You’re welcome.
Cake batter
Credit: Getty / Dean Mitchell

If there is one thing I can always get behind, it is cake for breakfast. Whether it is a muffin or a coffee cake, give me a sweet treat with a tender crumb masquerading as a defensible morning meal and I am all in. The only problem with these wake-and-bake beauties is that, frosting aside, they are the same amount of work as a regular cake and tend to be best the day they are made. Without frosting keeping the cake moist and sealing in that tenderness, these sweet breads tend to get a bit dried out faster than other cakes. Plus, who wants to be sifting flour before your caffeine kicks in? 

So, I pulled out one of my favorite hacks to make a.m. baking not just possible, but even pleasurable. Doctoring up a boxed cake mix! With just a couple easy swap-ins and added ingredients, you can have fresh, warm muffins or coffeecake even on a weekday.

How to make muffins and coffee cake from boxed cake mix

For starters, work with a morning-friendly cake mix. Vanilla, yellow, spice, citrus, and banana mixes all work well. I use Duncan Hines as my boxed mix of choice but use what you have. I tend to avoid the chocolate mixes as they feel too desserty for me. If you are going to bake first thing in the morning, go preheat your oven to the temp listed on your boxed mix as soon as you wake up so that it is hot and ready once you have your cake together.

The steps couldn't be easier or more adaptable. Here's what to do. 

Step 1: Make the base batter

To make your base batter, swap out some of the ingredients. 

  • Instead of water, use an equal amount of either sour cream or buttermilk. The dairy will add both richness and tang to prevent things from getting too sweet.
  • Instead of oil, use an equal amount of melted butter, which will give you that slightly denser crumb that we expect. (For added flavor, if you have the time and inclination, it can be brown butter.)
  • Lastly, add an extra egg. This also will help with texture and richness. 

Step 2: Amp up the flavor

Now think about some add-ins. Vanilla or yellow cake can benefit from some spices like cinnamon or cardamom: just a half teaspoon will lift things enormously. Then add a generous pinch of kosher salt to balance the sweet. Two teaspoons of citrus zest is a lovely enlivening addition as well. 

Step 3: Add some texture

Morning treats need some crunch. Add two tablespoons of poppyseeds to a citrus base, or a half-cup to a cup of toasted chopped nuts or coconut to other bases. Folding in some pops of texture will help things feel more brunch than dessert.

Step 4: Choose your pan

If you are making muffins, use liners to help prevent sticking; otherwise, I use shallow baking dishes to ensure a fast bake. Bundts are beautiful but can take over an hour in the oven, and I don't want to wait that long in the morning. If you are a smaller household and don't want to cut into a large rectangular cake, split the batter into two 8-inch squares or rounds and freeze one for another day.

Step 5: Think about a topping

For the final finish, swirl in dollops of jam, add streusel or crumbs, sprinkle on granola or toasted rolled oats, or even just sprinkle a topping of crunchy raw sugar crystals. (If you do want to use jam, warm it gently right in the jar for about 20 seconds in the microwave to loosen it and make it easier to swirl through your batter.)

Step 6: Bake and glaze

Bake according to the directions on your boxed mix for the shape/size of vessel you have chosen. Muffins, depending on size, might only take 10-15 minutes, a sheet-style maybe 20-24. In either case, let cool for 10-15 minutes before serving. If it is the weekend and you have a little extra time, think about adding a glaze. Mix buttermilk, citrus juice, or plain milk into powdered sugar until you get a glaze the texture you like and drizzle over your coffeecake or muffins once they have cooled.