A box carrot cake is never as good as one made from scratch, but it is convenient. A doctored carrot cake mix, however, can yield some pretty delicious results. To make a boxed carrot cake super moist, you can add wet ingredients such as apple sauce, bananas and pumpkin puree.
Doctored Carrot Cake Mix
The basic recipe for a box carrot cake includes flour, eggs, sugar, oil and, of course, carrots — although you may be surprised to find out that some box carrot cake mixes do not even contain real carrots, but "carrot flavored pieces," whatever that means.
The most obvious way to add more moisture to a box cake mix is to add more of the wet ingredients — in this case, oil and eggs. Either will work, however, when it comes to eggs, you want to add more egg yolks, not egg whites. Egg whites act as a binding agent, and too much can actually dry out your cake.
Sugar adds moisture in baking, too, so you could add more of that. And, according to Beyond Celiac, using brown sugar instead of white sugar further increases moisture. Keep in mind of the richer, more molasses flavor of brown compared to white sugar and its impact on your cake.
However, extra oil, egg yolks and sugar add up to one thing: extra calories. If you can't afford the extra energy — and who can, really — you've got better options. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends using fruits and vegetables — such as shredded carrots — to add moisture to cakes. So, naturally, the first step would be to add more shredded carrots to your recipe.
Pumpkin puree is also a good option that will enhance the natural color and flavor of a carrot cake. Mashed banana and applesauce can also be used. Keep in mind that adding banana to any recipe will impart that fruit's flavor, so think about whether banana-carrot cake sounds like a tasty twist to you or not. Lastly, yogurt is a healthy way to add moisture, and it can also be used to make a more nutritious frosting.
How much you need to add to your box carrot cake mix will vary. Baking is finicky, and adding too much moisture will prevent your cake from cooking properly and holding its shape, so be conservative in your first attempt. If everything goes to plan, you can try adding a little extra the next time.
You may not need to add extra ingredients to your cake to make it more moist if you cook it properly. Overcooking is a surefire way to lose moisture in your finished product. Oven temperatures may vary, so the cooking time provided in the instructions may not be exact. Beyond Celiac recommends purchasing an oven thermometer and adjusting your oven to match.
Read more: 10 Myths About Grains — Totally Busted
A Healthier Carrot Cake
Even cake can have a place in a healthy diet, if you make the right choices and eat it in moderation. Like most processed foods, box carrot cake mixes aren't your healthiest choice with their refined flour and sugar, shortening and hydrogenated oils and artificial colors and flavors — like the aforementioned "carrot flavored pieces."
Making your own carrot cake from scratch isn't that difficult, and it offers an exceptional opportunity to make a treat more nutritious without drastically altering its core characteristics. For example, you can substitute some of the refined white flour in a recipe with whole-grain flour, which will give it a slightly more rustic, hearty, nutty flavor that is right at home in a carrot cake.
If you are going to use whole-wheat flour, you may need to add a little extra moisture because whole grains are more absorbent, says the Whole Grains Council. Your best bet is to use a tried-and-tested recipe for a whole wheat flour carrot cake, of which there are many available on the internet.
Other ways to boost the nutrition of your carrot cake include:
- Adding walnuts, which are a rich source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids
- Substituting one whole egg with one flax egg, by combining 1 tablespoon of ground flax with 3 tablespoons of warm water and stirring until thickened. Flax seeds are rich in fiber and healthy fats, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Reducing the sugar by 25 percent, which the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports can be done with little noticeable effect on the finished product. However, since sugar adds moisture to baked goods, you may need to add extra water or other moist ingredients to compensate.
Finally, whether you make your own or open a box mix, ditch the sugary, fatty frosting. That stuff is lethal. Instead, take some low-fat, probiotic-rich Greek yogurt, and combine it with a little low-fat cream cheese and sweetener. Using a calorie-free sweetener such as stevia or erythritol will further cut the calories and increase the nutritional quality of your carrot cake.
- Beyond Celiac: "Gluten-Free Baking Tips & Tricks"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Healthy Baking Alternatives"
- Whole Grains Council: "Expert Shares Tips for Baking With Whole Grains"
- NIH: "Omega-3 Fatty Acids"
- Healthyflax.org: "How to Make a Flax Egg"
- Mayo Clinic: "Does Ground Flaxseed Have More Health Benefits Than Whole Flaxseed?"
- ACE: "Baking with Sugar Substitutes: Which Ones are Good for Baking"
- American Egg Board: "Adhesion"
- Betty Crocker: "Betty Crocker™ Super Moist™ Delights Carrot Cake Mix"