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Tips and Tricks for Upgrading a Boxed Cake Mix

By: Lodge Cast Iron / November 9, 2022

Cakes don’t have to be made entirely from scratch to taste delicious. Our resident baker and test kitchen manager Shannon Van Dusen is a big believer in the idea that “just because it’s coming from a box doesn’t mean you can’t make it your own.” Start with your favorite cake mix, and use this guide with Shannon’s favorite tricks to improve the taste and texture of your cake.  

Spiced Carrot Cake

Prep your cookware and check bake times 

A standard 15.25-ounce box of cake mix will fit in the pieces of cookware listed below. Before you pour in your batter, make sure to spray them with a cooking spray that contains flour, like Baker's Joy. Alternatively, you can grease them with butter and dust with flour.

Even with the adjustments and additions we suggest, it’s safe to stick to the oven temperature and bake times recommended on the box. Every oven is a little bit different and boxed cakes often offer a time range for baking, so Shannon suggests checking the cake at the shortest recommended time. If the color of the baked good has reached a golden brown color or if the sides are pulling away from the cookware, it’s probably a good time to check the cake with a toothpick.

How can I improve the texture and add richness? 

Don’t use water
You can replace water with a more flavorful liquid to enhance your cake. Whole milk works well for almost any flavor. For chocolate or red velvet mixes, buttermilk is a great alternative because it adds tang and keeps your cake moist. When you swap liquids, just match the amount of water that the mix recommends.  

Swap oils
There’s a time and place for vegetable oil, but we all know butter makes everything taste better. Replace the amount of oil in the mix with twice as much butter, melted and cooled. Similarly, you can swap vegetable oil one for one with olive oil to add moisture and a subtle fruity flavor that pairs well with citrus-forward cakes. 

Put in an extra egg
According to Shannon, the easiest tweak to make boxed cake better is to add an extra egg! This helps with the density of your cake by adding moisture and richness. 

Add sour cream
The fat from sour cream adds flavor and moisture to your cake, while also ensuring that it stays moist. This works well with white cake, chocolate, and red velvet flavors—just add a cup of sour cream with the wet ingredients.  

American Flag Cake

What can I do to ramp up flavor? 

Use pudding mix
Add a dry instant pudding mix with a matching or complementary flavor to the batter to add a rich texture that makes your boxed cake taste homemade. 

Experiment with extracts and emulsions
Boost the flavor of your cake by adding a teaspoon of an extract or emulsion. Vanilla is one of our personal favorites, but you can play around with almond, peppermint, lemon, coconut, banana, or orange flavors. Emulsions are water-based—rather than alcohol-based—so the flavor won’t bake out as much as when you use an extract. If you’re using an extract and want stronger flavor, you can add a little extra. 

Have fun with mix-ins
You can also add your favorite mix-ins to the cake batter. Try Oreos, shredded coconut, chocolate chips, nuts, or sprinkles. Generally, use about a cup of the topping of your choice, but this is something you can experiment with. If the ingredient you’re adding is dry—like crushed Oreos or graham crackers—you may want to use less to avoid drying out the cake.  

Layer the cake with a filling 
Add half of your batter to a greased pan, add a layer of pie filling, and top with the remaining batter. This trick works great with the Fluted Cake Pan. Need inspiration? Add cherry pie filling to devil’s food cake. Mix in apple pie filling to a spice cake. Or add a layer of sweetened cream cheese to a pumpkin spice cake. 

Use your favorite booze 
You can add ½ a cup of liquor, such as bourbon, vodka, or rum, to your cake batter to add flavor and texture to your desserts. If your party is 21+, you can also add booze to the frosting or glaze.  

Make homemade frosting
Speaking of frosting! Homemade frosting is a game changer, and for Shannon, a non-negotiable. Use your favorite homemade frosting recipe, or if you don’t know where to start, try the following recipe for a simple buttercream. And remember, always allow your cake to cool before frosting! 

Shannon’s Simple Buttercream Frosting

Put 2 sticks of room-temperature butter in your stand mixer and set the speed to low. Add a teaspoon of extract (vanilla is a great place to start, but feel free to get creative), a pinch of salt, and 2 cups of powdered sugar. If the frosting gets too thick, add a little bit of milk to the mixture. Once the powdered sugar and butter have combined, incorporate 2 additional cups of powdered sugar, adding milk to thin the frosting to your desired texture.  

Classic Vanilla Cupcakes
Contributed By: Lodge Cast Iron

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