Simple Ways to Wake Up a Cake Mix

If I didn’t know better I’d swear that boxed cake mixes reproduce in the dark of night on the shelves of my pantry. One day I counted 18 boxes of cake mix.

Chocolate Cake

Here’s how that works: Cake mixes go on sale routinely. One week it will be Duncan Hines, then Pillsbury takes its turn and so on. The typical sale price for a cake mix is typically $1.50 or less. I hold onto my cake mix coupons until that particular brand goes on sale. With a $.75 or even $1 off coupon, rarely do I pay more than $.50 for a cake mix.

The challenge for me has been to find better ways to make a boxed cake mix taste homemade. 

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photo credit: BakedBree

Check these quick hits plus five of my favorite recipes that use a cake mix as one of the ingredients:

Forget the water. Use whole milk (or even buttermilk) in place of the water called for in the package instructions.

Devil’s food. Any kind of a chocolate mix will really perk up and take on that wonderful homemade taste when you use strong brewed coffee in place of the water, and toss in a handful of chocolate chips, too.

Counteract the sweet. Cake mixes are very sweet with a distinctive “cake mix” taste. Adding 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 or 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice to any white or yellow cake will counterbalance the sweetness and hide the tell tale taste of the mix.

Butter is better. Instead of the oil called for in the box mix instructions, substitute with melted butter.

And now for some of my favorite recipes that use a box mix as an ingredient to make all kinds of yummy desserts:

Cake Mix Cookies

  • 1 18.25 ounces yellow cake mix
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven go 350 F. Dump cake mix into a large bowl. Stir in the oil and eggs until well blended (go ahead, use your clean hands). Mix in the chips. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls or roll into balls the size of walnuts and place 2 inches apart onto a greased cookie sheet and flatten just a bit with your fingers. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Do not over bake. Remove from pan to cool on wire racks. Yield: About 2 dozen 2-inch cookies.

Because there are so many different kinds of cake mixes (with pudding, with double pudding, extra moist and so on), you may need to make slight adjustments to this recipe. For example, I’ve found that with some varieties of mix the dough is so stiff and dry it’s not possible to form the cookies into balls. When this happens I simply add one or two tablespoons of water until the dough is workable.

If you want to cut down on fat, try substituting 1/2 cup applesauce for the oil.

Variations: You can use just about any combination of cake mix and chips. Example: Carrot cake mix with white chocolate chips; chocolate cake mix with peanut butter chips; devils food cake mix with toffee bits chips; German chocolate cake mix with pecans and coconut; white cake mix with crushed pineapple (drained) and coconut.

By the way, if you need lots of cookies in a hurry, this recipe multiplies well. Just start with two cake mixes and double the additions.

A tip on storing Cake Mix Cookies. Depending on the type of cake mix you use, these cookies may dry out after two days. To prevent this store them in an airtight container with a piece of bread. I don’t know why, but for some reason this keeps the cookies just as fresh and moist as can be.

Banana Pudding Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 3.5-ounce banana instant dry pudding
  • 1 18.25-ounce spice cake mix
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 bananas, mashed
  • 1 16-ounce can white frosting or powdered sugar, to garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix milk and pudding together until pudding gets thick. Add cake mix, oil and eggs to the pudding mixture and beat with electric mixer until fully incorporated. Stir in mashed bananas.

Pour batter in a greased tube or Bundt cake pan. Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Invert hot cake onto a platter. When cake has cooled, spread white frosting or sift powdered sugar over cake. Serves: 8-10.

Melted Ice Cream Cake

  • 1 18.25-ounce white cake mix
  • 2 cups melted ice cream, any flavor
  • 3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly mist a Bundt pan with vegetable oil spray then dust with flour. Shake out the excess flour. Set the pan aside.

Place the cake mix, melted ice cream, and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Mix with electric mixer on low speed for one minute, scrape sides of bowl and then beat another two minutes on medium speed. Pour into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with the rubber spatula.

Bake in the preheated oven until the cake springs back when lightly pressed with your finger, 38 to 42 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes. Run a long, sharp knife around the edge of the cake and invert it onto a small rack, then invert it again onto a second rack so that the cake is right side. Cool for 30 minutes longer. Frost with your favorite icing or dust with powdered sugar. Serves 8-10.

Pecan Pie Bars

  • 1 18.25-ounce yellow cake mix
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups dark corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9×13 inch pan. Reserve 2/3 cup cake mix. Mix together remaining cake mix, butter, and 1 egg. Pat in prepared pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Beat together 3 eggs, vanilla, reserved 2/3 cup cake mix, corn syrup and brown sugar. Pour on cake in pan. Sprinkle pecans on top. Bake for 30-35 minutes longer. Yield: 24 bars.

Dump Cake

  • 1 18.25-ounce yellow cake mix
  • 1 15-ounce can crushed pineapple
  • 1 16.5-ounce can pitted dark sweet cherries
  • 1/2 cup butter, cold and diced

Preheat oven to 350 F. Dump pineapple and cherries into a 9×13 inch greased and floured baking pan and mix together with a fork. Top with dry cake mix. Evenly distribute diced butter over mix.

Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes or until brown and bubbling. Remove and serve warm or cold. Serves: 8.

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  • May Hauer-Simmonds

    thanks a lot! amazing ideas!

  • Alaskan girl

    I made the dump cake but it left square marks where the pats of butter were laid. Yesterday I saw a recipe where you melt the butter, stir it into the cake mix and put the crumbles over the fruit. I’m going to try it. Thanks for the good recipes!!

  • guest123

    something i really like is bread pudding or custard…

  • kathyw

    I don’t care how little cake mixes cost; just look at the list of artificial, unpronounceable ingredients they contain, as well as hydrogenated oils which are really bad for you. Best for your health to bake from scratch….it’s not that difficult!

  • bev

    I work full time on our farm, and feed 3-5 people for lunch every day. Everyday this winter: homemade soup, our own farm raised beef sandwiches, fresh fruit or fresh salad, and warm cookies fresh from the oven every day. So I use cake mix to quickly make a batch of cookies. Usually I bake half, put half in the refrigerator, and bake the other half the next day. For variety and moisture I add: 1/4 c. pumpkin, chopped up leftover chocolate from Christmas, Easter, Halloween; chopped peppermint candy, nuts of course, cinnamon, quick oatmeal. I have noticed that different mixes range in weight 2-3 oz. If someone has a homemade recipe that I can refrigerate OR from scratch dry recipe that I can make ahead, please share.
    For you nonfarm folks. We just started having baby calves so we check our cows every 2-3 hours. My husband and I rotate checking all night long. Half of our herd births in March, so they are mature enough to sell in April the next year as breeding bulls. I have a cute photo of a baby calf in the back of our 6-wheel drive john deere gator I would share but don’t know how.
    THANKS always Mary.

    • Ann

      I have found that you can make most drop cookie recipes (chocolate chip, ginger snap, oatmeal, etc) and freeze it until baking. Just roll the dough into the size balls you want. Put in a freezer container with a piece of wax paper between layers. Each time you pull out as many as you need and bake as usual, maybe add 1 minute onto the baking time. Instead of freezing, you can put the dough balls into a container in the fridge. I’d use them up with in a week in that case. I’ve read a study done by Cooks magazine that chocolate chip cookies actually taste even better if the dough rests in the frig for at least a day.

    • Bev

      Thanks Ann. I like Cooks magazine.