I recently read an article about Costco sheet cakes and why they are so delicious, economical, and all-around-fun.
- They’re insanely cheap. It’ll set you back less than twenty bucks to order a half sheet cake from Costco. Chances are, you couldn’t beat that price even if you made one yourself. And it beats out the big-box and other store cakes by a few bucks.
- And it feeds so many people. You can serve 48 guests with just one of Costco’s half sheet cakes. That means when cuts are made and pieces are doled out, you’ve spent just 39-cents per person.
- One cake weighs more than a newborn. If you were to set your half sheet cake on a scale, the number would read about nine-and-a-half pounds. According to Costco’s order form, two of those pounds are the cake’s mousse filling.
- There are only two flavors offered. You can either order what Costco refers to as a white (vanilla) cake or a chocolate cake. The white cake is a vanilla sheet cake filled with vanilla cheesecake mousse that’s iced with white buttercream. The latter is the chocolate version of that: chocolate sheet cake, chocolate mousse filling, and chocolate buttercream icing.
- Customers used to have more options. Once upon a time, you could pick up a carrot cake sheet cake from Costco, which came with apricot mousse filling and cream cheese icing sprinkled with slivered almonds. Internationally, there are even more offerings: Costco Australia allows you to mix and match a raspberry filling with either chocolate or vanilla sponge cake.
- You can take one home on the spot. Costco keeps its bakery section full of ready-made sheet cakes, some plain, some with birthday messages, and — around the holidays — some with festive designs.
- Custom orders require advance planning. Give bakers a day or two days’ notice to craft something specific, like an intricate design or a special message.
- Bakers can decorate in more than two dozen ways. The sheet cake order form reveals nearly 30 designs to choose from. There are the classic ways to frost a sheet cake — with balloons or roses — plus some more offbeat ones, like a pirate ship, a skateboard, or a party owl … whatever that means.
- The dinosaur design was part of a scandal. In 2015, The Inquisitr broke a story about a woman who complained the dinosaur on her kid’s birthday cake had only three legs, each looking like the number “6.” She claimed bakers had hidden this demonic “666” message in the cake on purpose. But upon some digging, the article was found to be written by the mother-in-question’s boyfriend, and the Costco location at the center of the story confirmed no complaints had ever been received.
- They’re the perfect blank slate. However you slice ‘em, Costco’s sheet cakes can look incredibly juvenile, so at-home bakers have taken to customizing them. You can pick up a cake that’s only been frosted with a base layer, then trick it out at home.
But why do sheet cakes taste so much better than regular cakes?
An executive chef answered this question quite humorously. “Sheet cakes are too large for a home oven so you’re talking about commercial operators. Have you ever had a Costco sheetcake? They are delicious! But the ingredient label on a Costco sheetcake? OMG! Next time you see one, cut off that label or photograph it before they throw the box out. It’s hysterical. The label must have about 300 ingredients in it. No, I’m not joking. Most of the ingredients I cannot pronounce.”
Wait, what? What are the 300 ingredients that make it terrific? Chemicals? Plants? Leftover Costco rotisserie chicken?
Usually, bakery-made cakes have about a dozen ingredients. And they can all be pronounced. The chef explains: “There’s a dirty little secret we don’t want to talk about, acknowledge or own up to, but the fact of the matter is that boxed cake mixes tend to taste much better than cakes made from scratch.” He relays the story of a French pastry chef who was asked to taste several cake slices and to grade which he thought were the best tasting. In every case—and on television—he chose the boxed mix over the scratch cake. Understandably, he was shocked, appalled and embarrassed when his choices were revealed to him and the television audience.
Food scientists are pretty smart and they have access to ingredients that we’ve never heard of. But what we do know for sure: those sheetcakes you buy in grocery stores or big box stores? They were all made with boxed mixes!
One of the ingredients that makes those cakes taste so good is hydrogenated shortening. It makes for an awesome cake but as a home baker you can’t get it anymore. Commercial food processors can get it, but it’s sold in quantities far beyond the reach of home bakers. The shortening really does makes a difference, but it’s also bad for you. If you’re eating healthy, chances are you’re gonna pass on cake anyway, right? Cooking at home, from scratch, and using fresh ingredients is always best. But cake? Sometimes the commercial processors do it better. That’s a bitter pill to swallow.