Trader Joe's Chromatic Celebration Cake Whole

Lacey Muszynski / Cheapism

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When I spied a new cake mix in the Trader Joe's baking aisle, I knew I had to try it. Cheekily named Chromatic Celebration Cake & Baking Mix, it's the store's version of Funfetti. The grown up version of Funfetti. I resemble a grown up, I love rainbow crap, and I especially love cake. But what I learned after making it is that you just can't beat the nostalgia of classic, cheap Funfetti.

The Baking Process

The first thing I noticed about the Chromatic Celebration Cake Mix box was that it was so dang heavy. Then I noticed it comes with frosting, and thought, 'yeah, that makes sense.' But what I didn't pay attention to is that it's frosting mix, meaning a bag of powdered sugar. I needed to supply my own butter — almost two sticks of it — in order to make the frosting. Luckily, I always keep plenty on hand as a good Wisconsinite. 

Trader Joe's Chromatic Celebration Cake BoxPhoto credit: Lacey Muszynski / Cheapism

Preparing the cake mix was pretty standard, and I loved that it instructed me to do it all with a handheld whisk instead of with an electric mixer, like a box of Funfetti does. I lined my cake pans with parchment (watch this TikTok for the best parchment lining hack) and poured the batter in. There wasn't a whole lot of batter in the pans, so I wondered if a sheet cake would have been the better option. 

The fact that I had to make the frosting was a bit annoying, and it became burdensome once I read the instructions: I had to use a stand mixer. Not even a handheld mixer — it specified an "electric standing mixer." Not everyone has one of those, Joe! So much for being excited that I didn't need a mixer for the cake batter. I whipped it for five entire minutes on high, just as instructed. It was a long and arduous process, honestly. I could have just made frosting completely from scratch in the same amount of time.

The cakes took less time in the oven than the instructions called for: 20 minutes instead of 22-25. They were sturdy and held up to frosting really well — no crumb coat necessary.

How It Tasted

Those cakes held up to the frosting well because they were so sturdy, which didn't end up being a positive in my book. When I think about Funfetti (which this is clearly imitating), I think of the unmistakable airiness of boxed cake mix. It's so light that it practically melts in your mouth. This cake, on the other hand, was denser and had more of a homemade texture — you can decide whether that's a good thing or not, but I missed the boxed cake texture.

Trader Joe's Chromatic Celebration Cake SlicePhoto credit: Lacey Muszynski / Cheapism

The cake itself tasted more homemade than a box of Funfetti, though it was still really sweet. After a few bites, the sweetness noticeably hangs on your tongue. Otherwise, it's a pretty standard yellow cake that slices really well, despite being a bit on the dry side for a boxed mix. No one will turn down a piece, and it could pass for homemade, if you wanted to do that.

The frosting, however, was such a disappointment. While I smelled a whiff of vanilla when I opened the frosting mix bag, somehow none of that flavor made it into the final form. All you can taste is butter, and since the instructions call for nothing else to be added, it's dry and too thick as well. There wasn't nearly as much frosting as the picture on the box shows, which was a total bummer. Celebration cakes should have mounds of pillowy frosting. On the plus side: There's tons of rainbow sprinkles.

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How To Make It Better

Trader Joe's tried to thread the needle between beloved Funfetti cake and a fancier semi-homemade version, and somehow it missed both marks. If you'd like to try it for yourself, the biggest change should be to the frosting. To make it both spreadable and edible, add a teaspoon of vanilla, along with some milk. Start with a tablespoon of milk, then add another if it's still too dry and firm to spread properly. We want clouds of frosting, Trader Joe's, is that so hard to figure out?

While I initially thought the $5 price tag was a great deal, I didn't yet realize I'd have to put in about $2 worth of butter, along with the standard eggs and oil that all cake mixes require. At my local grocery store, a box of Pillsbury Funfetti is $2 and a can of matching frosting is $2.49, butter included. Factoring in the price difference, the amount of effort involved, and the final product, I'd recommend sticking to the classic Funfetti. Trader Joe's Chromatic Celebration Cake Mix just doesn't scratch that same nostalgic itch, despite being a serviceable cake.

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