Have you ever wondered how bakers on Instagram make a naked cake with flowers - those fancy layer cakes with flowers and just the right amount of frosting? You can make your own cake completely from scratch.... or you could just... not. I'm not above using a boxed cake mix for making layer cakes and neither should you! Here's how to upgrade boxed cake mix into a fancy layer cake - a naked cake with fresh flowers. Since a naked cake is just a cake frosted with only a crumb coat, it's honestly the easiest kind of cake to do.
A boxed cake mix can be an option when you're looking to make a cake quickly (you forgot someone's birthday) and want to save a few bucks if you find that you're out of flour or baking powder. Obviously, the homemade cake tastes a little better (just a little, imho) but a boxed cake is reliable and consistent.
how to make a pretty naked cake using boxed cake mix
First things first, I recommend cake making to be a two-day process. Bake the layers one day, freeze the cake, and then frost and decorate and eat the next day. Just want to give yourself enough time to do this right! There are two ways to do this.
option 1: you have 6" cake pans, and want to use boxed cake mix for the sake of time
You've seen cakes on Instagram that are really evenly baked with firm sides and consistent height, that's because they used nice cake pans that ensure an even bake. After mixing the batter, I use these 6-inch layer cake pans and also swear by Wilton cake nonstick spray. It totally eliminates the need for parchment liners.
I then weight out the batter equally among three 6 inch cake pans in order to ensure even layers. My oven tends to run 10 degrees cool, so I set the oven for 360F if the recipe calls for 350F. Bake for 26 minutes until you see the sides of the cake start to pull away from the cake pan.
After letting the cake cool nearly completely, I plop out the cake and level off the top of the layers. Then, because I find that boxed cake mix's crumb tends to be moister, I wrap each layer in plastic wrap and freeze them overnight. I have found that reduces crumbling when I'm frosting the cake.
option 2: you don't have special cake pans, only a sheet pan, and still want to make a layer cake
All is not lost if you don't have these particular cake tins! you can also bake the cake in a jelly roll sheet pan. again, mix the cake batter per the box. Then pour it into a jelly roll sheet pan that's been prepared/lined/sprayed with cake slip. Bake for 25-30 minutes, and let cool.
You can use a cereal bowl (about 6" in diameter) and, similar to a cookie-cutter, punch out 3 6" rounds from the pan (save the scraps for cake pops!) this option is going to be a little crumblier, so definitely don't skip the freezing of the layers here. Christina Tosi at milk bar makes her cakes like this, so this is definitely a legit way to do it.
frosting & decorating a naked cake
A naked cake is just a cake that's just been frosted with a crumb coat. Really much simpler than it looks!
When I'm ready to frost/decorate/eat, I pull the cake layers out of the freezer and dust off any crumbs. A simple frosting is 1 160z box of powdered sugar : 2 sticks of butter : pinch salt: dash of vanilla extract. Your butter should be room temp; you can leave the butter out overnight when you're freezing your cake or put in the microwave for 5-10 second bursts until it's soft but not melted.
I forgot to take a picture while I was frosting the cake, so I'll refer you to this video for how to do a crumb coat, which is what those "naked cakes" are. So pretty and for me the right amount of frosting!
Then, to decorate, I love to think about cake decorating like a floral arrangement. I choose 1-2 key colors, with a little bit of foliage as a filler. I like to make things asymmetrical and explore shapes, balance, repetition, color contrast, and texture contrast. Here's one I came up with a few days ago that uses these lovely light purple flowers I don't know the name of, and two types of eucalyptus as decoration. So fun!
How to turn Boxed Cake Mix into a Layer Cake
- 1 box of white or vanilla boxed cake mix , mixed to instructions - add egg, water, or oil if the box asks for it
- 16 oz powdered sugar
- 2 sticks butter , room temp
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- pinch salt
- Preheat oven to 350F. Mix the cake batter as the box prescribes, and divide among three 6" cake pans, buttered+floured or prepared with Wilton cake nonstick spray. Bake for 26 minutes (a minute or two less than the box says). Let cool almost completely in their pans.
- When cool, level off the top. Wrap each layer in plastic wrap and freeze overnight.
- The next day, when ready to frost/decorate, prepare frosting. In a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, whip 2 sticks of very soft butter with 16 oz of powdered sugar and salt + vanilla, until fluffy.
- Frost the cake with just a crumb coat.
- Decorate with flowers! Enjoy!