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10 Ways to Upgrade Boxed Cake Mix

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Looking for a way to make boxed cake mix taste better? I've got ten! With my top 10 ways to upgrade boxed cake mix, you can easily add flavor, moisture, and texture to level up that next cake made from a box.

Ingredients for vanilla cake on a white counter with a boxed cake mix

Boxed cake mix is a quick and easy way to make a delicious cake, but the flavor and texture of some box mixes leave something to be desired. So if you've wondered how to improve boxed cake mix, look no further!

Luckily, with a few upgrades you can easily elevate that boxed cake mix to make it taste homemade!

Here are my 10 favorite ways to doctor boxed cake mix so that it tastes like it's a from-scratch, homemade cake. Shhh, I won't tell!

Closeup of instructions for vanilla boxed cake on a white counter

Keep in mind: You can use one of these tips, or you could use several of these tips combined! But not all of them will always work for every cake mix, and they may not all work together at the same time. Experiment and see what works best for you.

1. Use milk instead of water

Using milk instead of water in a boxed cake mix is a quick and easy swap that has several advantages:

  • Better flavor: Milk adds richness and creaminess to the cake batter, resulting in a more flavorful cake
  • More moisture: The fat content in milk provides a more moist and tender cake. Who doesn't want that? A dry cake is the worst!
  • Improved structure: Milk proteins help enhance the structure of the cake, which is especially useful when you're making a layer cake

2. Even better, use buttermilk

Buttermilk is one of those ingredients that almost always improves the quality and results of a recipe when you use it over regular milk for quite a few reasons:

  • Adds depth of flavor: Buttermilk's signature tangy flavor can add a more complex flavor profile to baked goods, including cakes
  • Makes the cake more tender: The acidic nature of buttermilk will interact with the proteins in the cake and give it an even softer and more tender crumb
  • Improves the cake's rise: Another useful result of buttermilk's acidity – it interacts with the leavening agents in the cake mix (like baking soda, baking powder, or yeast) to create more carbon dioxide, and in turn, provides a better rise
  • Adds that “homemade” quality: Given the option of regular waffles or buttermilk waffles? Easy decision. The same goes for using it in most cake recipes – it just adds an element of authenticity and that “made with love” feeling

3. Use melted butter instead of oil

Melted butter enhances the flavor and provides a more creamy, rich mouthfeel to most cake recipes. Because it has a higher fat content than oil, it adds much-desired moisture and structure to cakes.

However… there are definitely cake recipes where using extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is actually the winner. My lemon almond flour cake is a prime example.

Vanilla cake batter being poured into a greased cake pan

4. Add an extra egg

Even just adding one extra egg to your cake batter can improve the texture and structure of your cake! Since eggs act as a binding agent, it's providing a little extra help to hold everything together, as well as adding moisture and a richer overall flavor.

5. Add extracts or spices (or both)

Sometimes adding a little extract to a box cake mix can make all the difference! Especially if you use it to enhance the flavor profile of an already existing set of ingredients.

If you're making a vanilla cake from a white box cake mix and you add pure vanilla extract? That's an immediate flavor (and aroma!) upgrade. It can also help mask that artificial flavor you sometimes get from boxed cake mixes.

Adding different extract flavors also means you can experiment and customize the cake's flavor profile however you'd like, with a very simple additional ingredient.

6. Add instant pudding mix

It took me a long time to get on board with this one, but it really is a pretty great hack. There's a reason you see some boxed cake mixes advertising that they include pudding right there on the front of the box!

Dry instant pudding mix (not premade, creamy pudding) contains ingredients that add moisture and flavor to the resulting cake.

Since there are so many different flavors of instant pudding out there, you're basically guaranteed to find one that will complement and enhance your cake of choice!

Some pudding flavors include chocolate, vanilla, butterscotch, pistachio, banana cream, coconut cream, and lemon.

7. Add yogurt or sour cream

Yogurt or sour cream will obviously provide additional moisture to the cake, but the tangy flavor will also add more depth of flavor to the cake.

You could even add mayonnaise like I do for my favorite double chocolate layer cake that starts with a boxed chocolate cake mix!

Two layer chocolate cake with a slice removed to show the layers of cake and frosting

8. Add mix-ins

To be honest, I don't need a reason to add mix-ins to my cakes – I'm just probably going to do it regardless, haha!

Mix-ins can be anything like chocolate chips, nuts, candy pieces, chopped fruit, or fudge swirls. They add flavor and visual interest to the cake, and can also provide a delightful texture contract.

Plus it gives you an excuse to add some to the tops and/or sides as low-effort but potentially high-impact decorations and garnish.

As a rule of thumb, about 1 cup of mix-ins is usually a good amount, but that can vary based on the size of the mix-ins themselves.

9. Coat it with simple syrup

I actually use this tip for cakes made from scratch, too. It's a great hack to add moisture back to a cake that came out too dry, or that is lacking flavor or sweetness that you're looking for.

Using a pastry brush or basting brush to add a thin layer of simple syrup to the top of each cake layer will make the cake more moist, softer, and can actually make it easier to stack layers because they'll be less likely to crack or crumble.

You can also use this as a way to give your cake an extra boost of flavor if you use a simple syrup infused with extracts, citrus, or liqueurs. Try adding a layer of peppermint simple syrup to a chocolate cake – it's faaabulous for the holidays.

10. Top with homemade frosting

Even if you're not able to implement any of these other tips, adding homemade frosting will make a huge difference! The canned frosting just can't compare to the flavor and textures you can get with homemade frostings.

Try my not-too-sweet homemade cream cheese frosting recipe, easy chocolate frosting, vibrant blackberry buttercream frosting, stabilized mascarpone whipped cream frosting or boozy whiskey buttercream frosting.

Overhead shot of a piece of cake on a white plate with a fork full of cake on the side

Tips for yellow cake or white cake

  • Start with a yellow cake mix that has “butter” in the name. Betty Crocker Super Moise Butter Recipe Yellow cake mix is a favorite of mine.
  • Add an extra egg yolk for yellow cake. The egg yolk will enhance the yellow color of the yellow cake.
  • Add an extra egg white for white cake. An egg white will keep the white cake white since it won't taint the color like a yellowy-orange egg yolk would.
  • Add almond extract. This gives it an authentic, bakery-style flavor.

Tips for chocolate cake

  • Start with a chocolate cake mix that is specifically called out as being “fudgy”. Some examples are Betty Crocker's Super Moist Chocolate Fudge cake mix and Duncan Hines' Dark Chocolate Fudge cake mix.
  • Use brewed coffee instead of water. You often see chocolate recipes call for adding coffee or espresso because coffee really enhances the flavor of chocolate!
  • Or use chocolate milk instead of water. Or maybe a mix of both chocolate mix and coffee!
  • Add 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder to really pump up the chocolate flavor.
  • Add a 3.4-ounce box of chocolate instant pudding for an even more moist and fudgy result.

Tips for citrus cake

If you're making a lemon cake, orange cake, or other citrus cake:

  • Use citrus juice instead of water. Doesn't an orange cake infused with orange juice sound more appealing than one made with water?
  • Add fresh citrus zest. Never underestimate the power of citrus zest! You can add zest to the batter and the frosting for a flavor double whammy.
  • Experiment with spices and herbs! Orange and rosemary are a delightful combination, as is lemon and ginger.
Leslie leaning on a counter

I hope this information helps!

Do you have any questions about doctored up cake mix that I didn't answer? Let me know in the comments below!

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One Comment

  1. Thank you. I attended a frosting demonstration by a baker who uses boxed cake mix with additives. Her secrets additives not revealed but your article provided options to improving home baked cake layers.