For More Flavorful Box Cakes, Swap Out The Plain Milk

Baking from scratch provides us with the highest level of control over the quality of our baked goods, but it isn't always practical. That's why many of us keep a boxed cake mix in our pantry to whip up a dessert quickly. Although the nostalgic taste can bring you back to your fifth birthday party, it lacks the same flavor and texture of a homemade cake, but it doesn't have to. By making a few swaps, you can bake a box cake that tastes like it was made from scratch.

Professional bakers like Duff Goldman consider boxed cake mixes a blank canvas that we should experiment with to create something better. Mixes supply the recipe's dry ingredients: flour, leavening agents, and sugar (along with hard-to-pronounce additives). Depending on the brand and type of cake, they require only a handful of additional ingredients — generally oil, eggs, and water. However, there are plenty of ingredient swaps that will elevate boxed cake. By switching the water for the same amount of milk, you can drastically improve the cake's texture.

By incorporating additional fat into the recipe, the cake will be more moist and have a homemade mouthfeel without altering the baking chemistry or instructions. While plain milk undoubtedly improves its texture, you can make a more significant impact by using flavored milk or other dairy products. Try using plain milk alternatives like chocolate, strawberry, or even coffee for a more flavorful cake with greater depth. 

Try other dairy in boxed cake mix

If you want to replace water with dairy in the recipe, it is best to use full-fat products. Skim milk will not improve the cake's texture because it lacks fat. However, buttermilk is a great option that has several advantages. It provides a pleasant tang to balance the cake's sweetness, and its acidity activates the baking soda in the batter, causing it to rise higher. This results in a fluffier, more tender cake. You can use sour cream, yogurt, or crème fraîche for similar results. If you don't have it on hand, transform one cup of regular milk into buttermilk by adding one tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar. Give the mixture a stir and allow it to curdle for five minutes before using. Try this technique with chocolate milk for a more flavorful chocolate cake.

Adding melted ice cream to boxed cake mix is another enriching substitution that puts the dregs left by family members to good use. For a decadent cake, use a high-quality ice cream made with cream, milk, eggs, and sugar. You can add richness without changing the flavor by pairing yellow cake with vanilla and chocolate cake with chocolate ice cream, or get creative. Moreso than flavored milk, melted ice cream enables you to experiment with many combinations, including options that contain crushed cookies, chips, and nuts to add crunch and lusciousness to the cake. 

Non-milk options for boxed cake mixes

Since dairy isn't an option for everyone, there are other ways to enhance the flavor of your store-bought mix. Depending on your audience and what you want to achieve, you can try one of these clever hacks to customize your baking. We have tried over a dozen ingredients to upgrade chocolate cake, such as stout beer, red wine, coffee, and soda. A lemon-lime soda in a lemon pound cake makes a tender crumb.

If you are prone to baking dry cakes, include a package of instant pudding mix in the recipe. In various flavors, this will supercharge your cake with moisture and give you an opportunity to have fun with classic food pairings. Combine chocolate cake mix with strawberry instant pudding for a chocolate-covered strawberry cake or butterscotch to add the warm taste of caramel. Since you are increasing the dry ingredients, the batter may need an additional egg or a splash of oil to thin it out. 

There are many options in the market, ranging from less expensive generic store brands to tried and true classics that you grew up enjoying. While they all offer convenience, some are better than others. We compared different brands and flavors (a tough job) to create a list of the best and worst boxed cake mixes at the grocery store

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