A Few of My Favorite Things

Let Them Eat Cake

 

Part Two

 

In my circle of family and friends, we have several birthdays in August.  My nephew, my boyfriend, a coworker, a couple of friends, mine and even my late husband’s birthday (yes, I still celebrate it) are all in this month.  I decided to take the column this month and turn it into a series on cake.  Each week will focus on a different part of a cake from the cake itself, to the filling, to the icing used to cover it.  

While I do like to cook, baking is my true passion.  I love making cakes and other sweet treats.  I love experimenting with new recipes and the people I work with are willing guinea pigs.  This is one subject for which I have plenty of content so this month will be easy to write.  The difficult part will be picking which recipes to use!

This week I am still going to talk cake.  Last week, I did cakes from scratch.  This week, I am going to use cake mix, but give it some extras to turn an ordinary cake into a real treat.

If you want to turn that plain cake into something that tastes more like from scratch, there are some things you can do right from the start that will change the texture and taste of the mix.  These are just a few tips you can easily do that will have your guests gushing about your cake.

Most cake mixes call for water, oil, and 3 eggs, but nothing else.  Most from scratch cakes call for butter instead of oil and milk instead of water.  The water can be replaced straight across for milk with no problems.  Softened or even melted butter can be used in place of the oil.  Butter has far more flavor than oil.  Trading out these two ingredients alone will make the cake taste more homemade.  

Adding eggs will completely change the cake as well.  Boxed cake mixes tend to be super light in consistency.  If you prefer your cake this way, please do not add any more eggs other than what the box calls for.  Adding even just one egg more than called for on the box will provide a richer texture that will thicken the cake and make it seem more like a cake made from scratch.  You can experiment and add more eggs, but be careful.  If the cake is rubbery, you’ve gone too far.  Personally, I have not added more than two eggs to a box mix.

You can also add extras to the cake mix.  I always add 2 tsps of pure vanilla extract or the vanilla bean paste I mention so much.  These two are interchangeable and you can easily substitute 1 tsp paste for 1 tsp extract, but the paste has more flavor so it requires less to give it the taste of vanilla.  This will enhance the flavor a great deal.  But you don’t have to stick to vanilla extract.  Try lemon, orange juice or coffee granules to give it a different taste.  Do you like nuts?  Don’t be afraid to toss a handful of chopped pecans or walnuts into any cake.

One more thing, when icing a cake, I encourage you to never use a tub of icing from the store.  Icing is simple to make (I will provide some recipes in a couple of weeks).  Homemade icing is so much better than that stuff you can buy and it will make a difference in the finished product.  I also know several people who eat their cake without icing.  Don’t be afraid to leave it plain or use something else entirely.  Try a light dusting of powdered sugar, cocoa powder or cinnamon sugar on top.  Pair the cake with fresh fruit and whipped cream for a light treat.  Melt some Nutella with a little chocolate and spread it over the cake.  Leave it un-topped until serving and then use jam, honey or melted marshmallow on individual servings.  These are just suggestions.  Check your pantry and experiment a little.  Come up with your own topping.  Cake is a great medium for experimenting!

Also, I have left the recipes below as they are listed, but feel free to substitute as suggested above.  I do it regularly!  Now that you have some basic tips to upgrade that cake mix, dig out the mixer and let’s bake!  

 

Strawberry Daiquiri Cake

This cake is nonalcoholic so feel free to share with everyone!

1 box white cake mix (I use Betty Crocker as my go to cake mix)

¾ cup bottled strawberry-flavored nonalcoholic margarita drink mix

½ cup milk or water

Vegetable oil and eggs as called for on the box

Preheat oven to 350°.  Line 9x13 inch cake pan with parchment paper or spray pan with cooking spray.  Add just enough water or milk to the drink mix to measure 1 ¼ cup.  In large bowl, beat cake mix, drink mix, oil and egg with electric mixer on low speed 2 minutes, scraping sides of the bowl occasionally.  Once you stop the mixer, fold up from the bottom to ensure it is well mixed.  Pour into pan.  Bake for 25-27 minutes or until toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes.  Remove from pan and cool on wire rack until completely cool.  Top with whipped topping.  Garnish with thin lime slices and strawberry slices as desired.  Store covered in refrigerator. 

Recipe adapted from bettycrocker.com

 

Tres Leche Cake

1 yellow cake mix

1 ¼ cup water—I do not usually replace in this recipe as there is already added milk.

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

2 tsps vanilla bean paste

4 eggs

1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk

1 cup whole milk

1 cup whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350°.  Spray 9x13 pan with cooking spray.  In large bowl, beat cake mix, water, oil, vanilla bean paste and eggs on low for 30 seconds.  Increase speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally.  Once you stop the mixer, fold up from the bottom of the bowl to ensure it is all well mixed.  Pour into pan.  Bake 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean and the cake is golden.  Let stand 5 minutes.  With a long tined fork or the end of a wooden spoon, poke top of hot cake every ½ inch, wipe spoon or fork as needed to minimize sticking.  In medium bowl, stir together condensed milk, whole milk and whipping cream.  Carefully pour evenly over top of cake.  Let sit for an additional 10 minutes.  Cover and refrigerate cake until milk is all absorbed into the cake.  This will take about 1 ½ to 2 hours.  I usually refrigerate mine overnight for better flavor though.  Top with whipped frosting or whipped topping and garnish with fresh fruit as desired.

Recipe from Betty Crocker Fix it with a Mix cookbook.

 

Snickerdoodle Poke Cake

1 box yellow cake mix

1 cup water or milk 

½ cup vegetable oil 

3 eggs

2 tsp vanilla bean paste

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 ½ cups sweetened condensed milk (from two 14-oz cans)

Preheat oven to 350°.  Spray 9x13 pan with cooking spray.  In large bowl, beat cake mix, water, oil, eggs, vanilla and cinnamon with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Pour into baking dish.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool about 5 minutes.  Use long tined fork or end of a wooden spoon to make holes in cake about 1 inch apart, pressing all the way down to bottom of pan. Pour condensed milk over cake, using spatula to spread it over surface and encourage it down the holes.  Cool for another 15 minutes.  Cover and refrigerate until completely cool.  Top with whipped topping or whipped icing.  Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar before serving.

Recipe from bettycrocker.com

 

Cherry Mini Cakes

1 box white cake mix

1 0.14 oz package cherry flavored unsweetened drink mix (I use Kool-Aid)

1 ¼ cups water

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp almond extract

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

3 eggs

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Grease bottoms only of mini muffin cups.  You can also use liners, but if you do a glaze on this mini cake, you won’t want it in the liner. After baking, this can be removed though.  In large bowl, beat all ingredients with electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds.  Increase speed to medium and beat 2 minutes, scraping down the sides occasionally.  Once you stop the mixer, fold from the bottom to ensure it is well mixed.  Fill the mini muffin cups half full.  If you only have one pan to use, refrigerate the batter while baking.  Bake 10-13 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in pan.  Remove cakes from pan and place on cooling rack to cool completely.  If needing to bake another batch, make sure all crumbs are out of the pan or it will cause the second batch to stick.  Grease the pan again and fill again as necessary to use all the batter. This mix will make approximately 60 mini cakes.  Top with a glaze or just a small drop of icing.  These are super cute for Valentine’s Day decorated with little candy hearts! Also, you can easily use a different flavor Kool-Aid to come up with a different flavor cake.  I like to use Black Cherry for this recipe.  Take your favorite Kool-Aid and mix it up!

Recipe adapted from Betty Crocker Fix it with a Mix cookbook.

 

Chocolate Chai Latte Cake

1 box devil’s food cake mix

1 1/3 cup water

¼ cup chai latte flavored instant coffee mix

½ cup vegetable oil

3 eggs

1 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°.  Line 9x13 pan with parchment paper or spray pan with cooking spray.  In large bowl, beat cake mix, latte mix, water, oil and eggs with electric mixer on low for 30 seconds. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping down the sides occasionally.  Once the mixer has stopped, fold from the bottom of the bowl to ensure it is well mixed.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Pour into prepared pan.  Bake 32-39 minutes or until toothpick inserted in middle of cake comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes in pan.  Remove from pan and cool on wire rack until completely cool.  Frost with latte icing and garnish with ground cinnamon as desired.  

Recipe from Betty Crocker Fix it with a Mix cookbook.

NOTE: All cakes should be refrigerated to prolong shelf life.  If you are baking one day and serving the next or have any leftovers after serving that will take you a couple of days to eat, keep the cake covered to prevent drying out and refrigerate.  If you are eating within 3 days of baking, you will be fine.  Also, each recipe calls for the cake to be removed from the pan.  If you are intending to serve from the pan itself, you can cool completely in the pan just be aware this will take longer to cool as the pan has to cool before the cake will. 

 

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