We all get by with a little help from our friends, right? Well, when it comes to me and baking cakes, that friend happens to be boxed mix. Ain’t no shame.
As much as I respect and admire the from-scratchers, the packaged stuff deserves more credit than it gets. Not only is it easy to spruce up a basic batch with some simple tricks of the trade—sub in another liquid for water (milk, coffee, dairy), opt for butter instead of vegetable oil (duh), add in extra accent flavorings—but also, it offers an easy, reliable blank canvas of sorts for building myriad elaborate baked creations. Below are some of my favorite ways to make the most out of basic boxed cake mix, including everything from cakes (of course) to breakfast pastries, cookies, and even ice cream.
Your nonna may not necessarily approve of skipping some steps in the name of convenience, but this tiramisu-inspired cake definitely gets points for style and substance. Layers of boxed vanilla cake soaked in espresso and cognac create the structure for this elaborate confection covered in tangy mascarpone frosting and decorated with shaved chocolate and chocolate-covered espresso beans. Get the recipe.
Making a wow-worthy dessert from box mixed doesn’t always have to mean pulling a rabbit out of the hat, transforming it into something completely new and different and unexpected. Sometimes the trick is as simple as giving the cake a gussied-up interior and nice paint job. Take this carrot cake for example. Drab yellow cake mix is given new life with the addition of grated carrots, raisins, crushed pineapple, cinnamon, and walnut; and finger-lickin’-good brown sugar frosting creates a tasty base coat on which to add buttercream carrot decoys. Get the recipe.
Two-for-one is the best kind of special. Especially, as is the case here, when it means that you get two favorite, iconic cakes together under the same roof. In an ingenious, how-did-I-not-think-of-this-first move, red velvet cake mix is used to create two spongy layers that will encase a center of rich, creamy cheesecake. Cream cheese frosting, chopped pecans, and red velvet crumble complete the look. Get the recipe.
Brace yourselves, boxed pound cake mix just took Twinkies to the next level. The iconic Hostess treat is created here as a large format bundt cake, stuffed with the requisite marshmallow filling down the center, and powdered sugar sprinkled on top. Perfect for kid-at-heart “grown ups.” Get the recipe.
Opting for boxed angel food cake saves you from that whole chore of having to separate the whites from the yolks. This way instead you get to save all your energy for the tricky, delicate act of rolling that sheet cake around those fresh berries and cream without making a mess. Get the recipe.
Turns out boxed cake mix likes piña coladas too. In this creative spin on the classic poke cake formula, basic vanilla cake gets the rum-spiked tropical cocktail treatment. Throw in some sweetened condensed milk to soften the boozy sponge, top it with chopped pineapple, shredded coconut, whipped cream, and a cherry for good measure, and you’ve got yourself something that’s a pretty close second to the real deal. Get the recipe.
Inspired by the famous Chili’s dessert, a surprise oozy hot fudge center helps turn basic chocolate cake mix into a dinner party showpiece. Get the recipe.
Don’t let the name fool you, this semi-homemade showstopper is making the most of its humble roots. Starring simple boxed vanilla cake mix, this charming dessert also calls on other childhood favorites strawberry Jell-O and Cool Whip for the jelly glaze and cream layers respectively. Get the recipe.
The contrarian in me loves everything about the fact that in this topsy-turvy world, you can have your cake mix and eat your cookies too. Like, all kinds of different cookies: Four-ingredient lemon crinkle cookies for the in-a-rush baker, jam-filled thumbprint cookies, crunchy biscotti, chocolate chip cookie bars, you name it. But if you really want to show off cake mix’s cookie swagger, try this decadent variety featuring chocolate cake, chocolate chips, salted caramel sauce, and pretzels. Because more is more, right? Get the recipe.
You know what never fails to impress? Serving cake for breakfast. Your medium: Cinnamon rolls. Of course, you could keep it classic with cinnamon sugar and frosting, or if you’re feeling a little more creative, get cutesy with funfetti-style sprinkles, or even tug at the heartstrings with a red velvet variety. But since fall is just around the corner, why not tip your hat to the season with this variety featuring pumpkin cake mix, pumpkin puree filling, and maple syrup glaze. Get the recipe.
The classic citrus pie gets a mini-fied makeover here, with graham cracker-spiked yellow cake mix substituting for the traditional crust. The individual little cookies are then paired up to sandwich a hearty dollop of key lime zest and juice-infused cream cheese frosting. Because poppable pie bites are more reasonable than a whole slice, right? Get the recipe.
If your vote is for Team Cake in the Cake vs. Yeast doughnuts debate, then you definitely need to try this clever cake mix hack. Here, basic chocolate cake is used as the base for—and I’m sorry to have to use this word—moist donuts that are then topped with vanilla glaze, chocolate sprinkles, and crushed Oreos. Get the recipe.
“Cake” is already in the name so why shouldn’t you sub cake batter for pancake batter tomorrow morning? Just about any flavor will work, but these sprinkle-flecked stacks really get the festive point across. (P.S. the technique works great with waffles too.) Get the recipe.
Rice Krispies treats drift over to the dark side here, flavored with rich Devil’s Food cake mix, studded with mini marshmallows, and slathered with dark chocolate frosting. Get the recipe.
Don’t even try to lie, licking the leftover batter from the mixing bowl is everyone’s favorite part of baking. It’s as, if not more, satisfying than cutting that first slice and taking a bite. So why not just skip the whole baking part, and instead use that batter as the base for an equally sinfully satisfying ice cream? (Milkshakes also fit the bill here too.) Get the recipe.
Head image courtesy of Catz In The Kitchen.