- When it comes to baking with a boxed mix, it’s not always easy.
- Not letting ingredients come to room temperature can make cake dense.
- Simply adding water and eggs can be a mistake too.
- View INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
When you’re craving a cupcake but don’t feel like schlepping to a bakery or rolling up your sleeves and making a cake batter from scratch, boxed cake mix can be a great substitute. Requiring only a mixing bowl, a cake pan, and a couple of supplemental ingredients, cake mix seems like such a simple solution to your dessert-related concerns.
But, in reality, baking a cake from a mix is a surprisingly easy process to mess up. INSIDER consulted with a group of professional bakers, and they clued us in to some of the biggest mistakes home bakers make with cake mix and offered tips on how to avoid these errors.
Incorrectly measuring your liquid ingredients interferes with your cake’s texture.
Contrary to popular belief, dry measuring cups and wet measuring cups really can’t be used interchangeably. In fact, executive pastry chef Amanda Rose of Desserts First in Castro Valley, California insisted that “the biggest mistake when using cake mix is to measure your liquids incorrectly. This will result in a dry cornbread-textured cake.”
To nail your liquid-measuring technique every time, try this tip from Rose. Place your measuring cup at eye-level on a flat surface rather than looking at it from above.
“Many home bakers fill the measuring cups directly out of the faucet, which will lead to over- or under-measuring your liquids because you can’t hold [the measuring cup] completely level while doing this.”
Don’t use cold ingredients.
It can be tempting to pull ingredients like eggs, butter, and milk out of the fridge and incorporate them into the cake mix right away, but that can be a mistake. When it comes to boxed cake mix, cold ingredients can cause your final product to be dense and dry. Giving them 30 minutes to warm up a bit, according to Real Simple, can make a huge difference.
You shouldn’t always trust the cooking times on the box.
An inconvenient truth about baking is that oven temperatures can vary wildly between different models, different brands, and different appliance ages. Cake-mix boxes must put oven temperatures in their instructions, but whether or not you can actually use that exact temperature to get a correctly baked cake depends on how accurate your oven’s temperature is.
Executive pastry chef Jason Jimenez of The Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, D.C. warned that certain ovens can have “hot spots” or places where the temperature is uneven, which can result in inconsistently baked cakes.
“The tried-and-true way to tell if your cake is ready is by inserting a toothpick into the center of the cake to check for doneness. If it comes out clean, then the cake is done for sure.
“I like to pull the cake from the oven when I see a tiny bit of batter on the end of the toothpick and just before it is completely done,” Jimenez said.”This may take some practice, but the residual heat will finish the baking process outside of the oven. This will ensure a moist yet fully baked cake.”
Don’t open the oven too often.
Whether you’re using a homemade cake batter or a mix, you’re dealing with a substance that’s very sensitive to shifts in temperature. And one of the most common ways to mess up your cake’s baking process involves opening the oven door to “check on” its progress too frequently.
Former pastry chef and current Whole Foods Market chef/instructor Allison Thomas understands the inclination to keep an eye on your work, but she emphasised that you should not check on a cake until it’s done, otherwise, the temperature in the oven will drop. “
Overmixing your batter will produce an overly-dense cake.
Many amateur bakers tend to err on the side of overmixing their batters, believing that undermixing would be worse for the finished product. However, overdoing it with your stand or hand mixer can prove equally tricky. That’s why Thomas told INSIDER to “try not to overmix, as this will activate the gluten in the flour and make your cake dense.”
Most cake mixes call for water and oil as the primary wet ingredients, but this deprives you of the chance to add extra flavour and richness.
In addition to the dry blend of ingredients itself, most boxed cake mixes call for eggs, oil, and water. However, pastry chef Giancarlo Guevara of dbakers Sweet Studio in Miami, Florida questions the use of water and oil in cake mixes and recommends more flavorful alternatives.
“Most directions ask for water which is NO BUENO. If you are making a cake, you need to make it fat and yummy,” Guevara said. “Water affects the flavour since it only brings moisture. You need to add whole milk instead of water and melted butter instead of oil. The extra fat will make the cake super moist and not crumbly at all!”
Even if you’re using a boxed cake mix, avoid store-bought frostings whenever possible.
A cake made from a boxed mix generally seems like a perfect match for a store-bought, pre-made frosting … but pastry chefs like Sara Brook of Dessert Gallery in Houston, Texas think you’re better off investing a bit of extra time in making your own.
“Take an extra five minutes to whip up some powdered sugar, butter, milk, and vanilla\…no one will ever guess that the cake was made from a box! They will be so distracted by the amazing homemade frosting they won’t be thinking about the cake!” Brook said.
Don’t frost it too early either.
In baking, patience is a virtue, and that stands when it comes to the frosting as well. If you try to frost the cake too early, it can become a mess pretty quickly, according to The New York Times. Instead, wait at least two hours for it to cool down before you spread the icing. If you want to make it super neat, you can do a crumb coat of icing, pop it in the freeze, and then finish it up later much more easily.
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