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5 Tips to Make a Box Cake Taste Homemade

A woman sprinkling powdered sugar on top of a cake mix.
eldar nurkovic/Shutterstock.com

Using a box mix is a time-honored shortcut for many bakers, but what if you want the ease of a box mix with the taste of homemade? Well, these magic ingredients can make all the difference.

Generally, box cake mixes come with all the dry ingredients premeasured and blended. The main difference is, when you use a box mix, you give up a lot of control over the flavor and texture of the finished product. However, if you want to save time and use a box cake, but still want to customize it a bit, try one of these incredibly easy tricks.

Grab the Vanilla Extract

A plate of chocolate chip cookies, on a counter with a bottle of vanilla extract

If you only add one additional ingredient to your boxed baking mix, let it be vanilla extract. When you bake something from a box, it tends to end up with a slightly sharp, artificial, almost metallic taste. This is usually the giveaway that you used a box mix.

The good news is that it’s also pretty easy to mask. Just add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract to the mix. You can also add it to any flavor of mix, from white cake to dark chocolate brownie mixes, and everything in-between.

Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract

Adds a subtle flavor that will upgrade any baking mix.

You’re not adding enough to make the vanilla the most prominent flavor, so there’s no need to worry about overwhelming the others. It will just offset the artificial taste and add a bit of “homemade” to the flavor profile.

Betty Crocker Super Moist Vanilla Cake Mix

No worries--adding a dash of vanilla to vanilla cake will still enhance, rather than overwhelm.

Grate Some Citrus

Someone zesting a lemon on a cutting board.
Deiss PRO

Want to give your box mix a little zing? Fresh citrus zest is the answer. This flavor will have more impact than vanilla, but because you’re adding it yourself, you can control exactly how strong or subtle the citrus flavor will be.

Toss in a teaspoon of zest for a hint of lemon or orange, or add the zest of a whole fruit to really amp up the flavor if that’s what you prefer.

Deiss PRO Lemon Zester & Cheese & Vegetable Grater

Easily get some citrus zest for that box mix.

Add a Bit of Mayo

While it might seem like an odd ingredient to combine with a sweet cake mix, mayonnaise can work wonders for any kind of cake mix. A classic upgrade is to add about 1/4 cup of regular mayo when preparing a devil’s food cake mix.

The mayonnaise will add a richer, moister texture to the cake, without making it too soggy or oily.

Grab a Pudding Mix, Too

A layered ribbon cake with a slice missing.

If you’ve ever had a cake that seemed to be a bit more tender and moist than you expected, there’s a very good chance the secret ingredient is instant pudding mix. Many cake recipes you’ll find online call for pudding mix, including this layered ribbon cake from the Jell-O site.

The truth is, though, you can get that same texture with a box mix in just two steps:

  1. Add a packet of powdered instant pudding mix to the cake mix.
  2. Add about 1/4 cup of water or milk, in addition to whatever liquid is called for in the cake mix.

For a subtler approach, pair the pudding flavor with that of the cake mix. For example, you would use vanilla pudding with white or yellow cake. If you want to experiment more with the taste, though, you can try mixing and matching, like tossing butterscotch pudding mix into a yellow cake box mix.

Jell-O Instant Pudding & Pie Filling, Vanilla

Upgrades pretty much any cake mix.

Jello Butterscotch Instant Pudding & Pie Filling

Works especially well in a yellow cake mix.

Add a Dollop of Sour Cream or Greek Yogurt

A slice of carrot cake on a plate and a container of Chobani Greek Yogurt next to a bowl of mix.

You’ll find a lot of from-scratch cake recipes call for a scoop of sour cream or Greek yogurt, but have you ever wondered why?

It’s because these ingredients add moisture without being overly oily, and, as cultured dairy products, they also add a bit of tang that enhances the flavor overall. In a typical batch of batter, adding just 1/4 cup of sour cream or Greek yogurt, and you’re good to go.

Daisy Regular Sour Cream, 24 oz.

Just like the commercial says, doing a dollop will deliver.

Chobani Whole Milk Greek Yogurt, Plain 32 oz.

Add 1/4 cup to your box cake mix for .

When you don’t have time to make a cake from scratch, box cake mixes are really appealing. The good news is, though, if you use any of these tips and tricks, no one will ever know it’s not completely homemade.

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »
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