Boxed cake mixes are a wonderful invention. They are inexpensive and convenient, and they are a perfect option when you need to quickly whip up a cake or some cupcakes. That being said, boxed cake mixes never taste quite as good as a cake that is made from scratch. However, we have found five ways to make boxed cake mixes taste more like delicious homemade cakes.
Please keep in mind as you experiment with these tips that different brands of cake mixes will have different results. While these five tricks will improve any boxed cake mix, starting with a good mix will result in a better cake or cupcakes. Some of the best brands that we have found are Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines, and Pillsbury. These brands are available in pretty much every grocery store, have a variety of flavors to choose from, and typically bake into very moist, beautiful cakes!
Tip #1: Add More Eggs
Eggs are magical. They contain moisture, fat, and protein all in a wonderful shelled package, and adding more eggs to a cake makes for a softer crumb texture while also making the cake harder to overbake. Most boxed mixes call for three eggs, but we would suggest adding one additional whole egg or two additional egg yolks. Using just the additional yolks will give you a richer cake with a slightly closer crumb texture.
Tip #2: Get Creative with Liquids
The majority of boxed cake mixes call for adding eggs, water, and oil to create the cake batter. While water adds the necessary liquid to form a batter and activate the dry ingredients, experimenting with other liquids can kick up the flavor in your cake as well as make it more moist and tender. For a white cake mix, try replacing the water with whole milk or a non-dairy milk option. Yellow cake and red velvet cake mixes benefit greatly from a little added acidity, so we recommend replacing the water with buttermilk (as a buttermilk substitute try adding 1 tablespoon of vinegar to each scant cup of milk needed). If you are making a chocolate cake, substitute the water for hot coffee to give a deeper chocolate flavor (using hot coffee also blooms the cocoa to improve the flavor). Try playing around with different liquids (you can even try adding juice or soda) to enhance the flavors and textures in your cake!
Tip #3: Change Up the Fats
Adding more fats like oil or butter to recipes can feel wrong when trying to live a healthy lifestyle, but cakes are not the place to skimp on fats! Fat adds that much needed moisture to ensure that cakes do not turn out crumbly, and changing up or adding additional fats can make all the difference in your cake. Try exchanging the oil that is usually called for with the same amount of melted butter. Using butter instead of oil will give you a richer cake with that amazing butter flavor. You can also add additional fats like sour cream or mayonnaise (this sounds weird, but trust us!) to overhaul the texture of the cake. This is probably the easiest way to make a boxed mix taste like a made from scratch cake. Add up to 1/4 cup of sour cream or 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise to your batter and see the results!
Tip #4: Kick Up the Flavor
One of the main downfalls of boxed cake mixes is that they tend to be less flavorful than cakes that are made from scratch. This can be easily remedied by adding extracts, zests, or other add-ins to the batter. Vanilla extract is a must in just about any cake. It blends well with most flavors, and adds a depth that is missing from a lot of boxed mixes. You can also add almond extract, rum extract, or coconut extract, depending on what flavors you are working with. Zests are another way to add some amazing and bright flavors to your cake! Lemon zest, lime zest, and orange zest will all add a kick of citrus, just make sure to keep your overall flavor in mind when playing with these ingredients. For example, you could start with a white cake mix and add orange juice as the liquid, then add orange zest for a bolder orange flavor.
Tip #5: Finish the Cake with Homemade Frosting
Pre-made, canned frosting is super convenient, but it is often very sweet, and that sweetness can overpower the flavor that you just worked so hard to add to your cake. Because of this, we would suggest making a quick condensed milk buttercream frosting from scratch that you can use to frost your cake or cupcakes. Sweetened condensed milk buttercream (otherwise known as Russian buttercream) is super easy to make, only requires two ingredients (sweetened condensed milk and butter), and has an amazing silky texture that is easy to work with. Try this linked recipe from Cupcake Project instead of buying canned frosting for your next cake!
If you are running short on time, or just prefer to start with pre-made frosting, we highly recommend whipping the canned frosting with electric beaters to make it light and fluffy. You can even try mixing some whipped cream or cream cheese with the frosting to reduce the sweetness and create a better texture.
We hope that these tips help next time you are making up a cake or cupcakes from a mix. Playing around with flavors and textures is one of the true joys of baking, and we hope that you are able to have fun as you experiment on your own!