First of all, I should say that the Duncan Hines cake mix never showed up! We managed to do without, but I will have to make it in the future and compare.
Jenn, Amanda and I successfully made six different recipes. You can see the variety in the batters above. From left to right: Paula Deen's recipe, Martha Stewart's, James Beard's, a Chocolate R.V. cake, the one made with beets, and the "Suicide" (all the leftover batters mixed together) batter. I had made us a detailed chart with all the ingredients listed, to make things easier.
We rounded up everything we needed on the kitchen table. Kyoshi helped. We used lots and lots of red food color. Martha's recipe called for an entire bottle! Generally speaking, the recipes were easy to follow, and we were surprised by how different the results were.
These are the cupcakes sans frosting (clockwise, from the top right: Suicide, Chocolate, Martha, Beets, Beard, Paula).
Paula Deen's recipe came out the most red, although it used less food color than Martha's, because it had no cocoa in it. For the Chocolate cake we used quite a bit of color, but the cocoa covered it up. James Beard's recipe came out a pinkish-brown, and the Beets cakes came out purple! They also did not rise as much as the other recipes- I think the beets weighed them down.
In the end, we tasted all of them and concluded that the Suicide mix was by far the best! We found James Beard's recipe to be bland, but alright texture-wise. Paula Deen's was almost like cornbread. Martha's won points for moisture, but we thought the flavor was lacking. The chocolate ones were decent, but there was little to distinguish them from any other chocolate cake. The recipe made with beets, despite calling for twice as much sugar as the other recipes, was dry, too firm, and not at all sweet! The best description of that one was "bread-like." The Suicide cake came out moist, flavorful, and a nice swirly brown-red color. Unfortunately, I'm not sure the recipe can be duplicated without first preparing all five other ones...
We also prepared five different frostings and a "Suicide" frosting from the leftovers. We loved James Beard's, which called for cinnamon and no butter. It was light, and less cream-cheesy, and the cinnamon was a nice touch. Most of the other recipes called for pecans or walnuts, and were very similar. Paula Deens', with coconut and marshmallows, was very sweet, but good. I think the general consensus was that the Suicide cake, with the James Beard frosting, was the winner.