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How to Doctor a Boxed Cake Mix: The Ultimate Guide

Are you one of those people who feels guilty for using a boxed cake mix? If so, you’ve come to the right place! In this post, which I’m labeling “The Ultimate Guide” to doctoring a boxed cake mix you’ll receive tips, tricks, and lots of fun ideas you’ve probably never thought of!

Doctoring a Cake Mix is Easy!

How to Make a Cake Mix Taste Better

Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury. . .and all of the rest. These brands are all well and good. Starting with a box of cake mix is a good beginning. But sometimes you just need more. You need to take your cake to the next level.

It doesn’t matter what flavor you choose–chocolate cake mix, yellow cake mix, white cake mix, or even something different, like a spice cake mix–you can still spice it up even more with just a few additions. And trust me. . .these simple additions can make all the difference.

You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to not only make a boxed cake mix taste better, but feel better in your mouth, as well. After all, homemade cakes do have a fuller texture you can’t achieve with a boxed mix using the recipe on the back of the box.

Best of all, you’ll walk away from this experience convinced that there’s nothing wrong with boxed mixes. They’re great. . .and not just when you’re in a hurry!

Why I Use a Boxed Mix

Over the past fifteen years I’ve baked for weddings, funerals, anniversaries, baby showers, bridal showers, and much, much more. And birthdays. Lots and lots of birthdays.

Every cake I baked started with a boxed mix. I’ve never found a from-scratch recipe that I enjoy as much as these doctored cake mixes.

I use them for a variety of reasons, but primarily because I want a consistent product. When you’re baking from scratch, recipes can go awry. Measurements can get skewed. But with a boxed mix I’m pretty much guaranteed the cakes will turn out the same every time.

And working with boxed mixes helps with cost, too. They’re relatively inexpensive. Best of all, they’re quick. I can mix up several cakes in a row. . .lickety-split!

With all of that in mind, I’ve compiled this ultimate guide to doctoring a boxed cake mix. I’ve laid out my top twenty tips for jazzing up a mix to make it extra-special. When you take the time to doctor your mix, no one will know the difference! They’ll be so wowed by your cake that the words, “This is surely from scratch” will be on the tips of their tongues.

Top Twenty Tips to Help You Doctor a Boxed Cake Mix

Let’s dive in to my ultimate guide for doctoring a boxed cake mix. I’ll have you feeling like a pro in no time!

TIP ONE: Determine Quantity

Doctoring a cake mix: the ultimate guide
This 10-inch triple-layered cake required three boxes of mix.

Decide in advance how many cake mixes you will need for your project. I usually triple-layer my cakes and here’s my (basic) formula for determining how many boxes of mix to buy:

  • 1 boxed mix will make three 6-inch cakes
  • 2 boxed mixes will make three 8-inch cakes
  • 2.5 boxed mixes will make three 9-inch cakes
  • 3 boxed mixes will make three 10-inch cakes
  • 5-6 boxed mixes will make three 12-inch cakes

Knowing how many people you can feed with your cake is key. A basic cake mix will feed 10-12 people (roughly, depending on how it’s sliced). Multiply that by the number of boxes you’re using in your recipe.

TIP TWO: Know your cake brands and how/when to use them.

Doctoring a cake mix: the ultimate guide
Which brand is your favorite?

If I’m building a tiered cake, I use Pillsbury because it’s a denser cake. Duncan Hines is lighter/fluffier and does well for layered cakes but I still prefer Pillsbury. Do not use off-brand cake mixes. I tried this once. Never again.

Sometimes the brand preference will depend on the flavor. That, my friend, is up to you! My go-to for Lemon cake is Duncan Hines. My preference for spice cake? Betty Crocker. Chocolate cake is a favorite, but I’m partial to Devil’s Food chocolate cake mix from Pillsbury. The others just don’t taste the same to me. You’ll have your favorites. They’ll be even tastier with the addition of a few extra ingredients!

TIP THREE: Bake in professional pans

Greased and floured, these pans are ready to go!

I know. This might not seem like a “beef up the mix” suggestion, but I promise you’ll feel so much better about your finished product if it has straight edges and is presented on a cake board (or on a pretty cake dish). This means you’ll have to separate yourself from the old 9 x 13 casserole dish, but the finished product will be worth it, I promise!

TIP FOUR: Add more eggs

doctoring a cake mix
That’s a lot of eggs!

Here’s a simple little trick: Most boxed mixes call for 3 whole eggs. Instead, use 4 whole eggs and don’t be afraid to go big. I usually use extra large eggs when I’m baking. Even if you toss in an extra egg yolk or two, your cake will be enriched.

TIP FIVE: Wedding cakes call for a different approach

Doctoring a cake mix: the ultimate guide
6″, 9″, 12″ cakes

If you’re making a wedding cake (or a pristine white cake) reverse what I said above. Instead of using whole eggs, go with four egg whites (only). This will keep the color bright white.

TIP SIX: Chiffon your cake

Doctoring a cake mix: the ultimate guide

You can take the egg whites to a whole new level by whipping them separately until they form soft peaks, then gently folding them into the cake batter. You’ll end up with a cake that’s super light and fluffy. A good example of this would be my Strawberry Lemonade Cake. Chiffon cakes are great when paired with a whipped cream-based frosting like my Raspberry Whipped Cream.

TIP SEVEN: Pass the Milk, Please!

Doctoring a cake mix: the ultimate guide

To make your cake richer, add whole milk instead of water to the mix. The fat in the milk will add moisture and a lovely flavor to the cake. If you don’t have milk handy, use evaporated milk or even a little heavy whipping cream. You’ll end up with a cake that’s rich and beautifully dense. It will taste like a homemade cake!

Buttermilk is a great addition and adds a bit of a twang. If you’ve ever eaten a “velvet” cake (for example, red velvet or white velvet) you’ve had buttermilk without realizing it. This one simple addition will create a rich cake that has a better flavor than a plain box cake mix.

(I interrupt this post to say that I just made some pink velvet cupcakes today and they were the bomb!)

Some recipes even call for melted ice cream in place of water. If you need to go dairy-free, try coconut milk.

TIP EIGHT: Other Interesting Additions

Doctoring a cake mix: the ultimate guide

Other ways to add fat/moisture to the cake and give it a better flavor would be to add a half-cup of sour cream, yogurt, or even mayonnaise to the mix. (I recently made a lemon cake using yogurt and it was yummy!)

I know that some people add a can of soda in place of the eggs, water, and oil, but I haven’t tried that one, either. Sounds fascinating, though!

Just remember to use room temperature ingredients! If you read my 8 Cake Baking Tips post you know how critical this is.

TIP NINE: Butter/Brown Butter

Instead of vegetable oil, add softened or melted butter. Just don’t add it to the mix while hot.

Speaking of butter, if you want to add a caramel flavor to your yellow cake, add brown butter instead of oil or regular butter. (Don’t be afraid to use salted butter. Doing so enhances the flavor of the other ingredients.) Brown butter is also terrific in frosting. I love it so much that I dedicated an entire post to it! Check out my Brown Butter Frosting recipe.

TIP TEN: Know your extracts

Doctoring a cake mix: the ultimate guide

I add them every time I bake a boxed cake. Use traditional vanilla and/or almond extracts for fancy cakes, but remember that a little goes a long way, especially with stronger flavors, like almond. Also, you’ll want to use a clear extract if you’re baking a white cake. There are a ton of extracts to try, but I use a lot of maple.

TIP ELEVEN: Instant Pudding

Doctoring a cake mix: the ultimate guide

One of the easiest ways to add additional flavor to your cake is to add a box of instant pudding. Favorite flavors include: vanilla, chocolate, butterscotch, lemon, cheesecake, pistachio, and York Peppermint. Pudding will thicken the batter and make it richer. One of my favorite recipes (Mint Oreo Trifle) includes York Peppermint pudding mix in the filling.

TIP TWELVE: Alternative liquids

Doctoring a cake mix: the ultimate guide

Another way to add flavor is to reach for juice or other alternative liquids. I add a cup of orange juice to my carrot cake mix. I add lemon juice to a white cake mix to turn it into a lemon cake. Another liquid to consider is coffee creamer. I’m a fan of French Vanilla or Italian Cream. Replacing some of the water with creamer will enhance the cake’s flavor.

TIP THIRTEEN: Reach for the Spices!

Doctoring a cake mix: the ultimate guide

Speaking of adding flavors, don’t be afraid of spices! I reach for the cinnamon a lot. I’m also a fan of pumpkin pie spice. You’ll see these spices in my Apple Spice Skillet Cake, as well as my Cookie Butter Cupcakes.

Other spices to consider: clove, ginger, and nutmeg. These are all terrific for fall-flavored cakes. You can add cocoa powder to a white cake to turn it into a chocolate cake. A fun addition to chocolate cakes is coffee. Replace half of the water (or milk) with a cup of coffee. This will amplify the chocolate flavor. I added coffee to the chocolate cupcakes that I paired with my Raspberry Whipped Cream Frosting.

TIP FOURTEEN: Sweet additions

Doctoring a cake mix: the ultimate guide

Add a cup of any of the following: chocolate chips, chopped Oreos, sprinkles (lightly mixing in so the colors don’t run), chopped pecans. (This is particularly yummy if you make your cake with brown butter and a dash of maple extract.)

You can add lemon zest to a boxed cake mix. Or orange zest. Or a cup of chopped Biscoff cookies. You can also add chocolate chips (or any flavor of chips, for that matter) but coat them in flour first so that they don’t sink to the bottom of the batter while baking.

I love to load up my cakes with yummy stuff like I’ve listed above. A couple of examples would be my Cranberry Hummingbird Cake and my Italian Cream Cake.

TIP FIFTEEN: Savory additions

Doctoring a cake mix: the ultimate guide

Hear me out. Yes, the cake is sweet, but adding a savory element can give an unexpected twist. An example would be to add bacon to a maple-flavored cake.

TIP SIXTEEN: Healthy additions

Doctoring a cake mix: the ultimate guide

Another fun addition is chopped Craisins (or even raisins). Other healthy additions might include diced apples, applesauce in place of oil, finely shredded carrots, coconut, or mandarin oranges. Stir in a few blackberries or blueberries, but coat them in flour first to absorb some of the moisture that will release as they bake. Add chopped strawberries to your strawberry cake mix.

TIP SEVENTEEN: Zebra stripe your cakes to get multiple flavors.

Doctoring a cake mix: the ultimate guide

An example would be to make chocolate batter and white/vanilla batter, then zebra stripe them together so that the flavors merge. (In the old days we called this marbling but these days the zebra technique offers a lovely surprise when the cake is cut.) If you’re interested in learning more about how to zebra stripe your batter, see my Pretty in Pink Ombre Cake post.

TIP EIGHTEEN: Homemade Frosting

Doctoring a cake mix: the ultimate guide

The one thing that helps your boxed cake taste homemade is the frosting. Skip the canned frosting and use a homemade buttercream (like my Dreamy Buttercream) or a stabilized whipped cream frosting. I’m not a fan of Italian meringue frosting but a lot of people are, so you might consider that as an option for frosting.

I’ve got a really great recipe for Chocolate Frosting: Best Ganache Recipe. This luscious homemade frosting will make all the difference.

TIP NINETEEN: Fillings

doctoring a boxed cake

Another way to make that boxed cake mix really special is to add fillings between the layers. After adding buttercream to your cake put a ring of frosting around the edge of the cake and fill it with whatever sounds yummy. I use a lot of preserves (strawberry, raspberry, etc.) I’m also crazy about lemon curd. But I’ve also been known to make my own blueberry/blackberry filling. (Add cornstarch to cooked berries to thicken them for use.)

By far my most asked for fillings would be turtle filling (ganache, pecans, caramel sauce and mini chocolate chips) or even chopped Oreos. I also use sliced berries between the layers of some of my cakes. A really yummy frosting and filling will go a l-o-n-g way in making your cake look and taste professional.

TIP TWENTY: Presentation

Take a stab at decorating the cake in a way that draws the eye. Using a Wilton 1M tip, put a few pretty buttercream rosettes/swirls on top. Stick a couple of cookies or some berries on top. Then trim around the bottom edge of the cake with a piping tip. When you’re done, serve your cake on a pretty platter.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “How does this doctor up my cake?” Trust me when I say that a good chunk of eating happens with the eyes. A visually appealing cake (one that looks like you went to a great deal of effort, even if you didn’t) will go a long way in winning over the crowd.

How to Doctor up a Box Cake Mix Like a Pro!

If you’re ready to try your hand at wowing the crowd, check out my Pretty in Pink Ombre Cake post, which will give you all sorts of creative ideas.

Don’t forget. . .boxed cake mixes are perfect for cupcakes, too. If you’re in the mood to bake but don’t want to commit to decorating a whole cake, start small with these Butter Pecan Cupcakes. With the addition of spices and pecans and caramel, the taste is sensational! People won’t believe you started with a boxed mix!

And while we’re talking about adding things to boxed mixes, check out my thoughts on how to add carrots to your batter on my carrot cake cupcakes recipe.

Video Tutorials

If you like video tutorials, I found one from Icing on top called “Doctored Cake Mix Tutorial” that might be helpful.

I really enjoy JJR at Man About Cake and he’s got a cool hack, adding cream cheese to his batter. I’m also mesmerized by his suggestion to use a butter wrapper at the bottom of the baking pan. W-w-what?And what’s up with that canned frosting idea? Whipping it and adding butter? Totally cool. I can’t wait to try this one, myself!


If you have other ideas for doctoring a cake mix, leave them in the comments below! I can’t wait to see what you come up with. There are all sorts of additional ingredients you can add. (Lemon-lime soda, anyway? Ginger ale?)

Oh, a couple more! Check out Miz Helen’s Full Plate Thursday for more great recipes! And don’t forget Weekend Potluck over at South Your Mouth. Yummy offerings over there!

How to Doctor a Boxed Cake Mix: The Ultimate Guide

How to Doctor a Boxed Cake Mix: The Ultimate Guide

Out of the Box Baking brings you the ultimate guide to doctoring a cake mix. Your guests will never know it isn't homemade!

Instructions

    Doctoring a Boxed Cake Mix: The Ultimate Guide

    TIP ONE: Determine Quantity

    Decide in advance how many cake mixes you will need for your project. I usually triple-layer my cakes and here’s my (basic) formula for determining how many boxes of mix to buy:

    1 boxed mix will make three 6-inch cakes

    2 boxed mixes will make three 8-inch cakes
    2.5 boxed mixes will make three 9-inch cakes
    3 boxed mixes will make three 10-inch cakes
    5-6 boxed mixes will make three 12-inch cakes


    Knowing how many people you can feed with your cake is key. A basic cake mix will feed 10-12 people (roughly, depending on how it’s sliced). Multiply that by the number of boxes you’re using in your recipe.


    TIP TWO: Know your cake brands and how/when to use them.

    Pillsbury is more dense (better for stacking). Duncan Hines is lighter/fluffier and does well for layered cakes.


    TIP THREE: Bake in professional pans

    Create a lovely finished product. Separate yourself from the old 9 x 13 casserole dish and set that cake on a pretty plate/dish.


    TIP FOUR: Add more eggs

    Add four instead of three.


    TIP FIVE: Wedding Cakes Call for a Different Approach

    Use four egg whites instead of three whole eggs.


    TIP SIX: Chiffon your cake

    Whip four egg whites and fold them into the batter.

    TIP SEVEN: Pass the Milk, Please!

    Replace water with milk, evaporated milk, or buttermilk.


    TIP EIGHT: Other Interesting Additions
    Other ways to add fat/moisture to the cake would be to add sour cream, yogurt, or even mayonnaise to the mix.

    TIP NINE: Butter/Brown Butter

    If you want to add a caramel flavor to your yellow cake, add brown butter instead of oil or regular butter. (Don’t be afraid to use salted butter. Doing so enhances the flavor of the other ingredients.) Brown butter is also terrific in frosting.


    TIP TEN: Know your extracts

    Use traditional vanilla and/or almond extracts for fancy cakes, but remember that a little goes a long way, especially with stronger flavors, like almond. Also, you’ll want to use a clear extract if you’re baking a white cake. There are a ton of extracts to try, but I use a lot of maple.


    TIP ELEVEN: Instant Pudding

    One of the easiest ways to add additional flavor to your cake is to add a box of instant pudding. The batter will be thicker but will taste yummy!


    TIP TWELVE: Alternative liquids
    Another way to add flavor is to reach for juice or other alternative liquids. I add a cup of orange juice to my carrot cake mix. I add lemon juice to a white cake mix to turn it into a lemon cake. Another liquid to consider is coffee creamer. I’m a fan of French Vanilla or Italian Cream. Replacing some of the water with creamer will enhance the cake’s flavor.

    TIP THIRTEEN: Reach for the Spices!

    Don’t be afraid of spices! I reach for the cinnamon a lot. I’m also a fan of pumpkin pie spice. You’ll see these spices in my Apple Spice Skillet Cake, as well as my Cookie Butter Cupcakes.

    Other spices to consider: clove, ginger, and nutmeg. These are all terrific for fall-flavored cakes. You can add cocoa powder to a white cake to turn it into a chocolate cake. A fun addition to chocolate cakes is coffee. Replace half of the water (or milk) with a cup of coffee. This will amplify the chocolate flavor.


    TIP FOURTEEN: Sweet Additions

    Add a cup of any of the following: chopped Oreos, sprinkles (lightly mixing in so the colors don’t run), chopped pecans. (This is particularly yummy if you make your cake with brown butter and a dash of maple extract.)

    You can add lemon zest. Or orange zest. Or a cup of chopped Biscoff cookies. You can also add chocolate chips (or any flavor of chips, for that matter) but coat them in flour first so that they don’t sink to the bottom of the batter while baking.


    TIP FIFTEEN: Savory additions
    Adding a savory element can give an unexpected twist. An example would be to add bacon to a maple-flavored cake.

    TIP SIXTEEN: Healthy additions

    Healthy additions might include chopped Craisins, diced apples, applesauce in place of oil, finely shredded carrots, coconut, or mandarin oranges. Stir in a few blackberries or blueberries, but coat them in flour first to absorb some of the moisture that will release as they bake.


    TIP SEVENTEEN: Zebra stripe your cakes to get multiple flavors.

    An example would be to make chocolate batter and white/vanilla batter, then zebra stripe them together so that the flavors merge. (In the old days we called this marbling but these days the zebra technique offers a delightful surprise when the cake is cut.)


    TIP EIGHTEEN: Homemade Frosting
    The one thing that helps your boxed cake taste homemade is the frosting. Skip the canned frosting and use a homemade buttercream (like my Dreamy Buttercream) or a stabilized whipped cream frosting. I’m not a fan of Italian meringue frosting but a lot of people are, so you might consider that as an option for frosting.

    TIP NINETEEN: Fillings

    After adding buttercream to your cake put a ring of frosting around the edge of the cake and fill it with whatever sounds yummy. I use a lot of preserves (strawberry, raspberry, etc.) I also love lemon curd. But I’ve also been known to make my own blueberry/blackberry filling. (Add cornstarch to cooked berries to thicken them for use.)

    By far my most asked for fillings would be turtle filling (ganache, pecans, caramel sauce) or even chopped Oreo. I also use sliced berries between the layers of some of my cakes. A really yummy frosting and filling will go a l-o-n-g way in making your cake look and taste professional.


    TIP TWENTY: Presentation

    Take a stab at decorating the cake in a way that draws the eye. Put a few pretty buttercream rosettes/swirls on top. Stick a couple of cookies or some berries on top. Then trim around the bottom edge of the cake with a piping tip. When you’re done, serve your cake on a pretty platter.

Notes

Don't be afraid to use a boxed mix. Use your imagination! Dress up a strawberry cake with fresh berries or instant strawberry pudding. Dress up a chocolate cake with Oreo pudding or chopped Oreos. Dress up a yellow cake with spices and pecans. The possibilities are endless!

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