I don’t think using cake mix is a sin. In fact, I think it’s nice to have everything premeasured, so you can get to the eating faster. However, I do appreciate when someone goes the extra mile to upgrade their boxed mix. It shows me they care about their food and flavor. If you’re strapped on time, but still need to make a cake that doesn’t seem like it came straight from a box, try these ideas.
Add fresh fruit.
Have you heard of a clafouti? It’s pretty much a cake that bakes around fresh fruit. The original version uses an “eggy” batter that is sweetened. The batter, when baked, creates a light and airy texture that somehow is a bit custardy. It’s quite impressive. Using a similar concept, arrange fruit at the bottom of your prepared cake pans and pour batter over the top. Leave enough of the fruit exposed for a prettier finish. I suggest using cherries or peaches with yellow cake. For something more indulgent, bananas, pears or raspberries with a double chocolate cake mix sounds insanely good. Once it’s all done baking, dust it with powdered sugar for a pretty finish.
Create a homemade spice swirl.
I always love a surprise, especially when it’s warm notes of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and just about any other spice you’d find in a pumpkin pie. Prepare the batter as directed and then pour half into a pan. In a separate bowl, combine any spices you want with plenty of brown sugar and just enough melted unsalted butter to create a thick mixture. Drizzle half onto the batter, top with the remaining batter and finish with the rest of the spice mix. Use a knife or wooden stick to swirl the spices a few times. Bake for a delicious treat. Feeling ambitious? Add a nut and oat crumble topping just before baking, so it comes out like a coffee cake.
Toss in some zest.
It’s probably the easiest out of all my suggestions. Pull out your zester and favorite citrus fruits, like meyer lemons, and start zesting away. Make sure to only get the colorful parts, so your cake is flavorful, not bitter. Mix the zest into your batter and bake as directed on your box. You can even juice the fruits and cook it on your stovetop with a bit of honey and vanilla. Once the mixture thickens to the consistency of syrup, drizzle it over your cake. The glaze will totally make your cake rock!
Add a cream cheese center.
An egg, scoop of sugar and a bit of vanilla extract added to cream cheese is so heavenly. Now hear me out. Make the same mixture and spread a layer of it in between your cake batter. Bake it. You can thank me later for this cheesecake-like surprise.
Use a dollop of jam or spread.
I recommend turning your boxed cake mix into a lovely bundt cake. Make it even prettier by swirling in your favorite jams or spreads prior to popping it into the oven. Might I suggest peanut butter for a spice cake mix or strawberry preserves with white cake? Or try this version, which uses yellow cake mix and dots in chocolate chips right before swirling in Nutella. Oh my!
Mix in crushed cookies, candies or sprinkles.
Speaking of chocolate chips, I’m a fan of adding cookies, candies and festive sprinkles to any cake. It makes it more fun, and I feel like a kid eating it. But have you thought about putting those things directly into the cake batter before baking? My Name is Yeh did that with her funfetti cake (above) and it turned out beautifully. Check out all her sprinkle tests to see the differences. Or just dive right into your snack drawer to find some goodies you can crush or chop and elevate that boring cake mix.
Use some food dye.
Another super easy option is to add food dye and combine all the colored batter to a pan to bake. This version creates a rainbow swirl. If you want more defined lines, just like a rainbow, bake each dyed batter in a separate pan. Then build and frost your cake as usual. When you cut into it, each slice will contain a layer of rainbow happiness.