And I bet box cakes are even better now than they were a few years ago. There’s a ton of R&D involved in engineering mixes to have maximum fluff, moisture, and body. No one can replicate this in a home kitchen.
Since writing my grump, I’ve done some more research and I’ve discovered that there is a “bake-off point” at which the essence itself will degrade. Not the alcohol - the actual essence, for example, the vanillin in vanilla. So, as you read that irresistible recipe about the food bloggers perfect white vanilla cake, which requires you to buy expensive specialty ingredients, be prepared for disappointment. (Or add a teaspoon of butter-vanilla bakery emulsion.)
Again, food is emotional. If you “taste the chemicals” in a box cake, well, I have “tasted the chemicals” in any number of so-called natural foods. I am one of those cilantro-haters. It’s the aldehydes… and my genes.
Back to vanilla - cards on the table - I can’t stand imitation vanilla. Yes, I can taste the chemicals. But maybe that’s because imitation vanilla is simply junk, and I should try a better grade of bakery emulsion. I might well try that as an experiment. For science, I’d make a scratch cake.