17 Ingredients That Take Boxed Cake Mix To A New Level

For nearly 100 years, boxed cake mixes have been celebrated for their affordability and convenience. The history of boxed cake mixes begins in the late 19th century, but the formal marketing of an ingredient package didn't happen until the 1930s.

These days, you can find high-quality, artisanal cake mixes alongside the mass-produced classics from Pillsbury and Duncan Hines. These nouveau boxed cake mixes are made with superior ingredients and offer more contemporary cake options, with some brands offering flavors like cardamom olive oil and matcha cherry. We recently ranked the absolute best packaged cake mixes, including classics like Pillsbury and more unconventional ones like Annie's, for your convenience. But you can elevate any cake mix by adding just one ingredient. In addition to making your cake moister and richer, most of these additives bring extra flavor dimension, ranging from the familiar to the unexpected. No matter what ingredient you go with, we assure you it'll elevate your cake.


The two main ingredients in any classic mayonnaise recipe are eggs and vegetable oil. So when you add mayonnaise to a boxed cake mix, you aren't exactly going too far outside the box. Mayonnaise also includes vinegar and a bit of mustard, but these ingredients actually enhance your cake, giving it added dimensions and a more complex flavor.

Putting flavor aside, adding mayonnaise can have a transformative effect on the boxed cake mix, making it richer and moister. This substitution can have a particularly profound effect when it comes to chocolate cake. This type of cake has a tendency to turn out a bit dense, and adding mayonnaise helps to make the cake a bit fluffier. To incorporate mayonnaise, simply add one cup of your favorite mayonnaise to a box of chocolate cake mix, along with one cup of water and three eggs.


A boxed cake mix is designed to be pretty convenient. Most mixes only call for three additional ingredients: eggs, oil, and water. However, if you're feeling lazy and freaked out by the price of eggs, you can make a very good cake with just one additional ingredient: soda.

To make a simple two-ingredient cake, simply pour a 12-ounce can of club soda and a box of cake mix into a large mixing bowl. Whisk the two together until you've got a smooth, lump-free mixture. Then, proceed with your recipe or the directions on the box. As you might expect, the resulting cake will be light and springy. However, it will still have a solid crumb structure that can be easily frosted. If you want to add flavor to your standard cake mix, experiment with different flavored sodas. Some popular combinations include Coca-Cola and chocolate cake mix; Sprite and yellow cake mix; and root beer and vanilla cake mix.


Adding sauerkraut to a boxed cake mix will change your thinking on chocolate cake forever. Simply add one cup of finely chopped sauerkraut to a package of chocolate cake mix and follow the directions on the package. We'll admit this is a bit counterintuitive. How is adding something that's sour and salty — maybe a little bit funky — going to elevate a boxed cake mix? First, the sourness of the crowd balances the sweetness of boxed cake mix, which can be a little much for those who don't like their palate bombarded with sugar.

Second, the salt from the kraut draws out some of the more savory notes from the chocolate in the mix. Finally, moisture from the kraut helps to moisten the final product. Baking also reduces the robust flavor of sauerkraut. The resulting cake has a balanced depth of flavor and most people won't be able to tell sauerkraut was used as an ingredient. If anything, the bits of cabbage in your cake will resemble coconut flakes, which is a texture people are used to finding in their cake.


We typically associate miso with Japanese cooking because it has a very distinct flavor profile and a high level of saltiness. But when miso is used as a complementary ingredient in all kinds of dishes, it adds significant umami and depth of flavor, without completely defining the flavor of a dish. Case in point: Adding miso to baked goods is a simple but effective way to make them more flavorful.

When it comes to incorporating miso into a boxed cake mix, the recommended ratio is 2 tablespoons of miso per cup of mix. For the best results, use a bold-flavored cake with earthy or caramel notes. If you want to play it safe, you can't go wrong with a chocolate cake mix. Avoid adding miso to subtly-flavored cake mix, like angel food or yellow cake. If you do, the miso flavor will dominate your resulting cake.

Coconut oil

Most boxed cake mixes call for the addition of vegetable oil. This ingredient helps to distribute heat evenly throughout the cake to create a uniform and delicate crumb structure. However, you can use different oils besides vegetable oil, and coconut oil is one alternative fat guaranteed to elevate your packaged cake mix.

It's important to note that there are two different kinds of coconut oil: refined and unrefined. While both are made from the meat of the coconut, refined coconut oil goes through additional processing that removes odor and flavor. If you're not a big fan of coconut, refined coconut oil is a vegan-friendly option that can give you a flakier crumb. Unrefined coconut oil will give you that sweet signature flavor, which goes particularly well with vanilla and yellow cake mixes.

If you are going to use coconut oil, you will have to melt it first because this fat is solid at room temperature. After raising the temperature of your coconut oil just enough to turn it liquid, use it as a 1-to-1 replacement in your recipe for vegetable oil.

Whipped egg whites

Yes, a chocolate cake contains eggs, milk, and wheat, but that doesn't make it the most packed with nutrients. One way to add more protein to a cake is to substitute whole eggs for whipped egg whites. If you whip this ingredient before incorporating it into the boxed cake mix, it gives it an almost ethereal texture. As an ingredient, egg whites are a leavening agent that binds together the other ingredients. Because boxed cake mix already has leavening agents, using whipped egg whites instead of whole eggs gives the cake an even lighter structure.

It's important to note that egg whites should be substituted for whole eggs at a 2-to-1 ratio. If you are using packaged egg whites out of a carton, substitute ¼ cup of egg whites for each whole egg. Whip the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. If you can't achieve this desired stiffness, add a pinch of cream of tartar. Gently incorporate your whipped egg whites to maintain their light texture.


If you are in pursuit of the ultimate chocolate cake — one with soulful chocolate flavor that plumbs oceanic depths — then instant coffee or espresso is an essential ingredient to elevate the flavor of a boxed chocolate cake mix. If you aren't a coffee (or espresso) drinker, you might be thinking, thanks, but no thanks. However, adding just a teaspoon of espresso powder gives depth to a chocolate cake without giving it a distinct coffee flavor. This is because coffee brings out bitter and acidic notes that we associate with high-quality dark chocolate. Adding coffee also conveys a bit of unctuousness to the cocoa powder in your chocolate cake mix.

If you don't have instant coffee or espresso powder on hand, you can use brewed coffee. However, the effect will be subtler and you'll have to compensate for the additional liquid by scaling back on one other liquid ingredient. Even going this route will give you deeper chocolate flavors than not adding anything would.

Real maple syrup

Hopefully, you appreciate the difference between pancake syrup and "real" maple syrup. While the former has a one-dimensional flavor that comes from processed sweeteners, the latter is an all-natural product with complex, layered flavors. The complexity of real maple syrup lends itself perfectly to baking, as the heat brings out all of its subtle aromas.

Maple syrup is graded based on its color and flavor. Before 2014, it was given letter grades ranging from 'A' for the light syrup to 'C' for very dark syrup that was only sold commercially. Because many people found these letter grades confusing, maple syrup is now graded using descriptors, ranging from Fancy for the lightest in color and flavor, to Very Dark and Strong Flavor. When selecting maple syrup to elevate a boxed cake mix, go with amber color for a solid flavor that isn't overpowering. For a standard cake mix recipe that calls for one cup of water add ½ cup of vegetable oil, substitute ½ cup of maple syrup, ⅔ cup of water, and ⅓ cup of butter, oil, or other fat.

Melted ice cream

Parents of young children know how maddening it can be to scoop out an entire bowl of ice cream for your child, only for them to eat a few spoonfuls and allow the rest to turn into ice cream soup. Try as you might, there's no way to reconstitute ice cream once it's melted. Adding melted ice cream to boxed cake mix isn't just a great way to elevate your cake, it's also a great way to reclaim melted ice cream and minimize food waste. Best of all, it simplifies the recipe for a boxed cake mix. Because melted ice cream contains fat and water, you only need to add eggs to complete the recipe.

For the best results, choose an ice cream that doesn't contain emulsifiers or staplers. If you want to use an ice cream with lots of different mix-ins and flavors, go with a boxed mix for plain yellow cake. If you want to keep it simple, add vanilla or chocolate ice cream to the flavored cake mix of your choosing.


If you want a well-rounded cake made from a boxed mix that rivals cakes made from scratch, consider adding plain yogurt to the mix. Yogurt is made by adding a bacteria culture to milk, and the fermentation gives yogurt the signature sour taste. When you add yogurt to a boxed cake mix, the sourness of the yogurt contrasts with the sugar that is in the mix, resulting in a balanced flavor profile. In addition to reducing the sweetness of the cake, the yogurt's acidity also helps to activate baking soda in the cake mix, making the cake lighter and fluffier.

While you could use any yogurt to elevate a boxed cake mix, Greek yogurt is more difficult to use because its high level of protein and low moisture can lead to a dense, dry cake. Standard American-style yogurt will give you all the benefits you want while maintaining a desirable crumb structure.


Adding applesauce to a cake mix is it popular baking hack that you can go about in two different ways, depending on what you're trying to achieve. People looking to bake a vegan cake will substitute applesauce for eggs, using ¼ cup of applesauce for every egg. When using this hack, some people add ½ teaspoon of baking powder to lighten the cake and offset any heaviness from the fruit purée.

You can also make a cake recipe more nutritious by substituting applesauce for fat, and oil in particular. Applesauce can replace vegetable oil in chocolate cake, carrot cake, and other dense cakes at a 1-to-1 ratio. For lighter cakes like yellow and angel food, use a 1-to-1 ratio, but reduce other liquids by ¼ cup.

Regardless of how you're using applesauce, it's best to go with an unsweetened variety because sweetened apple sauces contain sugars that will disrupt your crumb structure. To prevent it from crumbling apart, make sure your applesauce cake is allowed to cool for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting into it.

Mashed potatoes

Using mashed potatoes to elevate boxed cake mix might sound like something out of "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," but this is actually a widely accepted culinary technique.

Adding a small amount of plain mashed potatoes two boxed cake mix works because you are primarily adding water and starch. A potato is 80% water and the rest is mostly starch. Potato starch is often extracted from potatoes and used as a baking ingredient. As such, adding mashed potatoes to a cake recipe isn't that far outside the box.

If you are going to add mashed potatoes to a boxed cake mix, you need to make sure it's finely mashed. Run you are cooked potatoes through a potato ricer or sieve to eliminate any lumps. After your potato has been finely mashed, there's no need to end anything else: no butter, no milk, no salt, no pepper. Add ¾ cup of mashed potatoes to your cake mix and proceed as normal.


Ricotta might seem like an ingredient that's used to make exotic specialty cakes, but it's actually something Giada De Laurentiis uses to achieve the perfect cake texture. For a recent video on her Instagram, the celebrity chef and Food Network host wrote how adding ricotta cheese to pound cake gives it a "moist, tender crumb."

Ricotta's biggest contribution to a boxed cake mix is protein. This gives the cake a more robust structure. Ricotta also adds moisture and fat, both of which contribute to the moist, tender crumb of De Laurentiis' ricotta cake. Ricotta also adds a bit of acidity that activates the baking soda in a box cake mix to create a lighter, fluffier texture.

One of the best things about ricotta is that you can easily make it at home with the ingredients you have in your refrigerator and pantry. Our homemade ricotta recipe calls for whole milk, kosher salt, and the juice of one lemon. You'll also need cheesecloth or a fine-textured kitchen towel to separate the ricotta curds from the whey.

Brown butter

One of the most amazing things about cooking or baking is being able to make something transcendent using everyday ingredients. Brown butter is easy to make, yet it can transform everything from roasted vegetables to boxed cake mix. To make brown butter, simply add butter to a saucepan and gently cook it over low heat until it has a nutty aroma and golden color. Do yourself a favor: Make a large batch of brown butter and store it in the freezer until needed.

Brown butter is a simple and easy one-to-one substitute for vegetable oil in any boxed cake mix recipe. Typically, you'll be replacing ½ cup of vegetable oil with ½ cup of brown butter. If you have some brown butter stored in your freezer, you can also make cake frosting by combining it with powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and milk.


Bacon may not be the trendy ingredient that it was a decade ago, but that doesn't mean you can't use it to elevate boxed cake mix. The saltiness and smokiness of bacon act as a perfect contrast to the sweetness of a commercial cake mix. One of the best ways to elevate chocolate cake mix with bacon, in our humble opinion, is to make chocolate bacon cupcakes.

Use devil's food cake or double chocolate cake mix when making these cupcakes. Basically, the richer and fudgier your cake, the better. You can also take these cupcakes to the next level by making cream cheese frosting infused with real maple syrup. If you don't want to get that fancy, you can sprinkle a bit of brown sugar on top and call it a day.

Sour cream

If you grew up in the '80s, you probably thought you'd never see a certain trend come back as it has in recent years. No, we're not talking about fanny packs. We're talking about coffee cake. The '80s classic was recently given a massive boost by King Arthur Baking Company, which named a cinnamon coffee cake recipe the company's Recipe of the Year.

If you're looking to hop on this trend, you should know that sour cream is the secret ingredient that will make your coffee cake extra moist. Sour cream contains just enough water to keep a cake moist without thinning out the batter and its high-fat content gives the coffee cake a pleasing richness. On top of that, the sourness helps to balance out the sweetness from other ingredients. Simply use one cup of sour cream to replace ½ cup of oil and one egg from your standard boxed cake mix recipe.


Similar to yogurt or sour cream, buttermilk can elevate a boxed cake mix by making it richer and denser, while balancing out the sweetness with a bit of acidic tang. Buttermilk can be used to elevate just about any cake mix, from angel food to devil's food. However, buttermilk is crucial to any spice cake recipe. The acidic tang of buttermilk plays perfectly with the spicy sweetness of this cake. When done right, both flavor profiles complement one another to make spice cake more than some of its parts.

The one issue with using buttermilk for baking is you rarely need to use an entire carton of it. Rather than wasting food, consider buying powdered buttermilk. This shelf-stable product can be kept in your pantry, and it is easily reconstituted. You can also make exactly the amount you need, whenever you need it.

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