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We’re not buying that Dolly Parton only works nine to five. The country singer churns out hit songs, acts, owns a theme park and water park, as well as a resort and cabins in the Smoky Mountains, runs Imagination Library (a foundation that provides 1 million books to kids a year), and finds time to casually co-write a book with James Patterson. And she’s kicking off 2022 with a whole new foray: a line of cake mixes and frostings based on her favorite Southern desserts. It’s part of a collaboration with Duncan Hines, and the initial demand was so high the site sold out of its inventory within 15 minutes of launching. (Don’t worry—you can sign up to receive alerts when they’re back in stock on the brand’s website, and the line is headed to grocery stores everywhere this March.)
The collab includes two mixes—coconut cake and banana pudding cake—as well as classic white buttercream and chocolate buttercream frostings, all at Duncan Hines’s typical price point (about $2 apiece). Naturally, you may be wondering: Is this just another celebrity cash grab? Are the mixes actually any good? We tested them all firsthand, and we can honestly say: They’re worth fighting to be first to click “add to cart” during the next restock.
Dolly Parton’s Southern-Style Banana-Flavored Cake Mix
Rather than simply slap her name on a cake mix, Parton’s mixes feature two ways to make them—a simplified version that’s akin to most dump-and-stir cake mixes—and her “favorite” way to whip it up. On the banana-flavored cake mix, that means adding a few extra items to your cart, beyond the required cup of milk, four eggs and half cup of melted butter. (Also, it’s worth noting most cake mixes call for oil, not butter; water, not milk; and three eggs, not four. So even baking the simplified version, you’re getting a richer, fluffier cake.)
If you want to make Parton’s Favorite Banana Puddin’ Cake, as featured on the box, you’ll also need a box of instant pudding mix (vanilla or banana), an extra cup of milk, heavy cream, a banana and vanilla wafers. The recipe calls for a classic box mix hack—adding three tablespoons of pudding mix, for a moister cake—and it cleverly uses the rest of the pudding mix to whip up a simple pudding to use between the two layers of cake, so you’re not wasting any ingredients. (You also add a layer of crushed vanilla wafers and banana slices before adding the top layer of cake, infusing the whole thing with Magnolia Bakery-caliber flavor.)
Most impressive, though, is Parton’s take on the frosting: You whip a cup of cold heavy cream to stiff peaks, then stir in a third of a cup of her jarred, classic buttercream frosting. It creates a light, fluffy frosting that’s refreshing, not cloyingly sweet.
While the mix itself has a slightly chemical-like banana scent, the cake itself has a touch of ripe banana flavor—not the overpowering, banana-candy flavor one might expect from a mix. The cakes themselves bake so evenly that you don’t need to level them, and the crumb is moist and somewhat dense, but not pound cake-like.
“I’m normally a chocolate cake person, but this knocked my socks off—it’s so refreshing,” one tester told us, while another said the final product was something you’d bring to a party to really wow people.
“It looks and tastes like something you’d buy from a high-end bakery,” she said.
While Parton’s banana cake really brought the wow factor, her coconut cake brings the nostalgia. It fills the kitchen with a lightly sweet, coconut smell that lingered hours after the treats cooled. We used Parton’s chocolate buttercream frosting for the middle layer and finished it with the singer’s recommended addition of coconut flakes covering the confection. The end result looks and tastes more homespun than the banana cake. It has a lighter, airier texture, with a mild coconut flavor. Paired with the chocolate buttercream, it’s kind of like the cake equivalent of a Mounds bar, and we’re not mad about it one bit.
The Bottom Line
If you only try one of Parton’s products, make it the banana-flavored cake mix, and spring for the extra ingredients to make the “Jolene” singer’s Banana Puddin’ Cake. It’s well worth the effort, as long as you’re prepared for family members to ask you to make it for every birthday, holiday and backyard cookout.
And if you can’t get your hands on a box—and don’t want to wait until March, when the line hits supermarkets nationwide—you can always buy a classic yellow cake mix and try Dolly’s modifications to create your own banana pudding-infused masterpiece. The whipped cream frosting alone is worth it.
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