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Hide your box: the bake-out fake-out


Homemade buttercream frosting and handcrafted fondant hibiscus blossoms helped hide the fact that these cupcakes were, in fact, from a box mix.

Not too long ago I was tasked with baking 50 cupcakes for my middle sister’s surprise birthday party. I can feel my oldest sister looking askance and shaking her head even as I type this… fine.

The honest sentence would be “Not too long ago I absolutely insisted on baking the 50 cupcakes for my middle sister’s surprise birthday party because the amateur baker/cheapskate DIYer in me gasped in abject horror at the professional-cupcake estimate, which was then followed by my outright refusal to purchase these apparently gold-laced cupcakes EVEN FOR MY OWN SISTER when I knew I could bake and decorate something relatively similar myself.”

And right now every professional baker in the Universe wants to punch me in the face. But remember: there is a reason why such crafters are professionals; not *actually* punching me in the face is part of that professionalism.

That said, there is a reason why many sane, forward-thinking people hire said professionals: to eloquently relieve oneself of the burden of the task itself. Professionally-baked items are both beautiful and flavorful and generally don’t taste like they came from a box.

Therein lies the rub.

After all the prep involved in the other elements of the party, I rapidly realized the time I had dedicated to finding the right recipe and baking the cupcakes from scratch had completely evaporated. Plus the grocery had Pillsbury vanilla cake mix on sale for 94 cents per box.

My challenge became not what recipe to use, but how to upscale the flavor of my box-mix cupcakes from cardboard to YUM.

My simple solution: SUBSTITUTIONS.  As we enter the holiday season, may this bake-out fake out serve you well.

WHAT I USED (for 18 cupcakes):

- 1 box of vanilla-flavored cake mix
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk (instead of the water)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup oil
- 2 Tbsp. coconut-flavored extract

Put it all in the mixer and let ‘er rip. When filling the cupcake liners, I used a 1/4 cup scoop and filled the liners about the 2/3 of the way. I then followed the baking instructions on the box.

Clearly, I’m not the first person to pull a bake-out fake-out, and I’m not even saying I’m proud of doing it… except that I am, a little. The buttermilk adds a distinct flavor and density to the cupcakes that, combined with the coconut extract, removes the classic “box” flavor. Suffice it to say, the cupcakes were a hit; not a single guest — nor sibling — knew the cupcakes weren’t from scratch until I, like every proud cheapskate crafter, spilled the beans.

The frosting, however, was completely homemade. Here’s my simple buttercream recipe that enhanced the fake-out:


- 2 sticks butter
- 1 32 oz bag powdered sugar
- about 5 Tbsp milk
- 2 Tbsp vanilla (or almond) extract

Whip the butter, slowly add the powdered sugar and then the milk, tablespoon by tablespoon, until you achieve the consistency you desire. The last thing I add is the flavoring.



Responses to "Hide your box: the bake-out fake-out"

Bethany Clough says:

When I got married bakeries on the coast quoted me $5.75 per cupcake for cupcakes at my wedding by. $5.75 per cupcake!!! Fresno cupcake shops don’t even charge that much. Yea for DIY (and cheaper bakers in Paso).

Heather P says:

A few years back my mother gave me two of the Cake Mix Doctor cookbooks. I like them a lot!
Cake Mix Doctor

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