When you need just some cake to decorate, it is easy to buy a box of cake mix at the store and make it up. It contains all the dry ingredients, and all you need to add are water, eggs and oil. Mix 30 seconds at a low speed, and 2 minutes at a medium speed and you should get a perfectly lovely cake.
But if you want, you can use the dry mix in the cake box as a base, and modify the wet ingredients to add taste and richness to the batter. That is what I mean when I say semi-home-made. You save time by not having to measure out the dry ingredients, but you add flavor by your choice of wet ingredients.
The reason for using semi-home-made cake batter is to give your cakes a richer taste. About a year ago, the Decorette shop gave out tips on making additions and changes to the normal way store-bought cake mix are made in order to make them semi-home-made.
I have been using those tips, but have had one problem; most of my cupcakes collapse while they are cooling and no longer have a mushroom shaped top. I decided to take the tips apart, and use only a single one in each batch of cupcakes until I discovered what was going wrong.
What was going wrong seems to be when more moisture is added to the batter. I felt I would have to cook the cupcakes longer in order to dry them out, and I did, even though a toothpick came out clean. But still, the cupcakes crashed.
And then I received a hint indirectly from my Seattle Muse that I should cut back on the “water” equivalent if I were to add the sour cream or yogurt. For ½ cup of sour cream or yogurt, I reduced the “water” equivalent by ¼ cup. I still increased the cooking time by 10%- 21 minutes instead of 19 minutes, and I was happy to have nice mushroom tops on the resulting cupcakes.
While I am using cupcakes as a test vehicle, you can also make these same changes to a standard cake as specified by the back of the cake mix box.
The tips from the Decorette Shop without change were:
- Add 1/2 cup sour cream
- Instead of 3 eggs use 2 egg whites and 2 eggs
- Replace water with buttermilk or milk
- Replace oil with melted butter (but double the amount of melted butter
- Add vanilla bean paste for even more flavor
My taste buds didn’t really detect many of the changes; maybe more sensitive tastes would detect the difference. I ended up with just a couple of the changes, and I even modified those. My changes are:
- Replace most water with a mix of milk and cream
- Add 1/2 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
If the back of the box calls for 1 cup water, I reduce the total milk and cream to 3/4 cup. And I make the mix of milk and cream 3/4 milk and 1/4 cream. This means that if you have Half-and-Half, you would use 1/2 milk and 1/2 Half-and-Half since it is half milk and half cream. If you use heavy/whipping cream, then you might have to calculate the appropriate amount of milk and cream. It would be nice if the cake box calls for 1 1/4 cups water, because then you would have 3/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup cream. When the box calls for 1 cup water, I used 1/2 cup milk and 1/4 cup heavy cream and got good results; that is slightly less milk and more cream than should be according to my 3/4 to 1/4 rule, and that is why I specifically mention that case.
You are invited to try the other tips given by the Decorette Shop; I am only saying that my taste was not sensitive enough to see the difference.
November 2016: I had reason to make a “pull-apart” cake using the mini-cupcake cups this month, and felt that I should update this post to reflect that experience.
I started with a box of cake mix that gave the directions as follows:
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 1/3 cup Vegetable Oil
- 3 whole eggs
The directions were to preheat the oven to 325 degrees for dark pans and 350 degrees for light pans. Mix the ingredients including the box of cake mix for 2 minutes, put into the pans and bake for 14-19 minutes for cupcakes.
Now I was making mini cupcakes, so the time had to be adjusted accordingly. And I discovered that the bottoms of the cupcakes were starting to burn, so I baked them (they were in dark pans) with the pans in a sheet pan to protect the bottoms. Because of that insulation of the bottoms, the cooking time came out to be about the suggested time even though the cake size were small and the heat should penetrate to the middle of the cake faster than for a full size cupcake.
I also decided to only make half the box of cake mix at a time so that I could focus better on the cooking. I got 36 cupcakes out of each half of the box of cake mix. Here is the ingredient list I used:
- 1/2 box white cake mix (just over 8 ounces)
- 3/8 cup milk
- 1/8 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1/3 cup melted butter
- 2 whole eggs
As a side note, I nearly forgot to get the butter ready. I cut the 1/3 stick into small chunks (2 x length and 6 x across) and put it in a small dish. I was going to use the microwave for 30 seconds to melt it, but didn’t want to be cleaning the microwave after melting the butter. So I slipped the small dish into a sandwich baggie, sealed it, and everything went better than I had expected.
The other experience I had was in filling the cupcake cups. First, I piped the dough into the cups for better control. Originally, I piped around the edges and let the center fill itself. It doesn’t fill as well as hoped. So I starte piping the bottom center and letting the dough push itself out to the edges of the cup. This seems to work better.
The second thing to note is about the reuse of the cupcake pans. I discovered that during the cooking there seems to be moisture pushed out and through the cupcake paper. If that moisture is on the bottom of the pan cup when the pan is reused, the cupcake paper wants to pull away from the cupcake paper; the paper seems to fall off the cupcake. So be certain to use a paper towel and wipe the cups of the pan dry before putting the papers in for making the second half of the box of cake mix.