery tasting, and the Dark Chocolate frosting was decadently rich and pleasantly none-too-sweet.

As a frequent baker, who normally makes treats from scratch, I’m not sure I’d fork over that kind of dough for prepared mixes and frostings for myself, even if they carry the Keller seal of approval.

But I do think they make great gifts, especially for folks who aren’t lucky enough to have a Bouchon Bakery in their vicinity. I’ve given the mixes to a couple of friends, both scratch-bakers and semi-homemade bakers.  And they’ve never ceased to elicit squeals of glee when unwrapped.

When’s the last time a box of cake mix did that?

More: A Cheaper Thomas Keller Cake Alternative — A Recipe for Ad Hoc’s Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

More: To Get Your Chocolate Fix — A Recipe for Ad Hoc’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

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  • I guess Keller’s mixes beat Duncan Hines by a longshot, but isn’t the cake mix just a mix of flours, sugar, and baking powder? People still have to do the “hard” part of making the batter and putting it in a pan. I don’t understand how WS can get away with charging $14 for pre-mixed flour and sugar… I guess people will always buy it based on TK’s name.

  • I should have noted that, on the other hand, that cake does look beautiful!

  • I just saw this the other day at Williams Sonoma! Does Keller stock other products there, too? (I don’t even know why I ask this, however, since it is clearly outside of my price range!)

  • OMG that’s crazy expensive! i have to admit though, that I’m intrigued enough to maybe splurge. Just once…

  • Wow, that’s very expensive! I hope someone comes out with the mix recipe.

  • Wow. I knew they were carrying them but I guess I didn’t fully understand the cost. It would have to be one magical cake. I appreciate the honest review and am happy for the reminder of the chocolate chip cookie recipe. I was going to make those so long ago and completely forgot.

  • What a cool post. I’ve always wondered about those really expensive mixes. The real test would be to taste the mix and the restaurant version at the same time.
    You put the cake together very beautifully.
    *kisses* HH

  • now i want to try and recreate this at home. quite pricey, i admit, but nonetheless being a foodie you do want to spend more for these types of items.

  • That is one expensive cake mix! But the cake does look fantastic!

  • Lindsay: Yes, if you search the Williams-Sonoma Web site, you’ll see that the store also sells other Thomas Keller items, such as cookie mixes, potato salad dressing, cinnamon pecan waffle mix, and a fried chicken kit.

  • The cake certainly looks gorgeous but that’s a lot to spend on a cake mix, even if it’s by Thomas Keller. I do love the NYC location of Bouchon Bakery though. Funny how I probably wouldn’t hesitate to give this as a hostess gift but would never buy it to make for myself.

  • I bet your version from scratch is better! 🙂 Then again, I’ve met Thomas Keller and he’s a very nice man, so I don’t want to stomp on his efforts to make a buck (or in this case 33 bucks).

  • Honestly 33 bucks sounds about right. Making homemade cakes with primo ingredients is pricey. I always read your blog in the morning and am suprised how hungry I can be after just eating breakfast…

  • Oh yum. I think these would make a fabulous gift for a foodie who isn’t a skilled baker.

  • Ouch, that is expensive. I’d rather make the recipe from scratch than pay that much…

  • I have “mix”ed feelings on this! I don’t use cake mixes because homemade is always better. And I also don’t make yellow cakes because why would I give up an opportunity to have chocolate? Ever! And yellow cakes generally come out drier. I could see maybe using the cake mix but making the frosting from scratch. There’s no reason to buy both parts and spend that kind of money when you can cost cut somewhere in there! I’d totally try this once, but I think I’d go back to homemade after that, whether it’s Thomas Keller’s or President Obama’s or whatever! My grandma’s recipe is going to win every time.

  • Carolyn,
    I totally agree with you. Even though the cake came out nice, well-flavored etc… I don’t see any point of spending that much dough on mixes.

    Having said that, I love your photographs. Well done.

  • I don’t know how I feel about this. I’m sure the products are delicious, but it seems to go against the Keller philosophy of freshest, best ingredients. Although, I can see that they would make nice gifts for people who don’t bake often.

  • Wow! I have bought expensive things like this in the past and have realized that the high price doesn’t always mean extra tasty! Everyone has different tastes though.

  • i guess i take for granted the fact that i can bake and don’t often think about the folks who absolutely rely on boxed mixes. yeah, this is expensive stuff, but you’re right–it’d make an awfully nice gift!

  • looks beautifully classy at a price tho! 🙂

  • As a college student, I don’t think that’s worth the money, even if it designer brand cake mix. O.o; It still looks absolutely delicious though.

  • They must be thinking of non-bakers (really-no-baking) like me when they roll-out such products! :O …

    But like what you said, I will not run out of choices for a good cake in the Bay Area, am I right?

  • Your cake (or is it Thomas’s?) looks delicious. I guess it’a a boon to those that can’t or don’t get to his restaurants. This is sort of related to your cake; my husband and I ate at a Harry’s Hofbrau last weekend and shared a slice of Boston Cream Pie for dessert. The cake was so good it practically melted in my mouth and tasted of whipped cream. We were both awed! I’ve never had a piece of cake like it anywhere, it was so good. I immediately went to the manager to ask about it. (The filling and ganache was only okay.) Come to find out, Harry’s Hofbrau has it’s own bakery for it’s restaurants in Redwood City. Maybe they used Keller’s mix?

  • Wow you’re right, people that make things from scratch a lot probably won’t pay that but I would certainly look at giving that as a gift to a non baking friend-and then inviting myself over when she makes it! 😛

  • I like the honesty of your post. I would not be one to buy this mix for myself (regardless of the keller seal of approval) but I can imagine being in a position to buy it for someone learning to cook… it looks delicious!

  • Carolyn! I can’t have access to the mix right now (you could make this into a really luxurious treat by sending it as a gift via international mail ;)–hahahaha) and I don’t know if I’d want to since I normally bake from scratch but dang woman, I want a bite of that cake pronto! Ugh…you got me hankering for cake…with dark chocolate frosting in a big way!

  • Your cake looks absolutely gorgeous! But I don’t think I will do it myself as the cost is so high and the risk that I may fail is high too. Hehehe!

  • Your cake looks amazing! I wouldn’t buy that mix though–I’d rather put the extra effort in, save the money, and be able to say I made it from scratch! 🙂

  • yum! I just added that to my birthday wishlist. 😉

    While it does sound pricey, keep in mind that this is Williams-Sonoma we’re talking about here. In fact, it’s not that expensive, compared to the other crap they sell: $16 for brownie mix and $14.50 for WS-branded nutella!

  • you could just buy the frosting and get a spoon and be done with it. 😉

  • I admire TK’s work but then again, I personally wouldn’t spend that kind of money for a simple cake mix. This is one of those examples where they jack up the price because they do know there are people out there who make irrational decisions based on emotional rationalization, and would definitely buy this! But then again, this is my personal opinion!

    Thanks for the post!

  • I’ve seen those cake mixes at WS and often wondered what they were like, but like you, I’m sort of against boxed cakes. It does look yummy, though. Sometimes a basic chocolate cake really hits the spot!

  • I will be looking out for this on my three trips to the States this summer! Looks amazing!

  • Decided your cake looked great and oh well, what’s $30 bucks for a good cake? 😀 Went to W-S and received a $4 discount (big whup) when purchasing the Ad Hoc yellow cake mix and dark chocolate frosting together. Well.. the cake itself has a very good texture and crumb although it could have used some vanilla. The frosting, while good, had a very “liquer-y” flavor and I could name a few canned or homemade frosting recipes that are just as good. I may buy the cake mix again (and add some vanilla) but I kept the recipe from the box. The cake mix technique did teach me that you can probably get a good crumb/texture when you beat all the ingredients in stages in a certain sequence (16 mins total!). I bet if you can find the right flour/sugar ratio (shouldn’t be too hard) and add the same amount of butter, eggs, oil, and buttermilk, you can pretty much achieve the same cake. Overall this was a good, yet expensive, “experiment.”

  • PhillyGirl: Hey, $4 off probably helped pay for all the butter and eggs you still had to add to the mix. heehee.

    Thanks for sharing your fun experience with the Ad Hoc cake mix. Loved your thoughts on it.Yes, the technique was quite different, I thought, what with beating the batter with a whisk the whole time.

    And yup, no getting around it — this is one pricey cake mix. 😉

  • I pretty much never use cake mix and that seems like an awful lot of money: but I have to say I’m kind of tempted to try something with the Keller stamp of approval since I can’t get out to the french laundry any time soon.

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  • That is one gorgeous chocolate cake. I bought the Williams & Sonoma cake, frosting and brownies for my mom for Mother’s day. The brownies were pretty good. I didn’t get a chance to try the cake mixes, yet.

    I agree these make perfect gifts but probably wouldn’t buy for myself. I’d rather pick something up at icing on the cake if I’m going to spend that kind of dough.

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  • PLEASE HELP ME – I have been trying and trying (and trying) to purchase Ad Hoc dark chocolate frosting for over a year (William Sonoma NO LONGER sells it – they have their own now which is not as good).


    I need them ASAP.

    Thanks, Deanna.

  • Deanna: Williams-Sonoma was the exclusive maker of those Thomas Keller products. However, there is a recipe for chocolate buttercream frosting in the Ad Hoc cookbook. And it doesn’t look that difficult to make. So, you could just try making it yourself.

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