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How can I add new flavors in cake?

Even if the best-quality cake mixes don’t quite match the flavor of a homemade cake (due to the preservatives and chemicals required to make it shelf-stable), we’ve all certainly prepared or eaten one at some time.

Whether you’re short on time, looking for convenience, or not a super-confident baker (yet!), sometimes life will call for a boxed cake mix. Fortunately, there are several methods to improve all types of boxed cake mixes, from traditional yellow cake to rich chocolate fudge cake.

Here are ten delightful ways to improve on boxed cake mix, ranging from improving it with various components to changing it into a totally other treat (cake batter ice cream, here you come).

Before we begin, a word about safety: Packaged cake mixes include flour, which should not be consumed uncooked if food safety is a concern. For any recipes or concepts that do not need baking (such as ice cream), you may and should bake the mix beforehand. Simply spread the mix on a sheet pan and bake it for about 5 minutes at 350°F—keep a close eye on it and take it out before it begins to brown. Let it to cool fully before using it.

1. Up the Richness

Regardless of the type of boxed cake mix you’re using, one reliable approach to improving the flavor is to add 1 egg yolk in addition to the eggs already called for. If the recipe calls for oil, you may use melted butter. Add an extra 1 to 2 tablespoons of butter to increase the richness (this quantity will not impact the texture or crumb).

If water is specified as the liquid, try whole milk instead. You may also add up to 1/4 cup sour cream or crème fraîche. This works best with chocolate cakes since they have a moister crumb to begin with.

2. Amplify the Flavor

More is sometimes more, and this is one of those instances. Increase the amount of whatever seasoning is in your boxed mix: If you’re making a vanilla cake mix, add another teaspoon or two of vanilla extract, or a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste. For a chocolate cake mix, add a pinch of espresso powder (this will boost the chocolate flavor without adding any coffee taste). If making a coffeecake, add more cinnamon. Do you have a lemon cake mix? Mix with some fresh lemon zest.

3. Add a Few Fun Mix-Ins

Mix-ins improve practically every cake, just as they do a pint of ice cream. As a general guideline, limit your mix-ins to 1 cup (at most). For vanilla or yellow cake mixes, try adding diced crystallized ginger, dried fruit, or fresh berries. For chocolate or vanilla cake mixes, try adding unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted chopped nuts, or chocolate chips.

You may also branch out and be more experimental: Stir in candied fennel seeds or broken graham crackers (up to 1/2 cup) to avoid a dry cake, or swirl in Nutella. You can add flavor in the form of spices too, like turmeric, saffron, cardamom, or even loose tea (I like matcha and Earl Grey best); use 1 to 2 teaspoons per box of cake mix.

4. Give it a Soak

A soak or syrup is another way to add flavor and moisture to your cake. Make a simple syrup (with a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water) and brush it onto your warm cake. Almost anything may be used to flavor the basic syrup (think: citrus, bourbon, coffee, honey, mint, you name it).

Don’t be concerned about the sugar amount; the syrup provides moisture and flavor (if you infused it with one) rather than sweetness. If you do want it to skew on the sweeter side with a more caramelized quality, make a rich simple syrup (using a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water) with turbinado sugar.

5. Turn it Into Ice Cream

Cake and ice cream are perfect partners, so consider taking the pairing one step further. Make cake batter ice cream instead of providing cake with ice cream.

Here’s how to go about it: Cut your cake mix in half. Bake one half according to package directions; cool before crumbling into tiny bits. Then, make a basic ice cream custard base (using any recipe you like for vanilla ice cream), but stir in 1 cup of the remaining dry cake mix per 1-quart batch of ice cream. I like to decrease the sugar in the ice cream recipe slightly, since the cake mix is sweet, but that’s up to you.

Finally, churn the ice cream according to the manufacturer’s instructions on your machine and, just before it’s fully frozen, add the baked cake chunks. If you want to go all out, add sprinkles and a swirl of homemade buttercream icing.

6. Raise the (Cereal) Bar

Rice Krispies Treats are delicious in their most basic form, but they also serve as a great blank canvas for additional tastes (like cinnamon and sugar, espresso and chocolate, or peanut butter).

Here is where the cake mix comes in: Begin by creating a standard batch of Rice Krispies Treats (you can also use other cereals like Kix or Cheerios). Stir in 1/2 to 1 cup of dry boxed cake mix when you add the marshmallows to the melted butter. The end result? Bars made from cake batter! Be warned: they are quite sweet. You can’t decrease the sugar too much since the marshmallow quantity is essential to getting the texture right, but if you’re into sweet desserts, then you’re set.

7. Make Cookies

I’ve always like “soft-batch” or “soft-baked” store-bought cookies. The texture is tough to replicate at home; it’s not simply chewy or soft, but a wonderful blend of the two. As it turns out, the key to pulling them off is boxed cake mix.

There are two methods to try—each yields a slightly different cookie, so experiment and see which you prefer. The first way is as follows: Mix one box of dry cake mix, 1/2 cup melted butter, and two eggs. Mix into a dough, then drop large spoonfuls on a cookie sheet and bake at 350°F for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden.

The second way is as follows: Start with your favorite sugar cookie or chocolate chip cookie recipe and substitute 1 3/4 cups boxed cake mix for an equal amount of the all-purpose flour called for; bake them according to the recipe instructions and enjoy.

Chocolate Chip Cookies Chewy Sugar Cookies

8. Use it for a Trifle

Boxed cake mix might not yield the most flavorful cake on its own, but you can combine it with from-scratch components to make a superior dessert. The trifle has arrived.

Then, bake and chill the cake according to the package directions. Once it has cooled, cut it into 2-inch slices (or crumble it into large pieces). Make a handmade pastry cream or custard next. You may make a normal vanilla version or one that is flavored with chocolate, coconut, or coffee. To flavor the heated custard or pastry cream, you might also add ingredients (sliced bananas or stirred-in almond paste would both work well). Let the custard or cream to cool before layering it with bits of cake in a large mixing dish.

Try adding additional layers, such as whipped cream, caramel sauce or jam, or fresh fruit. Just make sure that all of the flavors complement one another. I like to let the finished trifle sit for about 30 minutes in the fridge so that the layers start to meld, but don’t wait too long before serving or the cake will start to get a bit mushy.

9. Waffle It

Every baker would benefit from learning to think beyond the box. We’re taking it literally here: Follow the instructions for making the batter but instead of baking the cake as the box directs, pour the batter into a heated and greased waffle iron. Use the same quantity of batter as you would for waffles and cook it in the same manner. You’ll finish up with a cake waffle with golden divots and crispy edges.

10. Bring on the frosting

We’re digging down on that cake-y taste for our last cake idea. Instead of making the cake and icing it with standard buttercream, use cake batter frosting instead. You’ll finish up with a cake-on-cake extravaganza fit for the most joyous of occasions.

To make it, use a ratio of 1:1:3 (meaning 1 cup of softened unsalted butter to 1 cup of cake mix to 3 cups of confectioners’ sugar) and mix it as you would a standard buttercream. You may also add boxed cake mix to a seven-minute frosting, whipped cream-based icing, or cream cheese frosting; aim for 1/2 cup boxed mix (at most) every 3- to 4-cup batch of frosting.

Did I mention the sprinkles? Adding them to your frosting is not—I repeat not—a bad idea.

Related Questions

  • How can I add flavor to my cake?

    Some more flavor and add-in ideas:
    Replace the vanilla extract with almond, coconut, or orange blossom essence. Instead, you may use vanilla beans for the extract; just scrape out the seeds and add them to the butter and sugar mixture. Before combining, rub the zest of a lemon, orange, or half a grapefruit into the sugar.

  • How can I upgrade my store bought cake mix?

    A Pro’s 6 Simple Ways to Improve Your Boxed Cake Mix…

    1. Add an Extra Egg.
    2. Add Milk, Coffee, or Soda.
    3. Use Butter Instead of Oil.
    4. Add Instant Pudding.
    5. Up the Flavor with an Extract or Citrus Zest.
    6. Top the Cake with Homemade Frosting.
  • Can you add flavoring to boxed cake mix?

    Increase the amount of whatever seasoning is in your boxed mix: If you’re making a vanilla cake mix, add another teaspoon or two of vanilla extract, or a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste. Add a pinch of espresso powder to a chocolate cake mix (this will boost the chocolate flavor without adding any coffee taste).

  • How do you fix a tasteless cake?

    You’re not physically submerging your cake in anything—just giving it a little extra moisture. “It’s also an excellent method to enhance taste,” Saffitz adds. Prepare simple syrup and flavor it with whiskey or lemon juice. Then poke holes all over your cake with a toothpick, and drizzle the mixture over the surface.