Hacks to make your boxed cake mix taste homemade

There's no shame in baking a cake using a boxed cake mix. You've got practically everything you need — the flour, sugar, and leavening — all boxed up in a super-convenient package. But, let's face it… boxed cake mix tastes, well, like boxed cake mix. So what do you do if you crave the flavor and texture of a homemade cake, but need the convenience a boxed cake mix offers? I've put together a list of some of the very best hacks that will elevate your from-a-box cake into the made-from-scratch cake you crave. 

Use real dairy

Standard boxed cake mixes call for plain water to be mixed into the batter. But what would happen if you subbed that liquid for something that delivered a lot more flavor and richness? That's exactly what happens when you swap real milk for the water in a boxed cake mix. Kasey at All Things Mamma employs this trick all the time, adding that the milk also increases the denseness of the cake, making it seem more like homemade.

Buttermilk is another great sub for the water, and the trick they use at Hoosier Homemade to make decadent cupcakes from a boxed cake mix. Don't have buttermilk on hand? Make it yourself by mixing a cup of regular whole milk with a dash of white vinegar. Let is sit, and you have buttermilk.

My trick for delicious cake from a cake mix? It's the one that my Grandma taught me — subbing real butter for the oil. Melt the butter first so you can measure it correctly, and it'll mix well into your batter. The luxurious buttery flavor makes your cake taste homemade and expensive.

Add mayo, yogurt, or sour cream

Mayonnaise in cake? It's not as crazy as it sounds! Mayonnaise is made from eggs and oil, after all, but has been whipped up to a consistency that can lend a flavorful lusciousness to your boxed cake mix. Follow the directions as normal, adding a couple of tablespoons of mayo to your batter to boost the flavor — or up to 1 cup for an extra-moist cake.

Yogurt can also add some surprising zing as well as texture to your cake mix batter. Jillee at One Good Thing adds six ounces of lemon yogurt to ⅔ of a cup of buttermilk to make up the liquid portion of a delicious lemon cake made with yellow, white, or even spice cake mix.

Sour cream was another of my Grandmother's kitchen tricks. She would prepare the mix as directed, adding a few tablespoons of sour cream to the batter. The resulting cake develops a richness that makes it seem just like homemade.

Alter the egg content

Eggs do a lot for baked goods. According to Sara Moulton, "eggs can provide structure, leavening, richness, color, and flavor to baked products." They work in tandem with the flour and sugar in a recipe, and help to set the height and structure of your baked cakes. If eggs lend all that great stuff to cake, why not try adding one more?

That's exactly what they do over at Spoon University, whipping up a batch of Funfetti cupcakes with an extra egg mixed into the batter, making this recipe seem like a fresh-from-the-fancy-bakery treat.

Another egg-cellent cake trick? Using egg whites only in your cake batter. The gang at the Rachael Ray show advises using egg whites in your white cake mix batter to achieve a fluffier, whiter cake. Just make sure to add a little more butter or oil to make up for the fat lost from the missing yolks.

Use soda

Want to really trick your friends and family into thinking you labored over a cake from scratch? Well, one way to do it is by creating a cake flavor that nobody would imagine you could have ever achieved from a box. The good news is, doing that is as easy as popping open a can of your favorite soda.

When using the soda trick, you don't need to add anything else to the batter. Mix the dry cake mix ingredients together with a 12-ounce can of soda, and bake as directed. That's it! The Huffington Post provides a helpful list of flavor ideas, like combining French vanilla cake mix with orange soda for a creamsicle cake, or spice cake mix and ginger ale for a ginger spice cake.

Use ice cream

OK, this hack is a lot of fun, because… well… y'know… it calls for ice cream.

All you'll need is a box of cake mix, a pint of your favorite, premium brand ice cream (if you're using the cheaper stuff, aim for two full cups melted,) and eggs. Prepare the batter, but sub the oil and water for the ice cream that you've allowed to melt. The resulting cake will be so delicious and lush that it will stand well on its own, or you can top it with a glaze and pourable topping, like this Dulce de Leche cake at Cookies and Cups. This hack, just like the soda hack, allows you to get super creative with the flavor combinations you can invent.

Add spices

You might be running low on butter and milk, but you must have something in your spice cabinet, right? Take a look and see what you have. Ginger? Cinnamon? Maybe some lemon zest, or pumpkin spice seasoning leftover from last Thanksgiving? Go ahead, throw it into that batter, and see what delicious combinations you can come up with that will fool anyone into thinking you've baked a cake from scratch. Brittany at The Sister's Cafe uses this trick to make a spice cake from yellow cake mix, using cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg.

Add candy

A trick that will certainly make everyone believe you made a cake from scratch is to incorporate candy into the batter. Again, with this hack, there are endless flavor combinations that you can create, but there are a few guidelines to follow to make sure you achieve your desired results.

If using large-sized candy bars, be sure to chop them into bite-sized pieces. With soft or chocolate candies, freeze the candy overnight so they don't completely melt away into your baking cake. Dredge the frozen candy in a light coating of white flour before adding them to the batter, to prevent the candy sinking to the bottom of the cake. When checking the cake for doneness, don't insert a toothpick in the center of the cake as you might normally do — an oozy piece of candy could get in your way. Instead, press lightly on top of the cake with your fingertips. If it springs back easily, it's done.

Use hot water

Another fabulous trick we learned from Sunny Anderson's trip to the Rachael Ray show is one that will make a marked improvement to your store-bought chocolate cake mix, and it's a pretty simple one. Instead of using cold water from the tap, as your package directs, use the same amount of hot water in your batter. The hot water allows the cocoa to "bloom," giving you an even chocolatier flavor than you would have gotten with the cold water. Give it some extra love with the addition of chocolate chips and chocolate frosting, and you'll have your very own, death-by-chocolate creation that everyone will swear is homemade. Who couldn't use a little more chocolate in their life?

Make homemade frosting

No matter what you do to jazz up a boxed cake mix, in my opinion, there's no bigger sure-fire sign that a cake is straight from the box than the unmistakable flavor of store-bought, canned frosting. Made with cheap oils and often loaded with artificial flavors, there's no way a canned frosting can hold a candle to a homemade cake frosting. So next time you're making a boxed cake mix, set a few extra minutes aside to whip up an easy, homemade cake frosting, like one of these nine featured at Delish. For the simplest vanilla buttercream, all you need is butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk.

Be creative with your liquids

Much like real dairy improves the texture and richness of a store bought cake mix, subbing out the liquid in your recipe with more creative items can really boost the flavor of the cake you're baking. Consider using orange juice in the batter of yellow cake, or apple juice in a spice cake to create cakes that nobody will imagine came from a box mix. Canned coconut milk is a great sub for the liquids in a flavorful coconut cake, and chocolate milk will make a chocolate cake taste like it is fresh from the bakery.

Add coffee

Adding coffee to your cake mix batter is a truly fabulous hack, because it's one that people will have a hard time pinpointing… they'll just know that you've added a little somethin' somethin' that gives it a real wow factor. And no, it won't make your cake tastes like coffee, depending on the amount you use. A few tablespoons of strong-brewed coffee, when added to chocolate cake, will boost the chocolatey taste of your cake, without a coffee taste. I keep a small jar of instant espresso granules on hand so I can quickly stir up some strong coffee flavor that I add in to everything chocolate, and even some stew and chili recipes. Want a true mocha flavor in your cake? Add more coffee to sub out for your liquids. Add it to your frosting as well for a cake that doubles up on that homemade taste.