Box cakes are a simple and convenient approach to baking moist, fluffy cakes, but for diet-conscious, serious cooks or those with food allergies, the mixes may present a problem. You can still use box cake mixes if you make creative substitutions for ingredients — such as butter and eggs — without sacrificing taste. If you’re looking to add richness and flavor, a few basic substitutions can give your box cake that unmistakable homemade taste.
Take eggs out of the equation by substituting a different binding, leavening or moisturizing agent, depending on what the eggs are meant for. Alternative binding agents include flaxseed mix, arrowroot, silken tofu and even vegetable puree. If you’re looking to swap leavening agents, try buttermilk, baking soda or yogurt. For moisture, replace eggs with fruit juice, water or milk. In general, add 1/4 cup of your chosen substitute for every egg in the recipe. If you’re looking to simply cut fat in your box cake, substitute two egg whites for every whole egg in the recipe.
Butter, margarine and shortening can add a large dose of unhealthy fat and calories in any box cake. Substitutions include:
Pureed avocado (equal amount)
Olive oil (3/4 cup per cup of butter)
Applesauce (equal amount)
Pumpkin puree (3/4 cup per cup of butter)
Greek yogurt (1/2 cup per cup of butter)
Fruit and vegetable purees — store-bought or homemade — can stand in for oil any time. Even cooked mashed squash or sweet potatoes can work; just add three-fourth of the amount of called-for oil in the form of your chosen substitute. For example, replace 1 cup of oil with 3/4 cup of vegetable puree. Or, substitute half the amount of oil called for in the recipe with soft tofu and the other half with veggie or fruit puree. An equal amount of mayonnaise can replace oil as well, but it is a high-fat substitute. A low-fat substitute will make your batter cook faster.
Enhance a box cake’s flavor with a few simple substitutions. Use hot water instead of cold in chocolate cakes to amp up the chocolate flavor, or do away with the water altogether and substitute milk as your liquid. The milk will add fat, but it will also add flavor and a pleasant thickness to the cake. If your recipe calls for oil and you’re not counting calories, substitute melted butter for a richer, deeper flavor.
References and ResourcesPrevention: 8 Surprising Oil Substitutions for Lighter, Healthier Brownies
Everyday Health: 6 Healthy Alternatives to Butter
Madhuram's Eggless Cooking: Egg Substitutes in Baking
Betty Crocker: Healthy Baking Tips and Low-Fat Substitutions
Wilton: Baking Alternatives -- Reducing Fat in Your Favorite Baked Goods Recipes
Rachael Ray: Cake-Over! How to Make Boxed Cake Mix Better