playthink’s Ultimate Homemade Box Cake Recipe: Not for the faint of heart

August 15, 2009 at 3:15 pm 4 comments

ultimate cake

This is in no way related to social psychology or running — or any other academic discipline or sporting activity. It’s simply a recipe for the single best cake you will ever eat.

Note, playthink’s Ultimate Homemade Box Cake is not for the lactose intolerant. There’s a lot of dairy in this thing!

Quick background: It was Lauren’s birthday a few weeks ago, and I wanted to make a cake. I didn’t have a lot of time and had been low on kitchen-confidence ever since covering an angel food cake in Nutella a few years prior. That was… interesting, especially since I substituted vinegar for cream of tartar when mixing the ingredients together. (I thought all vinegar was created equal. It’s not. I should have used white vinegar, but used malt vinegar instead. Don’t do that.)

So it was with a bit of trepidation and excitement that I decided to make a homemade vanilla box cake — you know, the Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker kind where all you need to do is add an egg, water, and oil to the store-bought mix.

But I wanted to make it special, too. The recipe on the box was too easy.

I had heard applesauce was a low-fat substitute for one of the major ingredients — but I didn’t remember if it could replace eggs or oil. I decided to Google, how to improve a store bought cake mix. Oil. Applesauce can replace oil. Not eggs. Cool — I was ready to bake.

But there were all kinds of other interesting tips and ideas about how to make a more homemade box cake, including:

  • Add an extra egg to the cake mix;
  • Add an dash of vanilla extract to the cake mix;
  • Add a packet of Jell-O vanilla instant pudding mix to the store-bought cake mix;
  • Add a cup of sour cream to the cake mix;
  • Use butter instead of oil;
  • Use buttermilk instead of water;
  • Mix-in an 8-oz packet of cream cheese into store-bought frosting.

Now, all of these were individual suggestions. But I looked at the list and thought, “If one of these tips makes for a more moist or flavorful cake, I bet all of them would make for the ultimate homemade box cake!”

So I got to work. Upon getting back from the supermarket, I laid out all the ingredients on the counter:

[Note, I wanted to make a double-layer cake, thus double the ingredients. Mmm mmm heart attack. If you want to make a single-layer cake, just cut this list in half.]

  • Two box-cake mixes (e.g., Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker), vanilla flavored;
  • Two packets/boxes of Jell-O instant vanilla pudding;
  • 2-1/2 cups of buttermilk (instead of water — you could also use whole-fat milk);
  • 2/3 cup of melted butter (instead of oil);
  • 6 eggs;
  • 4 tablespoons of vanilla extract;
  • 2 cups / 16 ounces of full-fat sour cream;
  • 1 pack / 16 ounces of dark chocolate frosting;
  • 8 ounces of full-fat cream cheese.


Super simple — preheat oven to 350 degrees; grab a giant bowl; mix all the ingredients per the instructions on the box (and with the appropriate substitutions); and bake. You will probably need to add 5-15 minutes to the original baking time because there’s so much batter. In fact, there will be so much batter that you can make a double-layer cake and a dozen-plus cupcakes. (Remember, if you only want a single-layer cake, cut everything above in half. Also, I made each layer individually — mixing one box of cake ingredients at a time.)

While the cake is baking, mix the cream cheese into the frosting. When the cake is cooked all the way through (again, this will take a bit longer than a regular box-cake), and after it cools, use a spatula to spread the frosting on each layer. Cut yourself a piece and enjoy with a nice cold glass of milk. (Yes, more dairy.)


Intense and incredible. It’ll be the best cake you ever ate — and one of the easiest. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to make.


If you intend to make the playthink Ultimate Homemade Box Cake on more than an annual basis, you may want to buy a cow. There’s LOTS of dairy in this bad-boy.

Pass me another piece!
J.R. Atwood


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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ashley  |  August 15, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    It’s funny how you started out on this souped box cake recipe hunt looking how to use applesauce as a healthy substitute for oil and then threw in the cow instead :) Looks yummy though!

  • 2. jennkarma  |  August 19, 2009 at 4:29 am

    this entire entry is absolutely hysterical. you had me laughing…and craving cake at midnight – not good. i picture you to be like the Pie Man from Strawberry Shortcake. Remember him? “Ratta Tat Ta Ta Tat Tah” –

    • 3. Justice  |  May 15, 2017 at 10:27 pm

      Enihniteglng the world, one helpful article at a time.

  • 4. alicia  |  November 23, 2009 at 3:45 am

    best cake story I have heard in the past 6 months


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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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