10 Genius Box Cake Hacks to Level Up Your Baking Game

I’ll be the first one to admit, baking isn’t usually my specialty. So, I often reach for the boxed cake mix to give myself a leg up. But did you know you can make some easy changes to make it seem homemade? I’ve got some box cake hacks that you definitely need to try!

At the end of the day, the difference between a box cake and a homemade cake isn’t all that much. They’ve got the same basic ingredients, but it really all boils down to proportions and flavoring.

box cake hacks to improve your baking dinners done quick

With a few tweaks, you can make your box cake mix taste better, and you don’t need to be a baking pro to do it!

1. Use an Extra Egg

brown eggs in a container next to a whisk

Take whatever the box cake calls for in terms of eggs, and add one to it. This hack will deliver a cake that’s more rich feeling, as well as adding moisture and density.

If you happen to have some leftover egg yolks from a recipe that only used whites, you can also add two extra egg yolks instead of one whole egg. I love easy ways to use up extras!

Yes, this does add a few extra calories to the cake, but it’s going to be worth it for the result.

2. Substitute the Water

Another hack to make a box cake better is to skip the water and opt for something with more flavor instead. Use 2%, whole milk, buttermilk, or something similar in place of the called-for water to add fat and flavor.

I even like fat free half and half as an option if you don’t want to add too much fat, as it still gives the cake a creamier texture and taste.

If you happen to be making a chocolate cake, add espresso or coffee in place of the water for even deeper chocolate flavor. Use decaf if you need to tone it down for the kiddos!

For vanilla and yellow boxed cakes, you can also use coconut milk, Sprite, ginger ale, or tea to add some sweetness and flavor over boring old water.

Apple cider or sparkling apple juice (and even champagne) are perfect for spice, pumpkin, and other fall flavored box cakes.

3. Swap Oil For Butter

large block of butter in foil wrapper

Instead of the vegetable oil that most boxed cake mixes call for, hack it by substituting butter. Salted butter is best, as it actually adds to the flavor of the cake as well as making it richer.

Yes, you can also technically use margarine, plant butter, or something else similar as well if that’s your preference.

If you’re really brazen, you can also use mayonnaise! Before you reel in horror, remember that mayonnaise is primarily composed of egg yolks and oil. You can skip the extra egg and accomplish two things here.

I really like the mayonnaise hack in red velvet cake, since mayo does typically have some vinegar in it as well. Since red velvet also usually uses vinegar, it fits in perfectly.

4. Add Extract

bottle of angel bake lemon extract

To really amp up the cake flavor, add some extract for this box cake hack. Just 1 tsp of vanilla in the batter goes a long way in giving more depth of flavor.

Feel free to add other flavors as well, it doesn’t have to be vanilla! I love orange or lemon extracts in summer cakes, and peppermint with chocolate in the winter.

You can even use up leftover peppermint extract with my easy Microwave Peppermint Bark recipe!

If you’re not a fan of extracts, you can also use some fresh citrus zests! Grab your zester and add a few tablespoons of orange, lemon, lime, or even grapefruit to the batter for a fresh twist.

Grab a bunch of lemons to zest and you can make my easy Air Fryer Lemon Pound Cake too!

5. Make it Your Own With Mix Ins

Add in some of your favorite mix-ins for this box cake hack. Chocolate chips, dried fruits, berries, nuts, shredded coconut, toffee bits, and other similar items are the perfect addition to a box cake.

Depending how prevalent you want your mix-ins to be, you can add up to a cup to your boxed cake mix batter.

If you’re using fresh berries, I recommend tossing them in cornstarch first and then only using a ½ cup so you don’t end up with a soggy cake.

For more great uses for chocolate chips, check out my Chocolate Chip Muffin in a Mug or my easy Microwave Chocolate Covered Strawberries.

6. Homemade Frosting is a Must

frosting tubes filled with various icing colors

I know it’s tempting to grab the stuff in the plastic jar, but homemade frosting is a must have box cake hack.

All you need is an easy buttercream frosting recipe, 5 ingredients, and 10 minutes. Even I can handle that! You can add flavorings as well to the base to compliment whatever flavor your cake is as well.

Pro tip: Make sure your cake is cooled before you frost it or the frosting will melt (and no one likes melted frosting)!

7. Amp Up Moisture and Flavor

closeup of jello banana pudding box

There are two simple hacks to really bring up the moisture and flavor of your box cake mix. The first is ½ cup of sour cream, and the second option is a small box of instant pudding mix.

I tend to prefer the pudding mix, as there are SO many different flavors that you can pair them with nearly any flavor of box cake mix. Classic vanilla pudding mix goes with anything, but have you ever had banana pudding mix with a banana cake mix? Divine!

However, sour cream also gets the job done well. It pairs with any flavor, and don’t worry – it won’t make your cake too tangy. Plus, it’s a great way to use up some leftovers from taco night!

8. Fill it With Filling

fresh peach jam in glass containers

While this sounds daunting, it very much is not. To hack your box cake, add a filling to it!

Fillings take on a lot of different forms based on your comfort level. It can be as simple as popping open a jar of your favorite jam, or make some of my delicious homemade Sangria Wine Jelly in the microwave. Pro tip: heat it up for about 30 seconds in the microwave so it’s easier to spread.

Alternatively, you can make a simple filling, like my easy Microwave Lemon Curd.

If fruit isn’t up your alley, try layering in some caramel, streusel, hot fudge, or something similar!

When making a multi-layer cake, you can pipe a border of frosting around the top of the first layer and then add your filling in the center before stacking the next cake.

For a bundt cake, pour half the batter in the pan, add your filling layer, then top with the remaining batter and bake!

9. Fatten It Up

cinnamon almond butter in a jar and on a spoon

Yes, adding more fat to a cake adds calories, but it also adds denseness and richness which makes your box cake feel more homemade.

Mix in about ½ cup of softened cream cheese, ricotta, Greek yogurt, or a nut butter of your choice (peanut butter, almond butter, etc).

Not only will it improve the texture of your cake, but it can also add great flavor! I love adding lemon Greek yogurt to my lemon cakes, and peanut butter with a chocolate cake is such a classic combo.

If you love peanut butter, make sure to check out my recipe for Air Fried PB&J for a whole new way to enjoy the classic.

10. Decorations Add Finishing Touches

You don’t need to be a pro decorator to hack your boxed cake with some finishing touches.

Cover the top of the cake with something to make it seem less plain!  Some of my favorite toppers are:

  • Crushed cookies
  • Fresh fruit
  • Shredded coconut
  • Sanding sugar
  • Powdered sugar
  • Crushed nuts
  • Chocolate sauce
  • Caramel
  • Edible flowers
  • Various colorful candies

Tap the side of a half-filled mesh strainer to apply powdered and sanding sugars evenly! The other options can be tossed on by hand, or you can use a spoon to direct where you’re applying something.

You can even decorate the inside of the cake by adding a few drops of food coloring to the batter of your light colored cake mixes to create holiday or special occasion theming.

Just adding a little decoration like this really makes the cake feel more personalized than just a plain box mix!


What Happens if You Make a Box Cake With Milk Instead of Water?

If you make a box cake with milk instead of water, the result will be a richer, creamer texture cake. This helps to make the cake taste homemade instead of like a box mix.

You can use a 1:1 ratio when replacing water with milk in the box recipe.

What Can I Add to a Box Cake to Make it Better?

You can add a variety of things to a box cake to make it better. Ideas include an additional egg, dairy instead of water, extract, fillings, homemade frosting, or mix ins such as chocolate chips.

Additional density can be added with an extra ¼ cup of flour, and additional moisture can be added with sour cream.

What Makes a Box Cake Fluffier?

The addition of one extra egg or two egg whites will make your cake fluffier.

You can even whip egg whites for additional volume before adding it to your batter for a more light and airy texture.

Can I Use Melted Butter Instead of Oil in Cake Mix?

Yes, you can use melted butter instead of oil in cake mix. Usually, it can be swapped for an identical amount.

The choice between salted or unsalted is yours. Salted will help add more bold flavor to the cake, but unsalted helps to keep the sodium levels down.

What Makes a Cake More Moist Between Milk and Water?

Milk makes a cake more moist than water.

In addition, you can add sour cream, full fat yogurt, or even mayonnaise to add additional moisture to your cake.

Should You Beat Eggs Before Adding to Cake Mix?

It is highly recommended to beat eggs before adding them to cake mix. This helps ensure the eggs are more evenly blended and incorporated into your batter.

If you beat them along with the cake batter, you tend to end up with pockets of egg whites that do not mix in well. Additionally, you risk overmixing your cake batter which results in a grainy cake.

What Does Adding Pudding Mix to Cake Do?

Adding pudding mix to cake makes your cake denser, moister, and improves flavor.

The additional fat aids the texture of the cake, while you can use the same or a different complimentary flavor to really improve the over taste of the cake.

What is the Best Oil For Boxed Cake Mix?

The best oil for boxed cake mix is typically vegetable or canola oil due to the mild flavor. However, other oils, such as olive, avocado, and similar may be used with no difference to texture if you’re avoiding the other options.

Additionally, melted butter or margarine may be swapped in place of oil for a richer cake that tastes more homemade.

Can I Use Coffee Instead of Water in Cake Mix?

Yes, you can use coffee instead of water in cake mix. In fact, it helps to make chocolate cakes in particular have a stronger chocolate flavor.

If you’re serving kids, opt for decaf coffee instead to remove some of the caffeine.

Why Add Sour Cream to Boxed Cake Mix?

Sour cream added to boxed cake mix creates a moister cake without making the batter too soupy to set.

The taste also vanishes well in the cake batter, so it’s typically not obvious that it’s been added.

Why Do You Add Sprite to Cake Mix?

Sprite added to cake mix will make your cake sweeter and fluffier. The carbonation helps to make the batter light and fluffy, and the sugar content makes your cake sweeter than water would.

Sprite goes best in light cake mixes, such as white, yellow, or funfetti cakes.

In Conclusion

These awesome box cake hacks are certain to take that plain mix to the next level! You don’t have to be a professional baker to create a delicious, moist, and flavorful cake. 

Whether you do just one, or incorporate multiple hacks at once, your cake mix game is sure to be on a whole different level.

In fact, no one will even think you’ve used a box mix when you put a gorgeous cake on the table. Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me!

If you want to skip the baking altogether, make sure to check out my Trader Joe’s Lava Cakes in the Air Fryer for a restaurant quality shortcut!

More Easy Recipes That Can Start With Boxed Cake Mix

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Katie Vine