Boxed mixes arose from the need to create a food product quickly and with just a few ingredients. Boxed cake mixes help harried housewives and frazzled fathers whip up a delicious dessert in just a few minutes with ingredients that are readily on hand. While most mixes call for water, you can substitute a number of other tasty liquids with satisfying results.
Water, Water Everywhere
Because water is a staple in almost every household, it is easy to obtain and adds no additional calories or unwanted flavor to a cake mix. Water moistens and activates ingredients such as baking soda and baking powder that are already in your cake mix. Without a liquid, the ingredients do not adhere well to each other, and the result is a crumbly, flaky, unstable cake.
Mmm, Mmm, Milk
Substituting milk for the water in a cake mix adds more density and body to the finished product. Because milk contains about 88 percent water, it can be substituted ounce for ounce instead of water. However, because milk also contains about 3 percent fat, cakes made with milk taste richer, denser and more moist. Milk also adds other nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D, as well as more calories, to the cake, but it does not dramatically alter the flavor. Skim milk will add fewer calories and less fat to the final product, while whole milk will provide more.
Send in the Understudy
Other liquids can stand in nicely for plain water in a cake mix. Try substituting buttermilk, almond milk, juice, coffee, applesauce, yogurt, baby food or pureed carrots in your next recipe. When choosing a substitute, think about flavors. Almond milk might go well in a vanilla cake, for example, and coffee with chocolate. Strain out any grounds when using coffee. When using juice, only use freshly squeezed or juice from a glass bottle; canned juice may contain ingredients that interfere with the leavening ingredients in the mix. Fresh juice can add a bright, fresh flavor to cakes. Soft drinks, such as 7-Up or Cola-Cola, may add extra sweetness. When using moist solids, such as baby food, you may need to add more to compensate for the additional solids.
Look, Ma! No Liquid!
Some cakes do not require a liquid at all. Rich, dense cakes may use only sugar, eggs, butter and flavoring such as chocolate or coconut. The eggs and butter supply enough moisture to hold the ingredients together without the addition of water or other liquids. For a dense, chewy, brownie-like cake, leave out the water altogether and add additional eggs and oil.
When not working in her family-owned food and bar business, Viola Horne can almost always be found with a cookbook in one hand and a whisk in the other. Horne never tires of entertaining family and friends with both comfort food and unusual delicacies such as garlic cheese smashed potatoes and banana bacon pancakes.