Can people really taste the difference between store-bought and homemade? We don’t think so. With a few helpful tips and tricks, you can create the flavor and texture of a homemade cake with box cake mix. Just make sure to hide the box, so your guests don’t know!

Got milk?

Since you’re already compromising on the bulk of the ingredients, you need to add richer ingredients to make up for it. If the boxed cake recipe requires you to add water, use real milk instead. Opt for full fat milk. It will increase the richness of the cake and also contribute to flavor. Milk will also make the cake more dense.

Or buttermilk?

If you want to make delicious rich cupcakes form your boxed cake mix, use buttermilk. Buttermilk adds a tangy taste to cakes, breads, and other baked goods, without contributing too much fat. The acidic nature tenderizes the gluten to give the cupcakes more body but with a softer texture. You can make you own DIY buttermilk by adding a dash of vinegar to a cup of full fat milk.

Add mayonnaise

Another creative ingredient to add is mayonnaise. Mayonnaise might sound like a crazy ingredient, but the science behind it is pretty simple. Mayo is made from eggs and oil, so basically, you’re just adding eggs and oil to your cake—ingredients that are both known to add richness to baked goods such as cakes and cupcakes. Add up to one cup per cake.

Don’t drink the soda

One way to create the texture of a homemade cake, is by using soda. Using soda as the liquid element (instead of the water), will make your cake lighter with a softer crumb. The soda increases the activity of the leaveners, which helps the cake to rise better. Simply mix the dry ingredients from the box mix with a 12oz can of soda and you’re good to go!

Adding liquid flavor

You can do a lot with a vanilla boxed cake mix. Use flavored drinks. Carbonated drinks like orange soda or ginger ale won’t just help with the rising of the cake (see the point above), but it will also give your cake a unique flavor! Non-carbonated drinks you can add include apple juice, orange juice, and even canned coconut milk.

Spices

Spices can do wonders for a cake. You can add any spices you have in your pantry. For a spiced cake, use cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom. Add ginger or pumpkin spice if you have some. Lemon and orange zest goes amazingly well with vanilla boxed cakes, so be sure to try that out too. Experiment with different spice combinations—you might just find a new favorite.

Coffee

Everything is better with a cup of coffee…but why not add some coffee to the cake batter? If you have a chocolate cake box mix, then be sure to add a tablespoon of instant coffee to your dry ingredients. It won’t have a coffee taste, but it does accentuate the chocolate taste. Your guests will know there is a secret ingredient…but they won’t know what it is!

Add an egg (or two)

Eggs provide structure, richness, and color to a boxed caked. It also helps with leavening. Together with flour and sugar, they help cakes to rise, giving them extra height. If you use only egg whites, it will give you a fluffier cake and it won’t be as yellow. Adding one or two eggs will take your boxed cake from bland to brilliant.

Don’t skip the frosting

If there is one dead giveaway for a store-bought cake, it’s the frosting. Store-bought cakes usually have frosting that’s sickly sweet, greasy, and almost plastic. They’re often made with cheap butter (or even worse, margarine), and contain artificial colors and flavors. If you’re using boxed cake mix, go the extra mile to make your own frosting. Use real butter, sugar, and a good quality vanilla extract.

Get creative

If you want to make sure your guests think you made a cake from scratch, then add a few extras. One way to do this, is to add candy or chocolate. If you have large candy bars, chop them up into bit-sized pieces. You can also use toffees or marshmallows. Just make sure to chop it up in uniform size! Your guests will be pleasantly surprised!