Upgrade Your Boxed Cake Mix With These Simple Ingredient Swaps And Hacks

Cake mix sometimes gets a bad rap, but there are a lot of reasons why people use it. It's easy, inexpensive, and quick to pull together. After all, you only need a few ingredients, usually oil, water, and eggs. Baking, even with a boxed cake mix, is a science, and each ingredient plays a specific role in the cake. Water and oil add moisture and texture, while eggs bind the ingredients together and help the cake rise.


While most cake mixes require the same ingredients for a reason, sometimes you need to step out of the box (no pun intended). Maybe you're serving the cake to someone with an egg allergy, maybe you're all out of vegetable oil, or maybe you just want to elevate your dessert beyond a typical boxed cake. Luckily, there are several ways to swap or add ingredients to upgrade your boxed cake mix to the next level.

Swap the water for milk

One of the best swaps you can make when using a boxed cake mix is to use milk instead of water. The fat in the milk creates a denser, more flavorful cake compared to a cake made with water. When swapping water for milk, you'll use the same amount of milk as you would water; for example, if your cake mix calls for 1 cup of water, you'll use 1 cup of milk instead. Just make sure to choose a milk with a higher fat content, like whole milk, as opposed to skim.


To take your cake to a whole new level, use buttermilk or chocolate milk. Buttermilk has a higher fat content than regular milk, making for an even richer cake. Chocolate milk, of course, will add a more chocolatey flavor. In both cases, use the same amount of milk as you would water. You can even try adding melted ice cream to your boxed cake mix in place of the water and oil.

Swap the eggs for yogurt

The primary role of eggs in cake mix is to act as an emulsifier, which means that they act to bind all the ingredients together. Luckily, if using eggs isn't an option, there are several other ingredients that work as emulsifiers in their place. One common option is to use yogurt instead of eggs. Yogurt is a great swap for eggs because both yogurt and eggs contain a bit of fat, so you won't lose that by using yogurt.


Use ¼ cup of yogurt for each egg needed. Plain yogurt is best; flavored yogurt can change the taste of your recipe and usually has added sugars. However, if you've got the time, there's no harm in playing around with different flavors to see what works best. In some cases, swapping the yogurt for eggs can make the cake too fluffy, so to adjust for texture, try adding ¼ cup of flour to the mix as well.

Add sour cream or yogurt

Yogurt works great as an egg swap, but you can also add it to your cake mix even if you're still using eggs. Using yogurt or sour cream can make box cake mix richer. Because yogurt and sour cream have extra fat in them, they'll help make your cake more tender and moist. The tanginess from these creamy add-ins also enhances the flavor, making your cake even more decadent.


Full-fat sour cream will make the biggest difference, but if you're using yogurt, opt for an unflavored Greek yogurt for the best results. You can add the sour cream or yogurt on its own, or use it to substitute for the liquid in the recipe. You can play around with it a little too; for example, if your cake mix calls for 1 cup of liquid, try ½ cup of sour cream and ½ cup of liquid. If you want to add the sour cream or yogurt but keep all other ingredients the same, start with ½ cup of sour cream or yogurt per boxed mix and adjust as necessary.

Swap the water for juice

Want a fruit-flavored cake but don't see the mix for it at the store? Purchase a regular vanilla mix and give it a fruity twist with juice. The water in cake mix can be swapped for nearly anything, and that includes fruit juice. Make a fall fest cake using apple juice or cider, or celebrate summer with something citrusy like pineapple or orange. There are dozens of types of fruit juice, and swapping the water out for juice gives you the chance to experiment with flavor.


When using juice in place of water, you'll use the same amount of juice as you would for the water. Keep in mind, however, that juice often has added sugar and may ramp up the sweetness in your cake. If possible, try to use juice without a lot of added sugar, or consider adjusting the sweetness of your frosting. Choosing a juice without pulp will also help keep the texture consistent.

Swap the eggs for banana

We already discussed how eggs can be swapped out for yogurt, but what if someone has a dairy allergy or is vegan? In that case, you can substitute mashed bananas for eggs. When used in a cake mix, bananas do the same job of binding the ingredients together that the eggs do. And, although bananas don't have nearly the same amount of protein that eggs do, they're high in key vitamins and minerals like vitamin B6, vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium.


General advice says to use anywhere from a half to a whole banana, but to be more exact, ¼ cup of mashed banana can substitute for one egg. Try to choose a ripe banana that's just starting to get brown spots as these will be easier to mash. Unripe bananas don't mash well, and overly ripe bananas, those that are very brown, will add too much moisture to the mixture.

Add citrus zest

If you aren't comfortable switching out the water for juice, but still want a fruity twist to your cake, try adding a little citrus zest to your boxed cake mix. Zest is made by scraping or cutting the rind of citrus fruits like lemons, limes, and oranges. It's a great option for adding a burst of flavor to your cake mix, especially vanilla, yellow, and angel food cakes.


Citrus zesters are made specifically for zesting fruits, but you can also zest your citrus with vegetable peelers or a paring knife. To use the zest in your cake mix, it helps to chop it into small, fine pieces instead of using large strips. You can also buy dried citrus zest at some stores, although the flavor won't be quite as punchy. A tablespoon of zest is usually all you need for your boxed cake mix, but you can adjust the amount based on your preferences.

Swap the water for coffee

Another option to create a decadent, flavorful cake is to swap the water for coffee. This works best for chocolate cake mix, as the flavors complement each other beautifully, but this swap can be used with vanilla cake as well. You can use the same amount of coffee as you would water, or, to create a milder coffee flavor, use half the water called for in the recipe and replace the other half with coffee.


Regular coffee, either leftover or freshly brewed, works great for this hack. You can also add a rich coffee flavor to your cake by mixing in a tablespoon of dry instant coffee, a teaspoon of espresso powder, or even adding a shot or two of espresso into the mix. Just keep in mind that if you're serving the cake to others, some may have a coffee sensitivity and it's best to let them know the cake has caffeine in it.

Add instant pudding

Instant pudding is a great way to amp up the moisture in your cake. In fact, it's such a great ingredient that some cake mixes come with instant pudding already in the mix. The pudding creates a rich flavor and texture that makes your cake taste like it was made completely from scratch. As a bonus, instant pudding comes in a variety of flavors, allowing you to customize your cake.


You can choose an instant pudding that is the same flavor as the cake you're making, like a chocolate pudding for a chocolate cake, or mix and match some flavors, like using lemon pudding in a vanilla cake mix. Simply add the pudding mix to the batter at the same time you add the cake mix. If you find that the additional powder makes the batter a little dry, add just a little more liquid. The pudding will absorb the liquid, making the cake moist and delectable.

Swap the eggs for applesauce

Applesauce is a typically dairy-free, vegan alternative to using eggs in a boxed cake mix. It works as a binder to hold all the ingredients together the same way eggs do. Additionally, the taste is generally mild so you can use it even in chocolate cake mixes, although you may still taste it in some cakes.


To swap eggs for applesauce, replace each egg required for the boxed cake mix with ¼ cup of unsweetened apple sauce (sweetened applesauce has added sugar and will make your cake far too sweet). Some also recommend adding ½ teaspoon of baking powder to the dry ingredients to prevent the cake from becoming too dense. It's important to note that this hack doesn't work as well for mixes that require more than three eggs, as it will end up changing the texture of the final product.

Swap the oil for applesauce

Applesauce isn't just a great substitute for eggs; it's also an excellent substitute for oil. This is an excellent choice if you want a cake with fewer calories and less fat, as apple sauce has over 1,800 fewer calories per cup than vegetable oil. It also adds vitamins and minerals and creates a denser, softer cake. Because the taste of applesauce is mild, it won't overpower your other flavors; in fact, you may not taste the applesauce at all.


When swapping the oil for applesauce, you'll use the same amount of applesauce as the amount of oil required by the boxed cake mix. So, if your mix calls for ½ cup of oil, use ½ cup of applesauce instead. You can even take things a step further and swap out both the oil and the eggs for applesauce, the chef-approved trick to boost boxed cake mix.

Add an extra egg

If you want to really step up your boxed cake mix game, treat yourself by adding an extra egg. This simple step is a total game-changer that professionals swear by. Because the egg in boxed cake mix acts as an emulsifier, adding one more helps the mix hold on to moisture better, creating a dewy and dense cake. The extra egg also helps with the structure, making the cake easier to stack and less likely to fall apart as you decorate. You can even add just an extra egg white to make your cake fluffier.


Adding an extra egg to your cake is a great way to make boxed cake mix taste homemade, but don't go crazy. Because eggs help hold moisture, adding too many extra eggs will make your cake too heavy and it may not rise properly. It will also affect the texture, making it more like a custard than a cake.

Swap the water for alcohol

Swapping out the water in a boxed cake mix for alcohol is a great way to infuse alcohol into your cake for a fun, boozy flavor. You have a variety of options here depending on what you're looking for with the flavor, from whiskey to rum to vodka to champagne to beer and more.


It's important to note that this substitution is a little trickier than other water substitutions because each alcohol is different, and it's not always an equal 1:1 swap. Alcohol evaporates faster than water, but you also don't want to overpower your cake with the taste of alcohol. For stronger spirits, you can add a teaspoon to the batter for a hint of flavor. If you want to completely switch the water for alcohol, you can swap 1 cup of water for 3/4 cup vodka, 1 cup of water for 1 cup of rum or whiskey plus 1/4 cup of milk or buttermilk for moisture, or 1 cup of water for 1 cup of beer or champagne. 

Like with swapping water for coffee, if you swap the water for alcohol and plan to serve it to guests, let them know ahead of time. Alcohol can be a polarizing ingredient, and some people prefer or need to abstain from it, even in foods.


Add an extract

One of the easiest ways to boost the flavor of boxed cake mix is to add a little extract. A flavor extract is a liquid that holds the taste of something, and the most common one used in baking is vanilla. However, there are a variety of extracts available, including almond, lemon, peppermint, and orange, and all of them can be used to add a little something extra to your cake.


Usually, a teaspoon of extract is all you need for your boxed cake mix. Flavor extracts are strong, and any more will likely overpower your cake. Using extracts gives you the opportunity to play around with flavors a little bit and create new combinations, like peppermint in a chocolate cake or coconut and banana in a white cake. Of course, a little vanilla extract can be used in almost any type of boxed cake mix, including chocolate, to pump up the flavor.

Swap the water for carbonation

Looking for a water swap that makes box cake mix extra fluffy? Look no further than carbonated water, sparkling water, or seltzer water. The extra bubbles cause the cake to rise more while baking, creating a lighter texture than you would get by using bubble-free water. This is another 1:1 swap, meaning you'll use the same amount of carbonated, sparkling, or seltzer water as you would regular water for your boxed cake mix.


To boost the flavor of your cake, you can use flavored carbonated water, like strawberry or lemon water, or even soda. Adding dark sodas like Coca-Cola to chocolate cake is a hack that's been around for decades, but you can experiment with other combinations like root beer in spice cake, Mountain Dew in lemon cake, Dr. Pepper in red velvet cake, citrus soda in a vanilla cake, or strawberry soda in strawberry cake.

Add homemade filling or frosting

If you're already shopping for a boxed cake mix, it's easy to grab a tub of canned frosting to go along with it. But if you're really looking to wow, consider making your own filling or frosting instead. There are several different types of frosting, and many, like classic buttercream, are super simple to make but will really elevate your boxed cake mix.


Making your filling or frosting from scratch also allows you to control the taste and flavor so you can choose an option that coordinates with your cake. You have the option to tone down the sugar for a super-sweet cake or create irresistible flavor combinations like using this 3-ingredient peanut butter frosting recipe on rich chocolate cupcakes or topping a classic red velvet cake with this easy cream cheese frosting. You can also use a unique cake filling that pairs with your other flavor choices.

Swap the vegetable oil for another fat

If you want to fool everyone into thinking your boxed mix cake is homemade, swap the vegetable oil for another type of fat. Your boxed cake mix will taste like heaven when you make this simple swap. Vegetable oil is the go-to oil because it has a pretty neutral taste, but changing up the oil you use can not only enhance the taste of your cake but the texture as well.


Many professional and at-home bakers swear by swapping out the vegetable oil in a boxed cake mix for butter. To do this, you'll use the same amount of butter as you would oil, but melt the butter and let it cool before adding it to the batter. Using butter creates a creamy, rich taste and a tender, moist crumb.

But butter isn't your only option. There are a variety of oils and fats you can play around with to elevate your boxed cake mix, including canola oil, melted coconut oil, and avocado oil. You can also substitute olive oil, but keep in mind that olive oil has a unique flavor that may or may not work well in your cake mix.