How do you make a cake mix taste like a bakery cake?

Many home bakers wonder how they can make a basic cake mix taste more like a cake from a bakery or professional pastry shop. While cake mixes provide a convenient shortcut for whipping up a cake quickly, the flavors often pale in comparison to cakes made completely from scratch. Thankfully, there are several easy tricks you can use to upgrade a basic cake mix to taste just as moist, rich, and decadent as a bakery cake.

Use Oil Instead of Eggs

Most cake mix packages call for water and eggs as the main liquid ingredients. However, substituting oil for the eggs can make a big difference in producing a moister, more tender crumb. Oil coats the ingredients better than eggs and keeps the cake from drying out. When baking from scratch, bakeries typically use a high ratio of butter or oil to flour, which contributes to the soft, decadent texture. Follow the package directions, but use vegetable oil instead of eggs along with the water. The resulting cake will have a finer, tighter crumb that resembles bakery cakes.

Increase the Eggs

If you don’t want to use oil, you can still achieve a richer cake by using extra eggs. Simply double the amount of eggs called for in the cake mix directions. So if the instructions say to add two eggs, use four eggs instead. The extra egg yolks add moisture and fat to the batter, resulting in a cake that is denser and more luxurious. For an even bigger decadent boost, use five eggs instead of what the mix calls for. Just be careful not to over-mix the batter after adding the eggs. Too much mixing once the eggs are incorporated will cause the cake to become tough.

Substitute Milk for Water

Replacing all or part of the water in a cake mix with milk is an easy way to instantly add flavor and moisture. Milk has extra fat and protein compared to water, yielding a cake with more body and softened texture. Whole milk or even cream will provide the biggest moisture boost. But any type of milk – skim, 2%, or buttermilk – will still make a notable difference from only using water. For best results, reduce the total liquid called for in the recipe by a couple tablespoons to account for the extra moisture milk provides.

Use Sour Cream

Sour cream is a secret weapon used by bakeries to produce super moist cakes with tender crumb. It adds a tangy flavor while also providing moisture and richness. Simply replace the oil or butter called for in the cake mix directions with an equal amount of full-fat sour cream. If the directions don’t call for any oil or butter, you can still add about 1/2 cup sour cream per box of cake mix, reducing the water or milk by a couple tablespoons. Be sure not to use low-fat or fat-free sour cream, or the cake won’t have the same luxurious mouthfeel.

Upgrade the Mix

Not all cake mixes are created equal. Budget supermarket brands often rely on lower quality ingredients or less flavorings than more premium mixes. Opting for a high-end cake mix brand with more complex flavors can instantly elevate your final cake closer to bakery style. Nicer brands like Ghirardelli, Betty Crocker, or King Arthur use ingredients like natural vanilla and real cocoa powder for more depth of chocolate flavor. Pillsbury and Duncan Hines are other solid mid-priced mix options. Checking the ingredient list and avoiding mixes with long additive lists is an easy way to identify quality mixes.

Strengthen the Flavors

Cake mixes make baking fast and convenient by including the necessary dry ingredients like flour, sugar, leavening, and flavorings all pre-mixed together. But often the flavors are not as robust as from scratch cakes. Thankfully, you can punch up the flavors easily with some simple add-ins. Stir a couple teaspoons of vanilla extract into any white or yellow cake mix for enhanced flavor. For chocolate mixes, bloom a tablespoon of cocoa powder in hot water first to intensify the chocolate taste. A teaspoon of almond extract added to vanilla cakes mimics the classic almond cake flavor used at many bakeries.

Use Extras

Adding ingredients like fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, or coconut is an easy upgrade that makes boxed cake mixes taste homemade. The contrasting textures make cake mixes more interesting. Try folding 1/2 cup drained crushed pineapple into vanilla cake batter. Or top your cake with toasted coconut flakes. You can also stir in 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips, chopped nuts, or dried fruit like raisins, cherries, or cranberries. Drizzle the cooled cake with melted chocolate ganache or dust with powdered sugar for even more fancy bakery flair.

Adjust the Mixing Method

Cake mix directions often instruct dumping all the ingredients together at once and mixing for a short time. But alternating between adding the dry mix and liquids in stages, while mixing just until blended, can improve the final texture. First, beat together the eggs, oil or butter, milk, and any extras like fruit or vanilla. Add about 1/3 of the dry cake mix and mix until just combined. Then alternate adding the remaining dry mix and liquids in two more additions, mixing gently after each.

Let Batter Rest

After mixing the cake batter together, resist the urge to immediately bake it. Letting the batter rest for 15-20 minutes allows time for the flour to fully hydrate and the leavening to activate. This helps prevent the dreaded sink hole where the center of the cake dips. It also reduces the chance of the cake peaking or doming too much in the center. Both overmixing and undermixing can cause cakes not to rise properly. Resting the batter helps achieve that perfect smooth dome on top associated with professional cakes.

Grease and Flour the Pan

Bakeries always prep cake pans properly to ensure clean release of the cake and prevent sticking or tearing. At home, thoroughly grease cake pans with softened butter. Greasing the sides is crucial to get that smooth rounded top edge. Then dust the pan all over with a light coating of flour. Tap out any excess flour by inverting the pan and gently tapping. The flour will adhere to any residual butter, ensuring the cake won’t stick. Use parchment rounds or wax paper in the bottom of pans as extra insurance if desired.

Check for Doneness

Knowing when a cake is fully baked requires some finesse. While cake mix boxes usually provide basic time ranges, these can vary based on your oven and pan size. Check for doneness about 5 minutes before the minimum recommended time. Look for the cake to spring back slightly when pressed and start pulling away from the sides of the pan. Stick a toothpick into the center, it should come out with just crumbs clinging, not wet batter. Be prepared to continue baking for up to 10 minutes longer if needed. However, overbaking will result in a dry cake.

Cool Completely Before Frosting

After baking, allow the cake to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Then remove the cake from the pan and let cool completely before frosting, usually about 1 hour. The cake needs this time to settle and finish cooking internally. Frosting while the cake is still warm can make the frosting melt or get absorbed. Cooling also allows the crumb to set up so the cake slices neatly. Brushing the cake with flavored syrup while still warm ensures extra moistness.

Level the Layers

For perfectly even, level cake layers ideal for filling and stacking, use a serrated knife to carefully slice off any domed top or uneven portions. Place the cake layer top-down on your work surface. In a gentle sawing motion, slice horizontally while rotating the cake to remove just the highest spots. Avoid excessive pressure which can tear the cake. Check with a ruler and trim as needed for perfectly flat layers. This helps the filled cake sit level without sliding.

Make Flavored Simple Syrup

Brushing cake layers with flavored syrup provides invaluable moisture to combat any dryness from oven heating. It also adds delicious flavor that permeates the whole cake. Bring equal parts sugar and water to a boil, adding any extract, juice or zest to infuse flavors like almond, lemon, vanilla or coffee. Let the syrup cool before brushing onto cake layers. Sprinkle over sliced strawberries or raspberries for more fruit flavor. Syrup prevents cakes from drying out when stored for several days.

Use Buttercream or Cream Cheese Frosting

While whipped fluffy buttercream is classic, ultra-rich cream cheese frosting perfectly mimics the indulgent frosting used at bakeries. Beat together softened butter with double the amount of cream cheese (8 oz cream cheese to 4 oz butter). Flavor simply with vanilla extract and powdered sugar, or spice it up with citrus zest, nutty extracts, or melted chocolate. The cream cheese gives the frosting stability to hold decorative piping while also adding tangy flavor. Use an offset spatula to generously frost the cake for an instantly decadent dessert.

Amp Up the Frosting Flavors

Whether making buttercream or cream cheese frosting, you can easily punch up the flavors like the pros. Steep a cup of the powdered sugar with two tablespoons of loose leaf tea, instant coffee or espresso powder, or mix in spices like cinnamon or cardamom. For fruit flavors, blend in pureed berries, citrus juice/zest, or melted jam before mixing in the icing sugar. Swirl in some nutella or melted chocolate chips for a chocolate overload. Cream cheese frosting also takes well to blending in some peanut butter or chocolate hazelnut spread.

Finish with Decorations

Once your cake is artfully frosted, add some finishing touches to really elevate the presentation. Fresh berries like raspberries or strawberry slices add natural color. Toasted coconut flakes or chopped nuts offer texture and crunch. Drizzle with melted chocolate or caramel for extra decadence. Or mimic bakery roses using a piping bag fitted with a petal or star tip to pipe the frosting. Other classic decorations like fondant flowers or lettering take more skill but can be bought premade from baking supply stores.

Store Cake Properly

Bakery cakes manage to stay fresh-tasting for days thanks to proper storage. First, allow the cake to fully cool and set before covering to prevent condensation. Then wrap cooled cake well in plastic wrap or place in a covered cake carrier. The airtight seal prevents drying out. Store frosted cakes chilled but let come nearly to room temperature before serving for best flavor and texture. Finally, limit exposure to air by keeping leftovers wrapped while storing in the fridge for 3-5 days max.


While basic cake mixes offer convenience for quick baking, it’s easy to dramatically improve their flavor and texture with some simple tweaks. Using ingredients like oil, extra eggs, sour cream, and milk adds moisture for a tender crumb resembling bakery cakes. Stirring in mix-ins like chocolate, fruit, or nuts provides more interesting flavor. Taking care with mixing, pan prep, and doneness provides a light, delicate texture. Topped with rich buttercream or cream cheese frosting and garnished decoratively, your upgraded cake mix creation will have everyone thinking you spent all day in the kitchen. With the tricks in this guide, you can easily achieve from-scratch bakery quality results using a humble cake mix base.

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