Box Cake Mix Recipes + Tips

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Box cake mix recipes are the best of both worlds…convenient and quick, yet amazingly delicious. It’s easy too, and all you need are simple pantry ingredients and a cake mix!

pieces of cake on blue plates 2021

No matter how long you’ve followed this blog, even if it’s only been a little while, you know I like easy and quick.

After all, simple is best.

I don’t usually bother with projects that involve a lot of steps. This applies to recipes as well. My desserts use basic pantry ingredients, and almost all of them are simple to make. One of my favorite ways to bake a cake is to take the semi-homemade approach. So if you have birthdays to celebrate, or just want an easy dessert, you are in the right place!

box cake mix batter in bowl 2021

Which cake mix is the best?

The brands that are most popular and readily available are Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, and King Arthur. Of these, my favorite is Betty Crocker…but they are all good, and you can’t go wrong with any of them.

How to Make a Box Cake Mix Taste Homemade

Turning a cake mix into a dessert that tastes homemade is easy, and there are so many different ways. That’s what I’m sharing today, along with some easy cake mix recipes. I put together a collection of cake mix hacks, and then some bonus tips that I had to throw in.

Note: these hacks aren’t meant to be used all at once. Choose one or two, give them a try, and see how you like your cake.

ADD LEMON ZEST

Citrus brightens the taste of just about anything you’re cooking. My favorite hack is to add a heaping tablespoon of lemon zest and a tablespoon of lemon juice to a white cake mix. (Pictured in the two images above.) I serve it topped with Cool Whip, and extra lemon zest. Orange zest and orange juice is delicious too!

ADD AN EXTRA EGG

Adding an extra egg will help hold the cake batter together. Some cakes have more air than others, and the extra egg adds denseness…and therefore the cake is more moist.

SUBSTITUTE MILK FOR THE WATER

Using milk instead of water makes for a richer flavor. It also thickens the batter, which results in a moister cake.

ADD ONE TEASPOON OF VANILLA

Vanilla is an ingredient that can be added to all baked goods with amazing results. My best tip is to buy good quality, pure vanilla extract…or even better, make your own. Just combine vanilla beans and vodka in a bottle or jar, let it set for a few months, and you will have the best vanilla ever!

SUBSTITUTE MELTED BUTTER FOR THE OIL

Substituting butter for the oil works miracles, and makes the cake taste like it was made from scratch. Make sure to double the amount. For example, if your cake mix calls for 1/3 cup oil, use 2/3 cups melted butter.

SUBSTITUTE APPLESAUCE FOR THE OIL

Substituting applesauce (equal amounts) for the oil will drastically cut down on the fat and calories. Although I wouldn’t consider cake a healthy food, using applesauce instead of oil or butter is a good way to make cake less of a splurge! (Make sure to use ample cooking spray on your pan beause the fat content is much less without the oil.)

USE ONE CAN OF COCONUT MILK AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR ALL LISTED INGREDIENTS

To make a gluten-free/vegan cake, just use a gluten-free cake mix and substitute one 13.5 oz. can of coconut milk for all other ingredients. Bake according to package directions.

USE ONE CAN OF DIET SODA AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR ALL LISTED INGREDIENTS

To make a very low calorie, low fat cake, all you do is combine any SUGAR FREE cake mix with one 12 oz. can of diet soda. Once the two ingredients are in the bowl, beat the mixture on medium speed for the designated time…it’s usually two minutes. This will make a 9 x 13 sheet cake, or a layer cake. Divided into ten pieces, each piece calculates out to 130 calories, or about 4 Weight Watchers points.

ADD A BOX OF INSTANT PUDDING

Adding a 3.4 oz box of instant pudding to any box cake mix will add extra moisture and give it a denser texture.

Reader Spotlight

This recipe was sent in by a reader and sounds delicious!

  • Use any flavored cake mix (other than white cake, angel food cake or pound cake.) Spice cake and Funfetti cake are especially good.
  • Add 4 eggs – regardless of what it says on the box
  • Add 1 cup of buttermilk – replacing liquid amount on the box
  • Add oil – the exact amount on the box
  • Mix all together until we’ll blended. Bake per instructions on box.

Make Cookies

Turn a box cake mix into a batch of cookies in no time! All you have to do is combine:

  • cake mix
  • 1/2 c. melted butter
  • 2 large eggs

Mix ingredients until well combined. Drop rounded teaspoons onto cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 – 12 minutes.
The sky is the limit for these sweet treats, so feel free to add other ingredients. Some ideas are:

  • Chocolate cake mix, butter, eggs, 1 cup chocolate chips:  make 1 inch balls and roll in powdered sugar before baking.
  • Yellow cake mix, butter, eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 cup oven roasted nuts: walnuts, pecans or almonds.
  • Lemon cake mix, butter, eggs, zest of one lemon. Drizzle with powdered sugar glaze after cookies cool.

Bonus Tips

  • When you take your cake out of the oven, let it cool for about five minutes…then cover the baking dish loosely with a piece of wax paper. This will keep in the moisture, and the cake will melt in your mouth!
  • Mix a can of store bought frosting with half of an 8 oz. container of whipped topping. It will be light, fluffy, and super easy to spread.
  • If you have any cake mix recipes of your own, please share in the comments!

Tip for Dieters

If you are dieting, counting calories, or simply watching what you eat, try the “can of pop” recipe mentioned above. It has literally saved me many times when I’ve been on a diet!

MY FAVORITE THINGS

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Includes all the items in my kitchen I could not live without! Plus tools, appliances, serving pieces, and other fun stuff!

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85 Comments

  1. Joy Lucas says:

    I’m confused and looking for clarity… you talk about omitting oil and using twice the called for amount in butter, but then you say in your “directions” to use oil as directed. You also mention adding lemon zest and juice to a white cake mix (which is what I was wanting to do), but then again in the directions you mentions using any cake mix except white. Help!!

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Hi Joy…I’m sorry for the confusion. When you say directions, are you referring to the Reader Spotlight? That is a recipe I received from a reader. The rest of the points are not related to the Reader Spotlight. I’ve added a notation to help clarify. Thanks! ~Ann

  2. can do you do multiple options at once? Like add the extra egg, doing butter instead of oil and milk instead of water? Or will that alter the taste too much?

  3. I like Lemon-cranberry muffins/cupcakes. I use a box of lemon cake mix, 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice to replace 1/3 cup of the water required in the mix, grated peel of 2 lemons, and a whole bag of fresh or frozen cranberries. Bake as usual for cupcakes. Taste great – very tangy and very moist! And after a serious mishap with a scratch carrot cake, I switched to boxed. Drain the pineapple and use to replace the water in the mix. Puree the pineapple and add to the batter. Bakes up VERY moist. And IF you do not like pineapple, you will not know it is there -I tested it on my son.

  4. Thanks for the great ideas! I know I’m responding in December, but I’ve gotten way behind on checking out your wonderful posts!

  5. Lucy Todd says:

    Love these tips. Thank you, I have been using cake mixes since your post several years ago.

  6. 5 stars
    One thing I do is make the box properly but make my own glazes. For a lemon cake recipe I make a glaze of limoncello and powdered sugar, drizzle it allll over the cake, and then sprinkle some lemon zest on it.

    I’ve also always wanted to try to make a 3 layer brownie cake… but I literally mean to make three cake pans of brownie mix, and then put some kind of ganache in between the layers. If my husband and I ever renew our vows, I would love to turn this into a 3 tiered cake covered in powdered sugar. :)

  7. Your posts never disappoint, Ann—I look forward to reading each and every one of them! You asked to share recipe ideas for cake mix, so here’s a favorite I’ve served to a group (of mostly ladies, but they guys loved them too). They are Strawberry Lemonade Cookies. This makes a lot (a double batch), but any extra cookies can be frozen for another time. Basically, you prepare two batches of cake mix cookie dough using a strawberry cake mix and a lemon cake mix. Then when portioning them out you use a bit of each dough, taking care not to mix them together too much so that both the yellow and pink doughs remain somewhat distinct. So pretty and so tasty as well!

  8. Jayne Knight says:

    Hi Ann
    I have a few questions regarding the ‘how to make a boxed cake mx taste like homemade’ tips.
    * Making my own vanilla. What is the ratio of vanilla beans to vodka?
    * What is the US term ‘soda’ known as in the UK and what flavour?
    * What is instant pudding?
    * What is the difference between a white cake mix ad a yellow cake mix, apart from
    the obvious, colour?
    Many Thanks x

    1. Jayne Knight says:

      PS/
      What is cool whip?

    2. Deborah Solovan Mihalik says:

      I love the Lemon Cake 🍋 using these tips. It was a big hit at my Card Club night.

      1. Jayne Knight says:

        I love anything Lemon but especially cakes and desserts.

    3. Ann Drake says:

      Hi Jayne! The ratio to make your own vanilla is 4 beans to 8 oz. vodka. In the U.S. we also refer to soda as pop or a soft drink. Brand names are Coke, Pepsi, 7 Up, etc. Instant pudding here in the U.S. is in the baking aisle, brand name Jello. Not much difference between a white and yellow cake mix. White cake mixes usually only call for egg whites, while yellow cake mixes call for the whole egg. Cool Whip is a type of whipped cream. It’s in the frozen food aisle in U.S. grocery stores. Regular whipping cream could be substituted.

  9. Cheryl Mangano says:

    Thanks for the great ideas with a cake mix. I just bought a cake mix yesterday and I am going to try some of your ideas. I also love your blog!

  10. You can use a slight variation of the cake mix, 2 eggs, and butter. Swap the butter for 1/3 cup of olive oil. Add white chocolate chips and dried cranberries to the batter before baking. Or any chip or nut ingredients you wish.

  11. Ann Drake says:

    Hi Susan! My favorite combination is diet ginger ale and a white cake mix. Sometimes I add lemon zest to the batter and that adds a lot of taste. Good luck!

  12. I can’t wait to try some if theses alternatives!!!!!!! We seem to have a “birthday season” in our family, so many birthdays all close together. I am the designated cake baker, so I can’t wait to try these substitutes out!! Thank you, Ann, love your blog!!! Simple and easy is the way!!!

  13. Thank you for sharing baking secrets!

  14. Ann Drake says:

    Thank you very much for taking the time to leave such a nice comment…I appreciate it more than you can know!

  15. I’m eager to try these ideas to improve box cake mixes. I don’t make “from scratch cakes” but would be happy to easily make my cakes taste like they are. Thanks for sharing your good ideas.

  16. WOW ~ Thanks a bunch !!! My Mother is going to love these hints & tips, too !

  17. Great tips. I use cake mixes for cookies quite often, jazzing them up with nuts, almond extract, chips, jimmies, etc. I’ll make a batch of cookies with numerous different toppings for the variety. Adding crushed pineapple, chopped apples, or mandarin orange sections to a plain cake also jazzes it up. I have also been known to add cream cheese to canned frosting for a richer flavor!

  18. 5 stars
    Ann, I sure appreciate your hints at jazzing up a cake mix. I never liked to cook and even less so as I age. I am like you in that I use few ingredients in recipes that are easy to prepare. I make a lot of casseroles. I try to make wholesome food. Health is always a consideration.
    Keep up the good work. I enjoy your posts.

  19. 5 stars
    Excellent ideas. Thank you!

  20. Jan Brown says:

    5 stars
    I’m thinking if you add almond extract instead of vanilla, the cake would taste like a wedding cake!!

  21. Thanks for these great tips, Ann! I love the idea of coconut milk in a GF cake mix. I have several friends who eat GF, and they are probably tired of my same old frozen fruit salad as a GF dessert. :)

  22. Bonny M Eicher says:

    5 stars
    Here is another cake mix hack:

    Any flavored cake mix (other than white cake, angel food cake or pound cake)
    Add 4 eggs – regardless of what it says on the box
    Add 1 Cup of Buttermilk – replacing liquid amount on the box
    Add oil – The Exact amount on the box

    Mix all together until we’ll blended. Bake per instructions.
    Enjoy

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Thank you so much! I just added this to the post. Sounds delicious…especially the buttermilk!

  23. 5 stars
    Thanks for all the tips. I will have to try the diet soda cake. If I understand correctly I just need to add the soda & nothing else.

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Yes…just 2 ingredients!

  24. I’m always on the lookout for fast and easy tips. These recipe ideas look wonderful and I plan to try the “pop” recipe first. (BTW, I know you are in the mid-west referring to diet soda as POP. I grew up in Michigan and pop was all I knew as a kid.) Thank you so much for your wonderful ideas for today’s real-life and hectic schedules.

  25. Melba Hanska says:

    5 stars
    Love these tips! I have never used any of the boxed mixes except for using them exactly by the instructions on the back of the box. I know, not very imaginative, but I went for speed rather than taste. After I got sick of using a boxed mixes, I started buying ready made cakes from the grocery bakery, expensive, but one could always count on them for a quick dessert. Now I’m going back to using boxed mixes, and will be using your hints. I especially liked your tip for using lemon juice and zest to perk up the flavor as well as the appearance. My sincere thanks to you. I will also try the sugar free version. I didn’t even know they made a SF version!

  26. This is wonderful information thanks sooo much. I cant wait to try this, another great and helpful post!!! Thanks

  27. Jennifer Churchill says:

    I’m currently renting an apartment that is being renovated and I cannot wait to start cooking and baking again.
    I seldom delete your emails as they have the pretties designs, helpful decorating, fun crafts, I can’t wait to try recipes.

  28. Ann, thank you so much for sharing these wonderful tips!
    Your blog is a delight to me and a breath of fresh air. I look forward to reading your posts. :)

  29. Amy Kaminski says:

    I’m a baker and have tried many of your recipes Ann. These are great tips! Thanks!

  30. Thank you for all these tips and tricks! We’re a dessert loving family so any shortcuts are appreciated! I’m definitely going to try! Thank you, Ann! And Happy Easter to you and your family!

    1. Great tips, can’t wait to try them!

  31. Lou E Gipson says:

    5 stars
    Dear Ann~ thank you for consistently delivering wonderfully diverse and beautiful posts!
    I’ve followed you for years as one of my most favorite bloggers!
    My life has been enriched in so many ways..
    each post seems as tho I’ve just enjoyed a coffee break with a dear, dear friend!
    (and i do have my morning coffee while reading you posts! !!!)
    Loui

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Thank you for leaving such a wonderful and kind comment…I appreciate it so much!

  32. Thank you, I have loved all your baking ideas – so easy to do and so yummy!

  33. Karen Smith says:

    I look forward to your posts each time. You are down to earth and practical-with a bit of class-just my style!! Please continue what you do. I wish I could plant peonies like you do, but they don’t do well in central Texas.

  34. Great ideas, Ann! Thank you for always keeping it simple. If I see a recipe that is intimidating, no matter how delicious it sounds, I will always look for a simpler version.
    Btw, I like to add blueberries to almost anything lemon, especially lemon bread and lemon cake.
    Love your blog! Have a nice day!

  35. Wendy Williamson says:

    5 stars
    Thanks Ann. You’re the best.

  36. Ann,
    Perfect timing. I was asked to bake a confetti cake for my son’s BD. This will be very helpful to make it homemade taste. One question….can you add the box of instant pudding mix to all the other suggested ingredients ( milk, extra egg, butter, vanilla,etc) ?
    I love reading all your ideas and help tips. Thank you.

  37. Love your ideas for jazzing up a simple cake mix. I like Dump Cakes, too. They’re also very easy as you just “dump” the ingredients into a pan in layers, bake and enjoy. One of my favorites is
    APPLE SPICE DUMP CAKE:
    Ingredients –
    1 box cinnamon swirl cake mix 21 oz. (Krusteaz works well)
    1/2 c butter melted
    1 can pie filling apple, 21 oz
    1/2-3/4 c walnuts chopped, optional
    Instructions-
    Spray a 13×9 baking pan.
    1) Pour apple pie filling on bottom and spread out evenly.
    2) Sprinkle cake mix on top of the apple pie filling and spread out evenly.
    3) Melt the butter and pour evenly on top of the cake mix.
    4) Open the brown sugar bag that came with cake mix box and sprinkle out evenly.
    5) Sprinkle nuts on the top if desired and put into preheated 350 degrees oven.
    6) Bake until golden brown on top and the middle starts to firm up (approx 50 minutes).

    1. Ann Drake says:

      This sounds delicious…thank you so much for sharing! Would you mind if I featured this on my blog? OSP readers will love it.

      1. Go right ahead. Ways to enjoy life simply, enjoyably and tastier are meant to be shared. :0)

          1. As a side note to the above recipe, the brown sugar cinnamon topping may seem overbearing and very crumbly after baking. I have also used only half of the bag of topping in the last prep step. It depends on one’s taste.

  38. 5 stars
    Thanks so much for all these hacks! I will use them.

  39. Love the cake mix hints! Thank you. 😊

  40. Katherine Rivenbark says:

    5 stars
    Great ideas! I have a granddaughter with egg and peanut allergies. I’m always looking for eggless recipes!

  41. Thanks for the great ideas to zip up a box cake mix. We seem to do spur of the moment pot lucks at work lately, and a quick dessert idea is exactly what I need. I love the 130 calorie cake idea, and plan to try it at home this weekend! Thanks for sharing yourself with us, Ann. I feel as if I have chatted with a good friend after I read your blog. Happy Saturday.

  42. carol bittner says:

    Thank you Ann for these box cake tips; and the cookie recipe. They all sound so simple and I’m sure will make the ‘ordinary’ taste ‘outta this world special’.

  43. Ann Drake says:

    You are so right JaLea. I became a different person on the day my mom died. I am adjusting and beginning to remember her as she was when she was healthy…and trying to focus on the good times we had. I agree though, nothing can fill that void. My thoughts are with you as well as my prayers.

  44. Greetings Ann~ Love your writing style, decorating and recipes. Always look forward to seeing your email in my box! Sadden to read about your mom……..never easy and a hug for you here (YOU)……get it? the parens are my arms hugging you………. =-) Here’s a cool way to handle a cake and have done this several times………1) take crushed chocolate cookies or Oreos (with the cream) and add them to a chocolate cake mix following cake mix directiosn and bake. Delish!! 2) Add cherry Solo filling to a chocolate cake mix and it will taste like BlackForest cake! Follow directions as on box……..3) you all know there is a red velvet…….there’s blue velvet cake too and I’ve done BLACK! OMG what an awesome contrast to see black cake against white cream cheese frosting! Truly stunning…….. try it and ENJOY!!

  45. Jill house says:

    Dear Ann,
    Just wanted to let you know that you are by far my favorite blogger. You are so real. I appreciate your honesty and all of your tips that help me make my life easier.
    Bless you,
    Jill

  46. Genny Parker says:

    Love Love Love your blog! I cannot count the ideas I have copied and modified from you! I host a small ladies group and will be doing the “slim cake” this month.
    So thankful for you and the special friendship we have!

  47. I’m a newbie to the blog and I think I have learned more life hacks in the month or so I’ve been reading Sutton Place then I have from blogs I have followed for years! This post in particular … I had no idea box cake mixes were so versatile …. cookies?? Soda vs other ingredients?!??? Genius! I’ve adding pudding mix and it works, but love the ideas here much better — have also added mayo and it gives it a fabulous moistness as well.

    1. Ann Drake says:

      I’ve never tried mayo but it makes perfect sense. Thank you so much for sharing!

  48. Linda Sonia says:

    I wish you would share some info on the blue & white dinnerware you showed in this blogpost I love it.

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Hi Linda…the blue and white dishes are called Liberty Blue. The pattern is Staffordshire china and was made during the Bicentennial. It was originally given away to customers at a bank in Oregon. Later it was sold/given away in grocery stores as an incentive to buyers. Spend $50, get a place setting sort of thing. It can still be found on eBay, Etsy, and at antique malls. I collected my set over a period of about a year. I love it too!

  49. Barbara Warner says:

    I am flying out to the kitchen to try your “diet soda” cake recipe. Oh, heck, I need a SF cake mix. Will have to go to the grocery. Thanks for sharing all these great recipes for using cake mixes! Sounds great.

  50. Those are great tips thanks

  51. Rush marshall says:

    Love your blog

  52. Thank you for all the tips ! I have made red velvet cupcakes with the mix and Diet Dr. Pepper, then made cream cheese frosting ( with light cream cheese) and they were great. I can’t wait to try some of your recipes. Good for you and good luck with WW…it is so hard to lose when you like to cook/bake/entertain…that is why I appreciated this post. Have a great weekend !

  53. LindaSonia says:

    Wishing you love, light and peace too. I appreciate every post you write. :-)

  54. I rarely make cakes because our family has 2 diabetics, our son is a Type 1, insulin pump, the whole awful nightmare Type D. He calculates carbs/insulin so am wondering if you know the carb count in your sugar free version. Mom, who will be 90 this summer, loves cake but she developed Type 2 D as an adult so she is limited with sweets. However, I want to make a birthday party for her and have been wondering what to do about a cake. So thank you very much for this sugar free version!

  55. Cheryl @The Creative Me and My McG says:

    Thanks for the hacks. I’m definitely going to try the one with the diet pop!

  56. Isn’t it amazing how a person can transform a cake mix! Thank you for sharing your tips and tricks with us at TOHOT!
    Jemma

  57. Thanks for sticking to the Quick and Easy!

  58. Thanks for the tips Ann!! Just in time , too, since I’m making cupcakes for the 4th! Love your blog, and the many great ideas, thanks for sharing!

  59. I love your site, it’s not only pretty to view, but always full of good information. I am anxious to try these cake mix hacks. My grandchildren love cake!

  60. Nothing better than good tips. I have a bunch of baking to do for Monday.. Will take a look. Thanks

  61. Could you clarify how it can be gluten free if I use a box mix. Isnt it made with flour? thank you

    1. Oh my gosh thank you for catching that! I forgot to add that the cake mix has to be gluten-free. Quite an oversight…so thanks again!

  62. Mickey Wood says:

    I always read your emails, in fact, I look forward to them. It’s my favorite of all & I love your recipes.

  63. you are the best!!!! thanks for always sharing with us….. so glad you do what you do…

  64. Love those tips – thank you! I am an avid baker but every once in awhile I’ll cheat and use a cake mix as a base because I just get too busy. This weekend is one of them, because in Canada we celebrate July 1st which is equivalent to your July 4th and I’m always asked to bring dessert and we have two barbecue’s this weekend so I will definitely be using your tips. P.S. I’ve done WW too and it does work!!

  65. Stay strong Ann! This is a busy time of year with kiddos out of school and families cramming in vacation time before school starts in the fall. I’m guilty of not commenting due to shear lack of time! Love your blog and I too have been trying to shed some pounds unsuccessfully (sad face). But still trying which is the key! Best wishes on your weight loss journey and you are valued out here!!!

  66. I’m excited to try the can of diet soda addition, my husband loves cake, but doesn’t need the calories. Hopefully this will tickle his taste buds! Thanks!

    1. Seriously it has saved me. I use fat free Reddi Whip or Cool Whip Free. The Reddi Whip has 0 points!

  67. I had no idea! These are great tips….I’m going to try a few! Thank you Ann! Do you have a favorite one? ;)

    1. When I make a box cake I always add the extra egg and use milk…and I always lay a piece of wax paper over the pan after it comes out of the oven. The cookies are really good too! I love the lemon ones.