Some tricks for improving boxed cake mixes, such as adding one box of instant pudding to any mix for a cake with moist, homemade taste and texture, are so well-known that cake mix manufacturers even include them on the cake mix boxes. But that’s not the only method you can use. Experiment with substitutions and additions and you’ll have your friends and family unable to tell the difference between your cake and one made from scratch.
Upgrade Any Boxed Cake
Anne Byrn, author of The Cake Mix Doctor, says that the flavors of cake mixes vary with different manufacturers and advises cooks to experiment with different brands to find the ones that most resemble homemade. Byrn also recommends techniques to to give any boxed cake better taste, such as using solid vegetable shortening for greasing pans because it doesn’t add additional flavor to the cake.
Substitutions to make any flavor of cake mix taste like homemade include melted ice cream, milk or sour cream in place of water in a 1-1 ratio. Or substitute fruit juice, such as lemonade with a lemon-flavored cake mix, for half the water called for to give the cake more intense flavor. For a buttery, homemade taste that works well in either white or yellow cake mixes, do like Anne Byrn and substitute melted, salted butter for the oil called for in the cake mix.
Add New Ingredients
Commercial cake mixes have enough emulsifiers to allow you to add small amounts — from 1/4 to 1/2 cup — of any of your favorite ingredients, making your cake taste unique and homemade; try chocolate chips in a chocolate cake, raisins soaked in rum in a spice cake or lemon zest in a lemon cake. Add a teaspoon of espresso powder to intensify the chocolate flavor in a chocolate cake mix, or scrape a vanilla bean into a vanilla cake mix to increase its flavor.
Frostings for Homemade Taste
Homemade frosting made with real butter or with high-fat, European-style butter makes any flavor cake taste like homemade. Make your own coconut and toasted nut topping for a German chocolate cake mix and your own cream cheese frosting for a carrot cake mix. If you add sliced strawberries or raspberry jam between the layers of a chocolate cake, or lemon curd between the layers of a white or yellow cake, everyone will think you made the entire cake by hand.
References and ResourcesThe Cake Mix Doctor; Anne Byrn
FWx: An Effortless, Bizarre-Brilliant Way to Improve Boxed Cake Mix
Duncan Hines: Juice or Milk for Water
Bon Appetit: 7 Tips for Making Your Cake Taste—and Look—Way Better