In this fun post you’re going to learn a dozen different ways to doctor a cake mix to make it taste better. These hacks are going to make baking fun and easy!
You’re in a hurry. You want to use a boxed mix but you’re worried folks will think you didn’t give it your best effort.
You are definitely not alone! Folks everywhere are asking questions like, “How do I make a box cake taste like a bakery cake?” or “What can I add to a box cake mix to make it taste better?” or “How can I make a boxed cake taste like a scratch cake?”
Thankfully, we’ve got the answers you’re looking for.
Some of our favorite recipes here at Out of the Box Baking start with a box of cake mix. And we’ll go on recommending them because they really can be jazzed up to taste like homemade.
How to Doctor a Boxed Cake Mix
If you’ve been following me awhile you’ve likely seen my post How to Doctor a Boxed Cake Mix. I also did a terrific post called A Dozen Sweet Treats that Start with a Boxed Cake mix. I just love boxed cake mix hacks.
Why do a new post on jazzing up boxed cake mixes, then?
Because I’ve come up with so many new recipes since then! And most of these can be made using a white, yellow, or golden butter cake mix. (The choice is up to you. Which do you love?)
Favorite Additions to Boxed Cake Mix: 12 Easy Options
Let me start by giving you a list of my favorite additions to a simple boxed cake mix, along with an explanation of why I often use these additions:
1. Add Instant Pudding Mix to a Boxed Cake
Adding instant pudding to your cake batter is the easiest way to add flavor, texture, and depth to any boxed cake mix. I often add pudding to cakes simply to tighten the crumb. This is especially important if I’m working with a stacked (tiered) cake.
Instant pudding comes in a variety of flavors. You can turn a simple white cake mix to chocolate cake with a box of chocolate pudding. You can add minty flavor to a chocolate cake mix with a box of York peppermint pudding. Other flavors you might choose could include: cheesecake, strawberry, lemon, coconut, or butterscotch.
Here are some of my favorite starts-with-a-box cake mix recipes that include instant pudding:
- Italian Cream Cake (vanilla or French vanilla pudding recommended)
- Holiday Yule log Cake (chocolate pudding recommended)
- Traditional Coconut Cake (vanilla or coconut pudding recommended)
- Cinnamon Roll Poke Cake (vanilla pudding recommended)
- Mint Oreo Trifle (York mint pudding recommended)
2. Add Milk, Buttermilk, or Whipping Cream to a Box of Cake Mix
This simple switcheroo will make a huge difference in your recipes. Adding milk (or whipping cream) will add fat to the recipe, always a good thing in baking. And it will add moisture.
Adding buttermilk is especially exciting because it can turn any cake into a “velvet” cake. (Red velvet cake, anyone?)
If you opt for whipping cream (which I use in some of my from-scratch recipes, like my Old-Fashioned Pound cake, just know that it definitely tightens the crumb. It makes for a much thicker batter, so don’t be surprised when you see the difference.
I love the additional structure that milk adds to a tiered cake. If you’re ever stacking cakes you’ll want to substitute at least some of the water with milk or cream.
Here’s a fun tidbit. . .
Use room temperature milk. Adding cold ingredients to your batter might cause your cake to dome in the center, but room temperature ingredients will help prevent that.
Here’s another fun way I get my milk to room temperature without leaving it out (or microwaving): I add half a cup of warm water and half a cup of cold whole milk or whipping cream, which leaves me with a room temperature milk product to add to the cake.
Here are some of my recipes that call for milk instead of water. (Note: you can do this to any boxed cake mix you like but if you’re going for an Uber-soft, fluffy cake you might want to stick with water).
- The Most Delicious White Cake from a Box (for wedding cake)
- Easy DIY Wedding Cake
- Coconut cake (I use coconut milk for this one)
3. Other Dairy Products to Add to Your Boxed Cake Mix
A couple of my favorite ingredients to add to boxed cake mix would have to be yogurt and sour cream. These luscious, creamy ingredients add so much depth and flavor to your cake. Specifically, the firm up the batter and add a hint of tartness to the finished product. Yum!
This is one box cake mix hack that will really up the flavor of your cake.
One other fun/funny option: partially melted ice cream. I know. . .sound crazy. But a flavored ice cream will add both structure and flavor to your cake.
4. Add Butter (or Brown Butter) to Your Favorite Cake Mix
One of the easiest ways to add depth of flavor and texture to a box of cake mix is to substitute butter for the vegetable oil. This will really take your cake to the next level.
A couple of thoughts: Always use room temperature butter. It’s good to whip it (cream it) before adding. Some folks like to use melted butter. That’s fine too, but don’t add it hot or it will start cooking the other ingredients.
My favorite trick is to add brown butter. If you haven’t discovered brown butter yet, you don’t know what you’re missing. I love it so much that I devoted a whole post to it.
Add brown butter to any of your fall or winter cakes and people will swoon. Just be prepared for folks to ask for the recipe.
Here are some of my favorite doctored cake mixes that incorporate browned butter:
Adding brown butter will truly elevate boxed cake mix!
5. Add Extra Eggs to Your Cake Mix
I often add extra eggs to my boxed cake mixes, but it’s “how” I add them that might interest you. For a heavier outcome I’ll add a whole egg (or egg yolks). An extra egg yolk will give the cake structure, along with the ability to retain more liquid. The result? A moist, sweet cake.
For lighter, airier cakes, however, I add only egg white. I do this with my wedding cakes all of the time. Because I want them to be white, bright, and light I will add only the egg whites. (Yolks can be saved to make custards or pie fillings.) This is an easy way to brighten things up.
Sometimes I’ll whip my egg whites in advance. I did this in my Yule log cake recipe because I wanted a texture more like an angel food cake. If you’re adding fruit to a cake you might consider adding only egg whites to offset the heaviness the fruit will bring to the dish.
Talk about a fun little trick!
6. Add Juice to Your Boxed Cake Mix
I know, I know! You’re thinking. . .”Juice?” The answer is a firm, “Yes!” I love adding orange juice, in particular. It’s great in my Christmas Spice cake, but you know what else I use it for?
- Carrot cake. Yep, I add orange juice to the boxed mix, every single time.
- Pineapple juice: This is a lovely addition in cakes like my Coconut Lime Cake. Talk about a moist cake, rich with flavor!
- Lemon Juice (used in my Easy Lemon Yogurt Cake)
7. Add Nuts, Fruits, and Vegetables to a Box of Cake Mix
Before you turn your nose up at the idea of adding veggies, give them a try! Did you know, for instance, that you can add freshly grated carrots to a boxed carrot cake mix? I do it every time, along with the orange juice mentioned above.
I add a lot of fruit to boxed cake mixes. One of my most popular is my Banana Berry Cake. I also get a lot of requests for my Coconut Lime cake, which calls for crushed pineapple. This might be a good time to add one additional note about citrus: You can use lemon zest, lime zest, or orange zest to bright and lighten your cake mixes. You can even make a simple syrup (half water, half sugar) and add juice or zest to that.
I’ve added frozen fruit (cranberries, especially, like in my Cranberry Hummingbird Cake), and fresh fruit (like bananas, blackberries, and raspberries).
Other fruity offerings might include my:
Don’t forget canned pie fillings or jarred curds. For instance, I use a full can of strawberry pie filling in my Strawberry Pie Filling Cake.
As for nuts, well. . .where do I begin? I use them so freely that people have come to expect them in most of my baked goods. Stir some walnuts into your carrot cake, add some pecans to your Italian Cream Cake, or top your German Chocolate Cake with coconut pecan frosting.
8. Add Extracts and Other Flavorings to a Box of Cake Mix
I hardly know where to start with this one. Extracts are a lifesaver! You can make any cake mix better by adding flavorings. Some of my favorites include:
- Real Vanilla
- Almond Extract (only the best)
- Maple extract (or real maple syrup)
- Lemon extract (or lemon zest)
- Butter flavoring
- Cocoa powder
- Peanut Butter
9. Add Sprinkles or Chips to Your Cake Mix
Half a cup of sprinkles will really add color and texture to your cake mix.
One note: Gently fold them in once the batter is ready to go into the pan. Otherwise the colors from the sprinkles will fade into an icky shade of gray.
Chocolate chips are fun to add but use caution: You’ll want to use mini chocolate chips and coat them in flour before adding to the batter so that they don’t sink.
10. Add Soda Pop to Your Boxed Cake Mixes
There are a ton of really fun recipes out there, calling for everything from Coke to Sprite, to Orange Crush.
Check out this post from Parade.com titled 12 Luscious Cakes Made with Soda Pop.
11. Use Homemade Frosting to Make Your Cake Taste Homemade
My most popular frosting is my Dreamy Buttercream. It’s unbelievably good.
I also love to use stabilized whipped creams.
12. Add Delicious Fillings Between the Layers
Along with the frosting, you can add all sorts of things between the layers of the cake. Depending on your cake flavor you might choose to add:
- Chocolate Ganache
- Salted Caramel Topping
- Coconut Flakes
- Mini Chocolate Chips
- Lemon Curd
- Strawberry Preserves
- Sliced Berries
- Finely chopped candy bars (like Snickers or Reeses)
Questions People are Asking about Doctored Cake Mixes
Does it matter which brand of cake I use?
No. You can use Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, or any other brand you prefer. You might already know that the weight of some mixes is heavier than others. I usually use Pillsbury for tiered cakes because it’s more structurally sound.
Can I use these same tricks with homemade cakes?
Are there other things I can add to a box of cake mix?
Yes, you can stretch a cake mix by adding an extender. You’ll find a recipe for that here.
My Most Popular Doctored Cake Mixes:
I have several go-to cakes that friends and family members have come to expect from me. Here are the ones they ask for most often:
- Best White Bake (doctored mix)
- Ultimate Chocolate Cake
- Italian Cream Cake
- Coconut Cake
- German Chocolate Cake
- Carrot Cake
- Butter pecan bundt cake with praline
- Caramel Banana cake
- Brown Butter walnut cake
- Cranberry Hummingbird cake (the be-all-end-all-add-to-it-cake-recipe)
- Pink peppermint angel food cake
That’s it for my tips, tricks and hacks! These are such simple swaps but can make a world of difference. You really can make a simple box of cake mix taste like it came straight from a baker’s oven. After all. . .it did!
About the Author
Janice Thompson is an author, baker, and all-around mischief maker! She has overcome a host of baking catastrophes, including a toppled wedding cake, to learn more about the baking process. Janice has published over 150 books for the Christian market but particularly enjoys writing recipes and baking devotions. To learn more about Janice or to drop her a note, visit her About the Author page.