While nothing beats the homemade version of carrot cake, sometimes you can’t put in the time and effort to make it from scratch.
Enter boxed carrot cake — a quick way to enjoy the dessert using fewer ingredients and fewer steps. The only problem is, you’re trading in flavor and texture for convenience.
Today, I’m helping you elevate your store-bought dessert with 13 tips on how to make boxed carrot cake better.
Most boxed carrot cake mixes call for adding water to the powder to make the batter.
This is supposed to make the process easier for the consumer, but it doesn’t do the cake any good when it comes to flavor or consistency.
Water is tasteless and contains no fat, so you can significantly enhance your boxed carrot cake by preparing it with a liquid that has flavor and fat. Milk immediately comes to mind.
It’ll add richness to the carrot cake while also making it softer. You can use regular milk, or go with buttermilk to help with the rising as well.
If you want to use plant-based milk, be sure to choose one that’s unflavored and unsweetened.
Similar to the water thing, most boxed carrot cake mixes call for adding oil to make the batter. Oil also doesn’t offer much in the flavor department, but you can change that.
Simply switching the oil with melted butter in the same amount will do the trick. The fat delivers a richer taste that’s closer to the homemade version.
You don’t even have to use butter alone. You can do half oil/half butter and still get a more flavorful and moist carrot cake.
Whenever I make carrot cake, I’ll throw in some chopped nuts for an extra kick of flavor. Not to mention, nuts add a certain crunch that gives the cake a more interesting texture.
I always find that you can’t go wrong with a handful of chopped nuts in your carrot cake batter. It takes the homemade version to a whole new level, so you can bet it’ll do wonders for improving boxed carrot cake.
I like using walnuts or pecans, but almonds, pistachios, and hazelnuts are also tasty options.
Be sure to toast the nuts before mixing them into the batter — about 10 minutes at 350 degrees F. This will boost their nutty, smokey flavor along with their crispiness.
A fantastic way to enhance and deepen the flavor of homemade or boxed carrot cake is to incorporate fruits into the batter.
Certain fruits naturally pair well with the flavor profile of carrots in this dessert.
For example, you can use orange juice instead of the water called for in the recipe to give the cake a dose of sweet tartness. You can make it even more pronounced by also adding a teaspoon of orange zest.
Another fruit option that goes beautifully with carrot flavors is pineapple. The acidity of pineapples will highlight the sweetness of carrots.
Mixing pineapple chunks into the batter also boosts the moisture of the cake thanks to the fruit’s liquid content.
Besides orange and pineapple, you can use chopped cranberries to balance the sweetness of the carrot with some tanginess.
Additionally, I’ve tried putting in raisins -regular and golden- to my carrot cake batter before. The cake came out super soft with a delicious sweetness that you’ll enjoy even if you’re not a fan of raisins.
If you have some coconut shreds lying around, stir them into the boxed carrot cake mix. They’ll enhance the cake with their nutty, sweet flavor and hints of caramel toffee plus vanilla.
Shredded coconut will also add some creaminess to the texture, making your recipe overall more unique.
Although the word ‘carrot’ is in the name, many boxed carrot cakes don’t even contain carrots! Instead, they’ll have carrot-flavored bits mixed in.
I always say no carrot cake is complete without actual carrots in the mixture. As such, nothing will make a boxed mix taste more authentic than adding pieces of the real deal.
Around 1 or 2 cups of freshly grated carrots should be enough to enrich the flavors of the cake and further moisten its texture.
Yes, you can add carrots to a carrot cake mix as long as you shred them properly.
I prefer using a grater when shredding carrots for carrot cake. This technique produces finer bits that are easier to evenly mix into the batter while providing extra moisture.
You can use a food processor to grate your carrots, but you’re more likely to end up with varying sizes of carrot bits.
If they’re too large, they won’t offer enough moisture. If they’re too small, it’ll be like adding a puree (the cake may turn out too wet).
The flavor profile of carrot cake is rich, sweet, and warm. To balance things out, consider combining the boxed batter with some lemon juice and lemon zest.
The contrast of the added acidity cuts through the sugariness of the carrot cake, brightening it up and keeping its flavors from overwhelming your palate.
Typical carrot cake recipes will call for spices such as cinnamon, ginger, clover, and allspice.
While boxed carrot cake mixes may contain some of these spices, they usually don’t have enough for their flavors to really come through.
You can change that by adding an extra bit of each spice (about 1/8 or 1/4 teaspoon should be enough). An equal amount of nutmeg or cardamom can also give your cake a special kick!
For your boxed carrot cake to taste more authentic, it needs to be enriched. One way to do so is by adding a little extra in the egg department.
After cracking the number of eggs mentioned on the box, put in an extra yolk (or a whole egg if you’re in a hurry). This increases the fat content of the cake so it comes out more buttery and moist.
If you’re not too short on time, I recommend whipping the egg whites before mixing them into the box carrot cake batter.
You’ll simply separate the yolks from the egg whites of the number of eggs specified on the package (don’t forget the extra whites if you’re adding one whole egg more).
Then, whip the egg whites by hand with a whisker or using the whisk attachment on your food processor. Once you’re done, fold the whipped egg whites into the batter.
This will improve the texture of the boxed carrot cake and make it fluffier.
It may sound odd at first, but trust me, pudding mix can take your boxed carrot cake to an entirely new level in flavor, consistency, and moisture.
All you need is a box of your favorite pudding mix in a flavor that won’t clash with the carrot cake. For example, vanilla, coconut, or pumpkin spice.
Once you have your pudding mix ready, combine it with the powder mix of the boxed carrot cake before adding the liquid ingredients.
Keep in mind that you may need to add extra milk, juice, or water to adjust the ratio of wet to dry ingredients.
One of the biggest problems with boxed carrot cakes is their moisture after baking. Most of them end up on the dry side, which takes away from their authenticity.
To make your store-bought carrot cake taste and feel like you’ve made it from scratch, you can try enhancing its moisture.
Adding a few tablespoons of yogurt or sour cream to the batter will do the trick. The cake will turn out not just more tender, but also creamier and richer.
A homemade topping can be all your boxed carrot cake needs to taste like homey goodness.
Cream cheese frosting is my go-to recipe, but you can alternatively try mascarpone cream with orange juice and zest for a tarty twist.
There you have it, 13 tips on how to make boxed carrot cake better. You can try any of these techniques on its own, but you’ll get the best results if you use a few of them at the same time.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.