There's no shame in reaching for the box mix—but here's how to make it taste like you didn't.
In an ideal world, we’d all be able to effortlessly whip up beautiful cakes from scratch any time a birthday, office celebration, or bake sale came calling. In reality, most of us don’t have that kind of time on our hands. Luckily, there’s no shame in relying on a boxed cake mix when time is limited and a fresh-from-the-oven cake is needed ASAP.
However, using a pre-portioned cake mix shouldn’t mean settling for sub-par flavor or texture. By substituting a few key ingredients and customizing your recipe ever so slightly, you can instantly turn that $3 cake mix into a deceptively fancy, bakery-worthy creation. These simple tips will allow you to have your (boxed) cake and eat it too.
Ditch the Water
Although the majority of boxed mix instructions rely on water as the primary wet ingredient, this will do absolutely nothing flavor-wise for your baked good. Next time, skip the water altogether and use whole milk instead. This will instantly improve the flavor of your cake at a minimal extra cost. You can also opt to use alternative milks, like almond or oat, or to go big on the flavor by using buttermilk instead.
Butter is Better
Cake mix instructions also miss the mark when it comes to the fat source. Skip the vegetable oil called for on the box and substitute in an equal amount of melted butter. This will give your cake a richer taste instantly, in comparison to the virtually flavorless oil.
Up Your Eggs
Eggs enhance both flavor and texture in a cake, so an easy way to upgrade both is to increase your egg count. If the box calls for two eggs, use three or four instead. You can also opt to add only additional yolks, which will make for a richer flavor, or only additional whites, which will make for a lighter, fluffier texture.
Swap in Coffee
Substitute the water called for on the cake box with strong, freshly brewed coffee. This trick works best for chocolate cakes, as it won’t change the color of the cake but will help to emphasize the rich cocoa flavors. Other non-traditional liquids that will add interesting flavors and textures to your cake include soda, stout beer, and even orange juice.
Increase Your Vanilla
When it comes to white mix, yellow mix, and just about any other variety, the vanilla flavor tends to leave much to be desired. Amp up the flavor of your boxed cake by adding ½-1 teaspoon of good vanilla extract. Another easy way to increase the flavor instantly is to add a pinch of salt to any kind of cake, which will help to balance the sweetness.
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Add Some Sour Cream
Adding ½ cup sour cream to your cake mix will give it a richer taste and add moistness to the cake in one easy step. Don’t worry, the sour flavor will disappear into the cake entirely. For a similar effect, add an equal amount of full-fat plain yogurt.
Break Out the Instant Pudding
To immediately increase both the flavor and moisture of a cake, add a small box of instant pudding mix. Simply combine the pudding mix with your dry cake mix before bringing in your wet ingredients. Try adding chocolate pudding mix to chocolate cake, vanilla pudding to just about any kind of cake, or lemon pudding to add a hint of citrus to your baked good.
Try Some Mayonnaise
While some might balk at the idea of adding this creamy condiment to a cake, a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise will give your cake a richer taste and smoother texture. This condiment, which is comprised of egg yolk and oil, won’t mess up the chemistry of your batter, but will make it taste amazing.
Customize Your Cake
Just because you’re using a boxed mix doesn’t mean that your cake has to be run-of-the-mill. Turn a plain chocolate or yellow cake mix into a customized creation by adding the dried fruits, nuts, chocolate, and spices of your choice. Other great additions include lemon zest, orange or almond extract, and rum.
Make Your Frosting From Scratch
The most effective way to make your boxed cake taste like it is 100 percent homemade is to ditch the canned frosting and make your own. Even if you make no other adjustments to the cake mix ingredients, this step will have your dinner guests fooled. Try these easy recipes for Vanilla Buttercream Frosting, Mascarpone Frosting, or Cream Cheese Frosting, which will work with just about any flavor of boxed mix.
Get Creative with the Layers
Although this step will require some extra time and effort, the effect will be well worth it. After your boxed cake is cooled, slice it into two or three layers and get creative with your fillings and layers. It’s always a good idea to brush your layers with simple syrup to give them some added moisture and sweetness, but you can also rely on other coatings like sweet liqueur and jam to have a similar effect. Pile your layers with sliced fruit, ganache, lemon curd, icing, etc. and top it all off with your homemade frosting.