We’ve all been in a situation where you have to bake a cake for an upcoming event, but you don’t have the time, so you reach for a box of cake mix and hope no one will notice. Or maybe you prefer using cake mix because you don’t feel confident in your baking abilities but wish that you were able to make a gourmet cake.
No matter the reason, there should be no shame in using a boxed cake mix. However, just because you’re using cake mix doesn’t mean that the final product has to taste like it came from a box. There are ways to enhance your cake mix to add your own personal touch and make it taste like an old family recipe.
Want to learn how to doctor a cake mix to impress your friends and family? Keep reading to learn the best way to make your layer cake or sheet cake from a boxed mix taste like a scratch cake.
Why Learn How to Doctor a Cake Mix?
Learning how to doctor cake mix means learning how to make any boxed cake mix better. Box mix is good but is usually basic. While there’s a time and a place for a basic cake, chances are that you want to spice it up from time to time. You can think of a box mix as giving you all of the basic ingredients you need for the cake and letting it serve as your base.
Knowing this, a good doctored cake mix begins with the box of cake mix you choose. There are a variety of box mixes available on the market, from specific brands to recognizable types of cake mixes. Brands such as Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines are famous for their reliable cake mixes, which people have used for decades.
Beyond these brands, however, there are several types of cakes that you can typically find in box mix form. Some cake mixes, such as yellow and white cake mixes, might be better known as box mixes than cake recipes you can make from scratch!
Here are a few other popular flavors of cake mix:
- Chocolate cake mix
- Spice cake mix
- Strawberry cake mix
- Red velvet cake mix
- Vanilla cake mix
Before learning how to doctor a cake mix, you should choose one of the above box mixes (or any other that you may find at your local grocery store) to serve as the base of your cake. From there, you’ll build on the flavor by adding a few additional ingredients.
Now, let’s take a look at how to doctor cake mix.
How to Take a Box of Cake Mix to the Next Level
Turning a cake mix into your own recipe can be a fun and creative experience, but you have to have an idea of where to begin. There are several ways to doctor a cake mix and make your friends and family think you worked on it all day.
To start, you want to choose which ingredients would work best in your cake.
Wet Ingredients to Add to Your Cake Mix
Wet ingredients are the most common ingredients used when doctoring cake mix. This is because cake mix requires you to add at least one wet ingredient — even if it’s just water — to it anyways.
To start, many box cake mixes require you to add an egg to the mix. However, you can get creative with this part of the recipe and add additional egg whites or extra egg yolks to customize the mix. If you want a soft fluffy cake, consider adding extra egg whites to keep the cake light and airy. Egg yolks have emulsifying capabilities so that they can make a smoother cake. There’s a lot of magic in eggs, which you almost always have in your fridge!
Unfortunately, a boxed cake mix often makes for a dry final product. To avoid that, you could add ingredients that add moisture to your cake. The best solution is typically adding more fat to the cake. Added fat can make your boxed cake extra moist. You have several options when it comes to adding fat to your cake, such as:
- Vegetable oil
- Full-fat sour cream
- Whole milk
- Melted butter
- Apple sauce
- Greek yogurt
You’d be surprised to learn how much a cup of sour cream or substituting water with buttermilk can transform your cake.
The cake’s texture isn’t the only aspect you can alter. Of course, you’ll also want to enhance the overall flavor of your box cake. This can be done in several ways using a variety of ingredients.
For starters, if you want to increase the sweetness of your cake, you can add additional sweeteners such as simple syrup, honey, or maple syrup. The latter two sweeteners add more flavor to your cake for extra uniqueness.
You can intensify the flavor of your cake using extracts. Vanilla extract is a classic choice, but there are a variety of other flavored extracts to compliment your cake to choose from, such as:
- Almond extract
- Coconut extract
- Lemon extract
- Peppermint extract
Spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg can also add warmth and depth to the flavor of your cake.
You can also replace the water with almost any other liquid. Choose from liquids such as coffee for richness or ginger ale to give your cake a distinct flavor. You can even add a bit of liquor, such as rum, for a more sophisticated taste, although it isn’t recommended that you use alcohol as your cake’s only wet ingredient!
The takeaway is that the liquid you choose will drastically change the flavor of your cake and make it taste like something that has to be gourmet.
Finally, here’s a trick to give your cake a unique flavor that your guests won’t forget: add a little bit of lemon juice to give your cake a slightly citrusy flavor. You don’t need a lot, but you’ll find that the lemon juice enhances the flavors that are already in your cake. If you want an authentic citrus flavor, you can replace the water the cake recipe may call for with your choice of juice (we recommend orange juice!).
Dry Ingredients to Add to Your Cake Mix
Considering that cake mix is primarily all the dry ingredients you need in a cake, there are fewer dry ingredients that you can add to your cake mix than wet ones. That said, there are still a few dry ingredients that you may want to consider adding to your cake mix to kick it up a notch.
A popular dry ingredient to add to the cake mix is chocolate chips. You can easily add chocolate chips to various recipes to transform your baked goods into warm, chocolatey, gooey delights.
Add chocolate chips to a white or yellow cake mix to give your cake mix a unique flavor and an interesting, contrasting look. You can add dark chocolate chips to a chocolate cake mix to deepen that chocolatey flavor.
Another dry ingredient you could consider adding to your cake mix is another box mix, specifically pudding. Adding a box of pudding mix to your cake mix not only adds flavor to your cake but can also make it denser and more moist. You can choose simple flavors such as vanilla, or you can opt for a classic flavor such as butterscotch to make a unique-tasting cake.
Make a Filling
Another option for determining how to doctor cake mix is adding a filling to your cake—although this sounds like the extra work that you may be avoiding, making a filling from scratch is much easier and much more forgiving than making a cake from scratch.
The filling you choose to make depends on the type of cake you’re doctoring. You’ll want to choose a filler that compliments the flavor and even the cake’s look to make it appear homemade.
Fruit fillings are easy to make, as you usually only need the fruit you want and some sugar to make a delicious filling. For example, to make a raspberry filling for a chocolate cake, all you need is four ingredients:
- Frozen raspberries
- Corn starch
- Lemon juice
Combine these ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and stir until thickened, then let the mixture cool. That’s all it takes to make a tasty raspberry filling that goes perfectly with your chocolate cake.
No one would ever suspect a cake with such delicious filling would have its origins from a box!
Don’t Forget the Frosting!
Icing is one of the most critical components of a cake. In fact, some people may consider it the most important component! So if you’re worried that your boxed cake truly will taste like it’s from a box, you might be able to save it with a delicious frosting.
If you want to give your cake that genuine homemade feel, then you could choose to use homemade frosting. The frosting is usually simpler to make than a cake, and it has the power to elevate your cake and add additional flavor.
There are several different icing you should consider to customize your cake, such as:
If you don’t have time to make frosting from scratch, you can doctor store-bought frosting. You don’t have to do a lot to transform your frosting fully. Enhancing the flavor of pre-packaged icing can be as simple as adding a pinch of salt to bring out the flavors or whipping it to make it a little airier.
You can also use many of the ingredients and techniques used to doctor cake mix to improve the flavor of your icing. For example, adding a touch of flavored extract to your frosting is a simple way to achieve a more flavorful final result.
Be careful not to mask the flavor of your cake with your frosting. Instead, your frosting should compliment the flavors already in your cake.
Recap: How to Doctor Cake Mix
Knowing how to doctor a cake mix is a special skill that will impress your friends and family while saving you tons of time and dishes. Making a cake mix uniquely yours isn’t just convenient; it can also be fun! This is your time to get creative and mix and match flavors for the perfect creation.
Here are some main ingredients to keep in mind for the next time you have a boring cake mix you want to spice up:
- Whole-fat milk or yogurt
- Vegetable oil or melted butter
- Honey, maple syrup, or molasses
- Spices and extracts
Finally, don’t forget that you can also doctor your icing to improve your cake inside and out!