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Enhancing Cake Mixes

If your family enjoys eating cake every now and then or if you’re the designated cake baker for family birthdays but don’t have time to make an original creation from scratch, chances are you’ve turned to the use of cake mixes every now and then. Truly, many people love these cakes-in-the-box, available in many flavors and varieties from standard white and yellow to Devil’s Food to the whimsical “Funfetti” variety that contains rainbow sprinkles.

But if you’re someone who chosen cake mixes merely for the sake of convenience, it could be that you’ve been less than pleased with the end result. Cake mix cakes can be very good, but often they are dry in texture or lack the flavor of a cake made from scratch, or even taste artificial in flavor.

Experienced cooks in a hurry know, however, that it isn’t necessary to do away with using boxed caked mixes all together. There are a number of things you can do to enhance a cake mix and make a better cake for your family and friends to enjoy. And by the time you’ve spruced it up a bit, they may even be hard-pressed to tell that it came from a box!

Substitutions

Most cake mixes call for just a few things…usually oil, eggs, and water. In many cases, substituting these items with another is the name-of-the-game when it comes to improving a cake that comes from a pre-packaged mix.  

A simple substitution that creates more flavor is to include butter in the recipe instead of oil. Simply melt butter so that you have the amount called for on the box – usually 1/3 to ½ cup – and add it to the mix. This will give your cake a better, buttery flavor and will also increase moistness.

Another popular substitution for oil is applesauce. For best results, use the smoothest applesauce you can find, not the chunky kind. Again, the addition of applesauce will create a much moister cake and also add a little extra flavor. The texture will be a bit denser as well.

You can also substitute fruit juices or juice concentrate for the water (experiment with different flavors) and some people even use soft drinks instead of H2O, including cherry-flavored drinks for chocolate cakes and lemon-lime versions for white or yellow cake. These add considerably more flavor to the cake. Other common substitutions for the water include buttermilk, flavored coffee creamer (there are tons of flavors available these days!) and melted vanilla (or any other flavor) ice cream.

To give your cake at bit of a zip, you can substitute coffee or liqueurs for the water as well, including Kahlua, Amaretto, or another favorite. These work best with chocolate cake and you should be aware that kids may not care so much for these more sophisticated flavors.

Additions

Cake mixes can also be enhanced by adding some of your own favorite ingredients. Easy add-ins include things like chocolate or butterscotch chips, which can be mixed in just before putting the batter into the pan for baking.

Flavorings help enhance the taste of a cake mix as well, so don’t hesitate to add a teaspoon of vanilla or almond flavoring to the batter when you’re adding the liquid ingredients. Spices also add a bit of extra flavor, especially things like cinnamon or nutmeg, which go well with all kinds of cake.

Similarly, you can add dried fruit, fruit zests (from lemons or oranges), a can of crushed pineapple, or even some fresh fruit to your cake mix, such as bits of strawberry.

And when it’s time to frost the cake, consider taking a few minutes to make some homemade frosting, which is so much better than the canned stuff. But if time is an issue, simply add a cup of whipped topping to the canned variety for a tastier topping to any cake.