April is the birthday month for both me and my husband. In fact, our birthdays are only two days apart. Well, two days and five years, which I often remind him of, as he is SOOOO much older than me. My husband is a simple man in the fact that he likes to stick to routine and basics. He is perfectly content with a small birthday celebration and a homemade cake. I, on the other hand, like to have a big bash with all my favorite people in the world gathered together. We are the poster children (or adults, if we must) for the saying, “There are two kinds of people in this world, and they get married.”
My husband’s favorite birthday cake is yellow box cake mix with chocolate frosting, which I jazz up by adding a little orange extract to the frosting and I make it for him every single year. Last year, Hubs and our boys worked together to make a birthday cake for me. It was so very thoughtful of them, but let’s just say that this year, I will go ahead and make my own. Gladly so because I do believe that I make the most delicious homemade cake in town. Well, semi-homemade anyway. I’ll share my secrets with the Scottsdale Moms readers.
Basics and Substitutions
Start off with any flavor of boxed cake mix. In my family, we like to use Duncan-Hines because most of their boxed cake mixes are dairy-free, a requirement because my oldest son has a severe dairy allergy. Sift the cake mix to make it light and fluffy. How ever many eggs the box calls for, add one more. For example, if the box calls for three eggs, use four eggs total. If you want it to be vegan, use applesauce in place of eggs using the conversion 1 egg = ¼ cup applesauce. Or to make it vegan, use one cup of applesauce instead of the four eggs. For the oil, I like to substitute the measurement with melted butter (we use a vegan butter to keep it dairy free). If I’m making a white cake, or just because I feel like it, I use coconut oil. Instead of water, I use the equal measurement of milk. It’s my preference to use either canned coconut milk or a sweetened vanilla plant-based milk. If you’re using canned coconut milk, often times the fat will solidify at the top of the can. You’ll want that to be melted so it’s all incorporated into a liquid.
Now for the extras. Add in a small package of instant pudding mix to the cake mix. Use a flavor of pudding that compliments the boxed cake mix. This is a fun way to get creative. For example, strawberry cake mix and pistachio pudding mix or banana pudding with chocolate boxed cake. The pudding mix gives it such a soft and moist texture. It’s also fun to add in an extract for flavoring. I love coconut extract added to a white boxed cake mix. Just 1 teaspoon will do. Another idea is orange extract with chocolate cake.
Don’t be afraid to explore the world of mix-ins with your cake batter. Chopped up candy bars or chocolate chips work well. The Great British Bake-Off taught me to use dried up or candied fruit cut into small pieces stays evenly distributed in the batter making Mary Berry happy. Larger dried fruit is heavy and will sink to the bottom and you’ll be sent home.
So now you have all the substitutions and extras for the boxed cake. Follow the mixing and baking directions according to the box. Wait until the cake is completely cooled off before frosting. This could take a couple hours! Trust me, it’s worth the wait so the frosting doesn’t melt and get all over the place. I also use store bought frosting but the way to jazz it up is to whip it with a hand mixer. The first time I ever did this, my mind was completely blown!
Use all these tricks or just incorporate one to level-up your boxed cake game. You will notice a huge difference. If you’re only going to do one, let it be the extra egg. That makes a huge difference in the spongy texture. Whether you are making a pan cake, layer cake, or cupcakes, this recipe works for all options. Especially in these days, we need to make any celebration as special as we possibly can. I hope these cake ideas make your cake extraordinary for whatever extraordinary celebration (or just a regular day) you make it for.