I love cake but mostly because it’s a vehicle for buttercream frosting! I am deadly serious and I am not alone. Not by a long shot! The frosting is the point, ask anyone under 10. And it’s one of the reasons why I tend to favour cupcakes. I also love cupcakes because you don’t have to cut a piece and get a plate and a fork. They are single serving, so you don’t have to worry about if you cut the piece too big or too small. Plus cupcakes remind us of those childhood parties where we had to wait to stuff ourselves with brightly coloured cake that we can hold in our hands.
Whipping out a dozen cupcakes is practically a reflex for me. Making cake from scratch is pretty quick and easy, so that’s what I usually do. But there are some days I just can’t bear the idea of making a mess with measuring cups and spoons. Dealing with bowls and beaters just feels hard. Way too hard but I can almost taste that pile of buttercream. Sometimes want to be lazy. So lazy, sloth like, wishing there was a cupcake delivery service that would send me a cupcake, in fact like this cupcake ATM. But I know it wouldn’t taste good. Shop cake is gross and the icing even more gross (I mean supermarket not bakery). Even though it’s frosting I want, I still want to the cake to taste good and be lazy. Can we do it?
Enter the box or packet cake mix! Yeah, yeah, I hear you – it’s not homemade. But you can make it taste homemade? There are heaps of tips like this flinging themselves around the internet but I’m not down with those tips. Doubling the eggs? Omelette cake is what you will get, not richness. Butter instead of oil? Yep, that will add flavour but unless you double the original quantity, it will be dry and awful. Because oil is all fat and butter is approx. 75% fat and the rest is milk solids. If you want to go messing with the science of baking, you need to know how things will react or you’re going to have a bad time. There are acidity regulators in a box mix that stop the baking powder, which is two step, from entering its first process too early. Acidity will change how and when the bubbles of air form in your cake. We are going to use sour cream to hit that acidity and start the first process.
Packet cake mixes are designed to be fairly fool proof, so that they are pretty consistent, regardless of variables like how big the eggs are or if you use no fat or full fat milk. Box mixes are designed for beginner cooks and seasoned pro’s alike. In fact you may be surprised to know that many cake decorators, the kind that do wedding cakes and other highly decorated cakes use box mixes for the cakes they sell. Why? Box mixes are very predictable, even in high or low humidity and altitude (which makes a huge difference BTW) and they are easily customisable. Even from scratch bakeries tend to offer only vanilla, chocolate and a sponge. So let’s hack this!
Here in Australia, I know a lot of people are partial to the Coles vanilla or chocolate cake mixes (in the soft packet) because it’s pretty good and at only .75c a packet, it’s a bargain! As I say, it’s pretty good, it can be a little dry but we are going to fix that with a few little changes…
The original package calls for you to add:
- 2/3 cup of milk
- 2 eggs
- 40g softened butter
To make it taste homemade, instead of what it called for I added:
- 2/3 cup light sour cream – This will add richness and create a tender crumb, lots of chemistry here but trust me. Light sour cream or full fat, your call but I think light is better.
- 2 eggs
- 50g melted butter – A little extra richness but also because the block of butter has markings at 50g increments & I am being lazy
- 1 tblsp unflavored vegetable oil – This will add the moisture the mix lacks
- 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste – For full bodied flavour but you could sub this for a whole teaspoon of any flavour you like, maybe lemon, orange or strawberry essence.
- OR 2 tblsp cocoa powder & 1 tblsp strong black coffee – If you you are using the chocolate cake mix and want it to be a richer chocolate flavour
I’ll be honest, not only did I tweak the ingredients, I didn’t follow the instructions to beat the mix with electric beaters either! I just dumped everything into a bowl and whisked it together. As I’ve said this is meant to be a foolproof cake! Just beat until there are no dry lumps. If you are making a full sized cake, pour the lot into a greased and lined 20cm or 8” round tin and cook as directed on the pack. Since I wanted cupcakes, I lined a 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners and divided the mix evenly between them. I reduced the cooking time to 17 mins, which was perfect for cupcakes. They didn’t brown much but are fully cooked. I find that packet mixes dome more in the centre, be they whole cakes or cupcakes, made as directed or hacked. Just saying, in case it affects your decorating choices.
I have tested these cupcakes on family. I made a homemade batch and a hacked cake mix batch. I told them one was a packet and to guess. No one could tell the difference and not one person said that they thought it was packet. So wins all the way round! Time saved and of course, you read my intro, I covered them in lashings of buttercream. Which cats apparently love, even thought they don’t taste sweet. Never trust a cat with a cupcake or this might happen…
The homemade icing is the kicker! People are in homemade frosting heaven and if the cake is good, they’ll never suspect your sneaky shortcut! My usual buttercream recipe is always the go to but I have so many flavour variations if you look through my other cakes and cupcakes. And here’s a fun baking fact – frosting and icing are actually different things, even though the words are often used interchangeably. Frosting is a thicker, fluffier sweet topping such as butercream and icing is more of a thin glaze like lemon drizzle cake. Now you know! If you are not into the faff of piping icing but still want a cute cupcake, stay tuned to see the unbelievably easy way I iced the sprinkle cupcakes….No piping bag and done in a few minutes! Yes, you can be that fancy when you bake for the school bake sale or that fun party or just because you want to eat frosting – I won’t tell anyone xxxx