Sep. 20, 2012 at 2:52 PM ET
Who said chocolate cake mix can't make a great cake? These pointers from Cake Mix Doctor Anne Byrn spill the secrets to delicious chocolate cake... every time! Take heed from the cake doctor and get baking!
1. Don't buy expensive chocolate for doctoring up a cake mix. It loses its flavor when baked. Bar chocolate, cocoa and chips from the supermarket work just fine.
2. Chocolate likes acidic flavors. It marries well with sour cream, yogurt and buttermilk.
3. Don't worry about the temperature of the ingredients you add to the mix. Unlike scratch cakes, cake-mix cakes turn out well when all the ingredients—room temperature or cold—are put in the bowl at one time. Unlike scratch cakes that call for cocoa, the water does not have to be boiling before it is added. The only exception is when you are working with cream cheese: It will lump up if cold ingredients are added, so when making a cheesecake, it's best to have all the ingredients at room temperature.
4. Stock up on vanilla extract. (At the wholesale clubs you can buy it in 16-ounce bottles for a huge savings.) It is a marvelous chocolate flavor enhancer.
5. The devil's food cake mix is both easy and difficult to doctor. The problem is that it is a good mix and doesn't need a lot of doctoring—perhaps just some coffee, cinnamon or bananas. But it can be powerful in flavor, too. If you want to showcase more subtle flavors, such as zucchini, you're better off using a milder-flavored mix like the German chocolate.
6. Plain chocolate mixes and pudding mixes bake differently. The plain mix bakes up more beautifully. The chocolate pudding mix bakes flatter. The plain mix is softer in texture, the pudding mix denser and wetter.
7. Use shiny pans. If your pans are dark, the edges of your chocolate cakes will darken and harden as they bake.
8. Don't overbake. Cocoa has a drying effect on cake batters, causing them to bake more quickly. Be cautious. Get to know your oven, whether it under- or overbakes. Use a kitchen timer or write down the exact time the cake went in the oven. A dry chocolate cake will not taste as delicious as a moist chocolate cake.
9. You can't rely on visual doneness as easily with chocolate cakes. They don't turn golden brown, and by the time the layers pull away from the sides of the pan, they might be overdone. The fingertip press test is most reliable for layers, Bundts, tubes and sheet cakes: Press lightly with your finger, and the cake should spring back. With brownies, you must rely on timing. If in doubt, pull them out a few minutes before you think they are done.
10. Use your nose. When chocolate cake is done, it smells done. You can train your nose to pick up on that strong aroma of chocolate and cooked eggs. It is an intoxicating smell, and you will remember it all your life. In fact, researchers have found that students exposed to the smell of chocolate while studying for exams can then recall the material better if they are exposed to the smell of chocolate while taking the exam. SATs in pastry kitchens, perhaps?
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.