A boxed cake mix is inexpensive and convenient, but it can sometimes produce a dry-tasting cake. By following a few basic baking tips and adding some unusual ingredients, you can turn a box mix into a cake that is comparable in taste to homemade. Best of all, the secret add-ins needed to bake a moist cake from a mix may already be hiding in your pantry.
Just the Facts
Since egg whites can dry out a cake, try using just egg yolks or add an extra egg to the mix. Over-stirring batter is also a no-no, as it leads to a dry, chewy cake. As simple as it sounds, the most important tip for baking a moist cake from a box mix is not to overbake the cake. Check for doneness 5 to 10 minutes prior to the recommended baking time. If a toothpick comes out clean, remove the cake from the oven. Use a thermometer to test the actual temperature in your oven. If your oven is running too hot, your cakes will turn out too dry.
Think Fat, Not Thin
Almost all boxed bake mixes call for added liquids and fats. Fats in particular are important for creating a moist cake, as they reduce the amount of cake-drying gluten. Use whole milk instead of skim or reduced-fat milk. If the mix calls for oil, try using extra-virgin olive oil. You won't be able to taste it in the final product, but olive oil contains natural emulsifiers that improve cake moisture and texture. However, if you're on a reduced-fat diet, use applesauce instead of the oil.
The Proof is in the Pudding
Adding a box of instant pudding to a cake mix will help produce a moist cake and boost flavor. Experiment with different types to use in cake mixes, such as chocolate pudding with chocolate cake mix or banana pudding with yellow cake mix. Prepare the mix following the instructions and simply add the dry instant pudding and mix until blended in. For a little extra moisture, add an additional whole egg along with the dry pudding mix.
Not Just for Sandwiches
Mayonnaise isn't an ingredient that seems like it belongs in cake, but mayonnaise is simply a blend of oil and eggs with a touch of acidity. It adds moisture to a cake and no one will be any wiser when tasting the end result. Add at least a tablespoon along with the other wet ingredients or up to one-fourth cup, and you'll end up with a moist, creamy confection.
Sweet and Sour
Yogurt and sour cream may seem too sour or bitter to add to a cake mix, but the acidity will help to tenderize gluten and prevent the formation of drying proteins. Add 1 cup of sour cream or yogurt instead of the other liquids or just replace some of the liquids with buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream. Another secret that pro bakers use is to dissolve sugar in an equal amount of water in a saucepan and lightly spray the solution onto the cake before adding frosting.
- Anne Byrn; The Cake Mix Doctor
- Fine Cooking: The Secret Ingredient for Tender Cakes
- Rose Levy Beranbaum; The Cake Bible
- The Kitchn.com: Put a Cup of Mayonnaise in Your Next Chocolate Cake
- A Slice of Heaven Cakes Classroom: Making Moist Cakes or Cupcakes
Bonnie Singleton has been writing professionally since 1996. She has written for various newspapers and magazines including "The Washington Times" and "Woman's World." She also wrote for the BBC-TV news magazine "From Washington" and worked for Discovery Channel online for more than a decade. Singleton holds a master's degree in musicology from Florida State University and is a member of the American Independent Writers.