A Baker Weighs In On If Professionals Really Use Boxed Cake Mix

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For professional bakers, making the decision to opt for boxed over from scratch is complex. "I never use boxed cake mix in a professional setting UNLESS I am specifically developing a cake that calls for one, like an old-fashioned strawberry poke cake," Jessie Sheehan told Food Republic — Sheehan is a recipe developer, baker, podcast host, and cookbook author of "Snackable Bakes: 100 Easy-Peasy Recipes for Exceptionally Scrumptious Sweets and Treats" and forthcoming "Salty, Cheesy, Herby, Crispy Snackable Bakes: 100 Easy-Peasy, Savory Recipes for 24/7 Deliciousness."

For Sheehan, it's not a matter of being anti-boxed cakes herself but an interest in meeting her clients' expectations. "The reason I do not use boxed cake mixes on the regular in my recipe development work or 'professionally' is that when I am paid to develop a cake recipe the outlet typically wants the cake to be homemade — they are paying me to make something from scratch and original."

Sometimes, however, Sheehan's work as a baker is less about demonstrating her creative capacity or technical talents and more about recreating a sense of familiarity in her desserts. "Like in the case of the aforementioned poke cake, the old-school recipe that they would like me to develop originally called for a boxed cake and they want the traditional 'version,' as it were, boxed cake mix and all," Sheehan noted. However, that's an exception; Sheehan notes that, as a professional baker, "that is not what you are paid to do."

Why boxed cake mix could be a professional's go-to home treat

When you spend most of your days working in the kitchen, it's understandable that the last thing you want to do in your free time is start measuring out ingredients and greasing pans to bake for yourself. Boxed cake mixes are there to help everyone, including professional bakers like Jessie Sheehan, to easily enjoy a little something sweet — especially on special occasions."I make boxed cake mixes at home because I happen to adore the flavor and texture and so — particularly on my birthday — I always make one for myself," states Sheehan.

As she points out, the choice to bake a cake from a premade mix is based as much on personal preference as it is on convenience. "I find the flavor and texture incredibly nostalgic and straight up delicious," notes Sheehan. 

In fact, these mixes are an important source of inspiration for this professional baker. "When I create a cake recipe from scratch, I am always trying to replicate the from-a-box flavor and texture," explains Sheehan. In some cases, such as the poke cake, she also incorporates other well-loved and easy-to-use products, like boxed Jell-O.

Tips for leveling up your boxed cake mix like a pro

If you want to build on your baking skills or add your own unique touch, having the basics of the batter prepared for you makes it easy to experiment. To instantly level up your cake mix without overcomplicating the back-of-the-box recipe, there are a couple of simple substitutions that you should try.

Most mixes contain everything you need except a wet ingredient to bind it all together. Choosing this ingredient carefully is your opportunity to have the greatest impact on both texture and taste. Avoid using water and, for more flavorful box cakes, swap out the plain milk for flavored alternatives like chocolate or strawberry. This will add depth and complexity to the tasting notes in every forkful, but for the richest cake, you'll want to check your freezer for another form of dairy. Ice cream is the super moist ingredient every boxed cake mix needs, and all you need to do is melt a pint of your favorite and then blend it into the batter. With just these two elements, you can create a perfectly fluffy cake with a totally unique flavor profile.

Once you settle on your preferred wet ingredient for the basic recipe, explore more elaborate add-in ingredients that will take your boxed cake mix to another level. From spices and extracts to citrus zest and sprinkles, there are endless options.