There is so much to love about boxed cake mix. They are easy to bake, guaranteed to be delicious, and for many of us, full of nostalgia. Even as a professionally trained pastry chef, my pantry is always stocked with a few boxes for special after school treats and everyday celebrations. They are so convenient, but never quite as tasty as homemade cakes. But don’t worry! With ingredients you already have on hand in your kitchen, you can make a cake from a box that tastes more flavorful, moist, and like it was made from scratch. Here are six easy ways to upgrade a basic cake mix.
1. Add an Extra Egg
If you only use one tip from this story, this one should be it. Most cake mixes call for two to three eggs. Just one more egg will add extra moisture, fat, and a little protein, which means the cake will be softer and less likely to overbake and dry out in the oven.
2. Add Milk, Coffee, or Soda
Boxed cakes often call for water, but swapping it out for equal amounts of milk, coffee, or even soda will give you a moister, more tender, and flavorful cake. For white cake mix, you can use whole milk or your favorite non-dairy milk. Take things one step further and pair your cake mix with a flavored liquid. For example, buttermilk sings in a yellow and red velvet cake and brewed coffee makes chocolate cake taste bolder. Also, pop open a can of soda—Sprite, 7 Up, or ginger beer—for lemon and strawberry cake mixes.
3. Use Butter Instead of Oil
My favorite swap and also the easiest: add melted butter instead of canola or vegetable oil, which most boxed cake mixes call for. Butter adds moisture and fat just like any oil, but it also has that unmistakable butter flavor that we all know and love.
4. Add Instant Pudding
Whisk one small (3.4-ounce) package of instant pudding into the dry cake mix. You’ll want a similar pudding flavor. For example, use chocolate pudding for a chocolate cake mix. Then, add the wet ingredients and bake the cake as directed. It’ll be so moist and the pudding will give it a big flavor boost.
5. Up the Flavor with an Extract or Citrus Zest
Boxed cake mixes can take on a lot of extra flavor and a little more liquid, so don’t be afraid to add a splash of vanilla extract to a white cake or a little coffee extract to a chocolate cake. Fresh lemon or orange zest is wonderful in a lemon cake and also divine in a yellow or white cake.
6. Top the Cake with Homemade Frosting
May I suggest a simple homemade frosting to decorate your boxed cake? Your friends and family don’t have to know your pastry chef-approved secret—that the cake underneath the frosting comes from a box.