Frugal Recipe(s) of the Week: Start With a Box of Cake Mix

Red velvet cake balls

Ninety-eight percent of the time I am a scratch baker when it comes to cakes. Hummingbird cake, Texas sheet cake, red velvet cake, carrot cake and others I make from scratch. The other two percent of the time I am quite happy to break out a boxed cake mix and use it as a base for a delicious cake or dessert.

I never pay more than $1 for a box cake mix either, so my doctored cake mixes stay frugal. Some store or another around town always has mixes on sale; just last week I found Pillsbury mixes for 89 cents at Grocery Outlet. I typically always keep a box of yellow cake mix and either devil’s food or chocolate fudge mix on hand, but will pick up other flavors if they are also on sale. Occasionally I use a coupon that’s good for both a cake mix and a tub of frosting. I don’t care for store-bought frosting and prefer to make my own, but I’ve recently discovered a delicious use for it: cake balls!

My family’s favorite chocolate cake these days, bar none, is the Triple Chocolate Cake from Alea at Premeditated Leftovers. This cake has become our favorite celebration cake, but we don’t need an occasion to enjoy it! I made a happy discovery one time when I didn’t have the German chocolate mix called for in the recipe and substituted devil’s food. The result: unbelievably rich, chocolate-y deliciousness! (Update: Alea posted about this recipe today as well! Her cake had an accident and she came up with a delicious chocolate glaze to hide the imperfections. Voila! Quadruple Chocolate Cake!)

The recipes for Fresh Orange Cake and Bacardi Rum Cake both come from Ann Byrn, The Cake Mix Doctor. The orange cake is great when I need a cake in a hurry because I typically have all the ingredients on hand (and lemon juice can be substituted for the orange for a lemon variation). I was thrilled to find the Bacardi rum cake recipe again. I first made the cake years ago when Bacardi published the recipe in an ad, but lost it (along with all my other cookbooks) when we moved back to the States from Japan. I don’t like rum, but I love rum cake! It is definitely a very special occasion cake!

A family member first told me about cake balls, but they sounded too complicated and “junky” for the way we eat. When I looked up the recipe however, I couldn’t believe how simple they were, and how tasty they turned out to be, almost like truffles. The girls and I have made them together a few times and they’ve been a hit when we’ve taken them to a potluck. The fun thing about cake balls is that you can make up any combination of flavors that you like – they’re all good. And yes, they’re kind of junky, but fun for a once-in-a while treat.


  • 1 package German chocolate (or devil’s food) cake mix
  • 1 3.8 oz. package of instant chocolate pudding
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 12 ounce package of chocolate chips

powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°. Blend all ingredients except chocolate chips. Beat for 5 minutes on medium speed, then fold in chips by hand. Pour batter into a well-greased bundt pan, and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool in bundt pan for 5 minutes, then invert onto plate. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.


  • 1 yellow cake mix with pudding
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350°. Blend together the ingredients for 1 minute on low speed, scrape down the bowl and mix for an additional 2 minutes on medium speed. Pour into well-greased bundt pan, and bake for 45 – 50 minutes. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then invert onto cake plate. Cake glaze can be made from 1 cup sifted powdered sugar blended with 3 TBSP orange juice and 1 tsp fresh grated orange peel. Pour glaze over cooled cake and let set a few minutes before slicing.



  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 1 package plain yellow cake mix
  • 1 3.8 oz package instant vanilla pudding
  • 1/2 cup Bacardi dark rum
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 eggs


  • 4 TBSP butter
  • 2 TBSP water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup Bacardi dark rum

Preheat oven to 325°. Grease a bundt pan and sprinkle chopped nuts in the bottom of the pan. Blend the remaining cake ingredients on low for 1 minutes; scrape the bowl and mix another 2 minutes on medium speed. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 55-60 minutes, or until cake is golden brown and springs back when lightly pressed with your finger. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then invert onto cake plate or platter.

To make glaze, melt the butter over low heat; add water and sugar. Increase heat to medium and bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and cook until thickened, about 4 – 5 minutes stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in the rum. Spoon glaze over warm cake, but cook completely before serving.


  • 1 package cake mix, any flavor
  • 1 tub frosting, any flavor
  • 1 pound chocolate (dark, milk or white) meltys

Prepare cake mix according to package directions in 9″ x 13″ pan; cool completely. In a large bowl, finely crumble finished cake making sure there are no large lumps remaining. Add the entire tub of frosting into the cake mix and blend completely using a mixer. Chill cake-frosting mixture until firm.

Melt chocolate meltys in a double boiler or in the microwave until completely liquid and fluid. Using either your hands or a melon scoop, make 1 1/2″ – 2″ balls with the chilled cake-frosting mixture, then using two toothpicks, dip each ball into the melted chocolate until completely covered. Set each coated ball on a cookie sheet covered with waxed paper. When all the balls are coated, chill for a few minutes to set the chocolate. You can also put the cake balls on a stick before dipping (they look like a Tootsie Roll Pop).

(Photo Credits: Taste of Home, Liz, Network of Food and Bake Fun)

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Filed under Frugal Recipe of the Week

14 responses to “Frugal Recipe(s) of the Week: Start With a Box of Cake Mix

  1. I am glad that your family enjoys the Triple Chcolate Cake! I love how you have played with it and made it your own! Thanks for featuring it here. Since I posted about this very recipe today, I am going to add a link to your post, so my readers can see what it is supposed to look like. : )

    I am definitely going to try making cake balls. I love finding an easy, but still impresive dessert.

  2. Cake is my kyrptonite.

    I must confess my endless immaturity: Cake balls makes me laugh everytime I say it.

  3. Alea: We LOVE this recipe! My other favorite variation was to add dried cherries instead of the chocolate chips – yum! I only take a very, very thin slice (once) when I make this, and the cherries were a nice addition with the chocolate. I thought it was fun that you had the same recipe up as well – I’m going to have to try that chocolate glaze next time. We did the red velvet cake mixed with cream cheese frosting (both were on sale) and then dipped in milk chocolate. They didn’t hang around long.

    CF: I know, I know – me too. But they are very, very yummy. My weakness is salty or savory things, like crackers or chips and other stuff like that. And cheese. I get started and the next thing I discover is that the bag or package is empty. Cake (and cookies) I can usually ignore, thank goodness

  4. I’ve been seeing those cake balls everywhere… I really have to try them out!! I love how pretty the red velvet ones are :)

  5. I had never heard of ‘cake balls’ before today!
    Last weekend my daughter wanted to make a red velvet cake. I had never made a red velvet cake and I thought, ‘how hard could it be?’.
    We put it in the oven and it rose and rose and was about to explode and than suddenly sunk….it was unrepairable.

  6. I’ve never made red velvet cake either. I love it, but never thought of making it. Do you use a mix? Or from scratch?
    My cousin makes those cake balls, and since they are her specialty I never thought of making them myself. I bet the kids would enjoy it, though. Sounds like a great (winter) project.
    I’m still drooling from looking at these lovely photos…

  7. Dana: I thought cake balls were going to be so difficult because people were selling them, for heaven’s sake. But they were incredibly easy to make using the mix and frosting. Mine didn’t look at pretty as the ones in the picture, but they tasted good!

    Molly: I am crying and laughing at the same time (laughing because I can imagine how I would be freaking out if I saw my cake expanding to infinity). Do you think you added too much baking soda or baking powder? If it tasted OK and was crumbly enough you might have been able to make cake balls from it!

    Barb: I make red velvet cake from scratch for a regular cake, but used a mix (Duncan Hines makes it, I think) for the cake balls. I’m sure there are people who make their cake balls from scratch, but it’s super easy with the mix and store-bought frosting, and a great project to do with kids (and cheap if you can get a coupon for the cake and frosting). I only wish I took those pictures; I am currently without a camera and have to use my daughter’s cell phone when I can.

    • My husband is sure we used too much baking soda. I consulted two other recipes and they contained the same amount of baking soda I used. He consulted his newest bible read, “Cookwise” by Shirley Corriher in which he concluded even if I did follow the recipe it (the recipe) contained too much baking soda! Whew!
      I am now even more determined and scared to make a red velvet cake from scratch. The end of this catastrophe was while I was contending with the cake my daughter went on to make the icing. She made it with sugar rather than confectioner sugar!

  8. These ball look amazing. I love the rum cake, is the best thing out there.

  9. liz

    I loved the red velvet cake recipe ,can I use cream cheese frosting instead of chocolate frosting? How do I make the cream cheese frosting to dip the red velvet cake balls?

    • You can use any type of frosting you like when you mix the filling for the cake balls – use your imagination!

      The outside of the cake balls is like a candy coating, so you need to use some kind of chocolate for dipping, either white or regular chocolate. I used regular white chocolate chips the first time, but they were too thick. There is chocolate called “meltys” that is made for melting and dipping: it comes in dark, milk or white chocolate.

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