13 Ways To Seriously Upgrade Pre-Made Grocery Store Cakes Like A Pro

You might wish you could make a birthday cake or other celebration cake for someone important in your life, but the truth is that many of us just don't have the time. (There's also the question of whether or not you have the skills to pull it off, but that's a matter for another day.) Right now, we're here to tell you about the second-best option: buying a ready-made grocery store cake and upgrading it. You can make it look fancier and even improve the way it tastes with extra ingredients. Do a good job and nobody will even guess it came from a grocery store.

I've done my fair share of improving pre-made cakes in my time, but I still wanted to call in the big guns here. So I interviewed three baking experts to find out their favorite ways to gussy up grocery store cakes. Sure, they're never going to taste as good as something homemade or from a small bakery, but you can still create something that looks amazing. Here are 13 expert-approved ways to seriously upgrade pre-made grocery store cakes.

Add fresh fruits to your store-bought cake

The "easiest way to add some interest on cake would be to add fresh fruits," says Michelle Hernandez, owner of Le Dix-Sept Pâtisserie in San Francisco. This is one of my go-to methods for decorating cakes in general, but it works just as well for grocery store cakes as homemade ones.

The beauty of using fresh fruit is the abundance of options you have. Redcurrants still on the vine draped over a cake makes a beautiful statement decoration. Halved figs also stand out, as do tropical fruits, such as passionfruit and dragon fruit. But there's something to suit all preferences and cakes. Think about the flavor of the cake and what will work with it before going ahead and piling on the fruit. For instance, fresh raspberries and strawberries are delicious with chocolate, but pineapple on a chocolate cake might be a bit strange. Vanilla cakes are versatile and work with practically any fruit.

You might also think about what fruit is in season. Anne Byrn, food writer and author of Baking in the American South, likes to use berries in summer. And "in the winter, dip cranberries in egg white and roll in granulated sugar," she suggests. Nicole Johnson, of food blog Or Whatever You Do, agrees that "fruit is a perfect way to dress up your next cake." She says, "I love using berries, sliced strawberries, and sliced kiwi to create patterns on the top of the cake."

Decorate your store-bought cake with edible flowers

Adding edible flowers can instantly make a basic grocery store cake look fancy. But don't just grab any bunch of flowers from the store. "You must be careful with flowers because the flowers you generally find at mass grocery stores likely are sprayed with pesticides, so you must not use these," warns Michelle Hernandez. And don't just go around picking random flowers in nature to put on your cake, either, because many aren't safe to eat.

"Look for flowers in the produce section, and when in doubt, ask," advises Nicole Johnson. "Hibiscus, rose petals, and lavender are all food safe, and sometimes available in higher end grocery stores," she notes. Ann Byrn says that flowers are sometimes available with fresh herbs in grocery stores. However, if you can't find them in your local store, you're more likely to find them from a specialist produce shop or at a farmers market. There could also be flowers from your garden that are safe to eat. This is a better option than picking wild flowers or grocery store bouquets because you know how they've been grown and whether or not they've been sprayed with pesticides or other potentially unsafe chemicals.

Pipe decorations or writing

One simple way to upgrade a plainly decorated cake is to pipe frosting embellishments or even writing onto it. But piping decorations on a cake can be tricky if you don't already have the skills. "Even if you have the best handwriting, piping on a cake is a much harder thing to do and requires so much practice to get right," says Nicole Johnson. So unless you already know how to pipe, our experts advise that you keep it simple. If you really want lettering and don't have good piping skills, you could cut letters out of fondant with small cookie cutters and put them on top of your cake instead. 

There are a range of cake piping tricks you could try to make your store-bought cake look special and like it was made at home or at a bakery. However, if you lack piping experience, you'll want to stick to something basic. Rosettes are fairly simple to pull off, even for those with minimal piping experience. If you've ever piped frosting onto a cupcake, you should understand how to make a rosette.

Decorate your cake with cookies

Using cookies is an easy way to decorate a grocery store cake, making it look homemade. The cool thing about decorating with cookies is that they also taste great, adding even more flavor to the cake. And there's not just one method for decorating with cookies, either, so you've got plenty to work with here.

First off, you can decorate cakes with basic store-bought cookies. Oreo cakes are a popular choice, but you could use any cookie of your choosing, such as Nutter Butters or speculaas. Think about what kind of cookies would go with the cake flavor and work from there. With store-bought cookies, you can arrange them on the top of the cake, either whole or in halves, or you can bash them into crumbs and press these crumbs into the outside of the cake. It looks good when you make small rosettes of frosting at equal intervals around the top of the cake and stick cookies into them. However, if you prefer a rustic look, you can pile the top of the cake high with irregular cookie pieces — either one cookie variety or multiple.

If you have the time, there's also the option to make homemade cookies. Big chocolate chip cookies make excellent decorations for a basic store-bought cake, elevating the look and taste of the cake. You could also make alphabet letter cookies and use them to spell out "happy birthday" or the recipient's name on the cake.

Put candy on top

Want a simple upgrade for a store-bought cake? Candy is an obvious place to turn and gives you tons of options to work with. Nicole Johnson says an "easy idea for a fun cake is to get the birthday person's favorite candy and place it over the icing." You can put it on top of the cake or, with smaller pieces of candy, there's also the option to press it into the frosting around the outside of the cake, forming a border.

What's great about candy is that you have so many choices. You could use cola bottles and other gummy sweets, hard candies, candy bars (chopped or whole), peanut butter cups, Reese's Pieces, M&Ms, chocolate truffles, or basically any other type of candy you can think of. There are two primary ways to decorate the top of a cake with candy — pile it loosely on top or arrange it neatly with swirls of frosting for a more organized look. Both work well in their own way, so opt for whichever you prefer and think you'll be able to pull off. If you're looking for something more involved, Johnson also has another suggestion: "Make a candy volcano by piping a hollow cone and then filling it with candy and letting it spill down the sides like lava."

Add sprinkles to your store-bought cake

Sprinkles are an obvious choice for decorating pre-made cakes. But it's obvious for a reason: because it's easy and looks good. Plus, you can use sprinkles alongside most other upgrades, including candy and cookies. There are all kinds of sprinkles: long funfetti-style sprinkles, hundreds and thousands, stars, and even themed sprinkles, such as pumpkin sprinkles for Halloween. You can stick to one sprinkle variety or use a few to mix things up.

But how to decorate with sprinkles? They can go on top of the cake, around the sides as a border, or all over. Creating a sprinkle bath is an easy way to totally cover a cake in sprinkles. It basically involves partly submerging a frosted cake in a tub of sprinkles and pressing them onto the surface.

Nicole Johnson has a great idea for birthday cakes. Use a "butter knife to draw a divot into the frosting in the shape of a number and then fill in the divot with sprinkles." That technique is especially good for kids or for milestone birthdays. "It looks so cute, and is an easy way to dress things up well," she adds.

Re-frost the cake

According to Anne Byrn, "The best way to upgrade would be to make homemade cream cheese frosting, remove the grocery store frosting, and re-frost it." If you've got the time and inclination, this can seriously improve the way a store-bought cake tastes, as well as the texture of the frosting.

Of course, it doesn't have to be cream cheese frosting that you make. There are plenty of types of frosting to choose from, including American buttercream, Swiss meringue buttercream, and ermine frosting. You could also take the opportunity to change the flavor of it; for instance, if the cake was originally a vanilla sponge with vanilla icing, you could switch to chocolate or lemon frosting.

If you have the skills, re-frosting a pre-made cake also gives you the chance to experiment with elaborate frosting techniques or piping styles. You could create an ombre effect, cover it in piped roses, or simply create a perfectly smooth exterior. Whatever frosting you ultimately choose and however you decide to pipe or spread it, to finish, Byrn recommends you "cover the top in fruit and dust with confectioners sugar."

Upgrade it to a naked cake

Love the look of minimalist naked cakes? It's easy to transform a store-bought cake into one of these in just a few simple steps. This upgrade isn't so much about adding to your grocery store cake as taking away from it. However, it's one of those occasions when less is more.

First off, you'll need to start with a cake that has white icing. It doesn't matter if the cake inside is vanilla, chocolate, or something else, but the pale frosting is a must for a naked look. It can have other embellishments, but if it's a plain cake, there'll be less to scrape away. Then, take a spatula and remove some of the icing around the sides so only a little remains and the sponge shows through from underneath, in true naked cake style. Then, move to the top and scrape away some of the frosting here, too. It's fine to leave a little more on top, though.

You can leave it as-is, but naked cakes are best decorated with fruits and flowers for a show-stopping look, so you can combine this upgrade with some of our earlier suggestions. Some people also decorate them with foliage or non-edible flowers, but if you choose to do that, it's best to put parchment paper between the cake and any inedible decorations to protect it.

Stack two store-bought cakes together

If you're trying to make an impressive-looking cake, the problem with store-bought options is that they can be underwhelmingly short. They tend to have two layers, and relatively thin ones at that, so they're nothing like the tall multi-layered cakes you've been pining after on Instagram. Luckily, there's a simple upgrade to fix this: Stack two grocery store cakes on top of one another.

Before you begin the upgrade, have some buttercream or sturdy frosting of your choice prepared and ready to go. Start by scraping as much of the icing as possible off the sides of your two pre-made cakes. Then add some more frosting to the top of one of them and stack the other on top of it. Press down gently to help stick them together. This will leave you with the beginnings of a tall, four-layered cake. Now, all you have to do is frost the exterior and add decorations of your choice.

Turn it into mini cakes

If you want to do something different with your grocery store cake, you could "cut it into baby cakes with tall cutters," says Anne Byrn. While it's more traditional to serve one large cake for occasions like birthdays or retirement parties, there's no reason why you can't opt for multiple single-serving cakes. They're also great for dinner parties, so everyone gets their own identical dessert.

The beauty is that they aren't sold this way, so nobody will guess that they're store-bought. Once cut, you can leave the sides unfrosted or ice them with homemade frosting. Any leftover cake scraps, you could crumble to make a decorative crumb border. Or you could turn them into mini cake pops and use these to decorate your little cakes.

And how should you serve them for a special occasion? "Line them up on a platter and stick a candle into one," Byrn suggests. She adds that you can "garnish with fruit and flowers" if you want to spruce them up.

Add ganache drips

You're probably familiar with ganache drip cakes. This is where there's a layer of ganache on top of a cake that goes dripping down the sides. It's generally the sign of a homemade or bakery cake because it's not a technique found on store-bought cakes. But the good news is, you can add drip decorations to a pre-made cake to upgrade it.

A ganache drip is a technique perfect for beginners because it's so simple to pull off. All you need to do is make a chocolate ganache, pour it on top of a cake and let it run down the sides. The only thing you need to be careful of is making sure the ganache is the right consistency when you make the drips. It should be thick but still pourable. If it's too thin, it'll run straight down the sides without forming discernible drips. If it's too thick, it won't drip at all. Also make sure the frosting on top of your cake is relatively smooth and there are no decorations or embellishments on it.

This is an especially great way to decorate basic grocery store cakes because it not only looks great but adds a lot of flavor. Chocolate ganache is just chocolate melted into warm heavy cream, so you can imagine how good that tastes, even if you haven't tried it before. It looks particularly effective contrasted against light-colored frosting.

Use breakfast cereal on your store-bought cake

Are you preparing a cake for someone who loves sweet breakfast cereals? A novel way to decorate a cake is by using cereal a bit like you would sprinkles or candy. Just like sprinkles, you can use cereal around the outside of your cake, in a border. Or, you can coat the whole thing in breakfast cereal, pressing it lightly into the frosting to help it stay put.

It's also an excellent idea to follow some of Nicole Johnson's suggestions for candy and sprinkles here, either making a frosting volcano with cereal pieces spilling out of it or making an indent in the top of the cake in the shape of a number for a special birthday and filling it with cereal.

Anything bright and sweet is a great choice for this kind of cake, such as Froot Loops or Fruity Pebbles. However, you can use any cereal that you think will taste good, including Cocoa Puffs or Frosted Flakes.

Make a border out of KitKats or wafer rolls

A border around the outside of a cake made using KitKats or wafer rolls looks great and tastes delicious, too, adding some extra flavor to a potentially lackluster store-bought cake. They look best if they're roughly the same height as the cake, so you may need to chop a little off the bottom of each roll or finger. This will help them stand up better as well, but you'll have to glue them in place with frosting or secure them with a ribbon to help them stay put.

There's another upgrade that you can pair with this one. To pull this off, trim the KitKats or wafer rolls so they're around half an inch to an inch taller than the cake and secure them in place. Make sure there are minimal gaps. Then get a type of small candy — such as M&Ms or Reese's Pieces — and use them to fill the space between the top of the cake and the top of the KitKats or wafer rolls. When you cut the cake, the candy will spill out dramatically and you can serve a little with each slice.