I love to bake but it can be hard to find the time to put together the truly great desserts I adore. That’s why I love shortcut recipes that remove some of the extra work that makes baking a chore. It’s no wonder that recipes like this scrumptious Lemon Vanilla Shortcut Cake appeal to me so much. It starts with a cake mix and then it makes things interesting (and delicious) by adding to it.
For anyone who has never made a cake using a mix as a shortcut, there are several reasons to give one a try. The first is that using a mix helps guarantee that a cake will turn out well. The mix has the ingredients perfectly measured and precisely combined. You don’t need to sift or weigh, or check for freshness. Then you just take that basic bag of dry cake mix and add to it.
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So how does it work? Well, you ignore the directions on the back of the mix just add everything from this recipe. The dry cake mix is simply an ingredient on the list for this cake. I find cakes like this turn out best when I beat them in my stand mixer, but if you have a handheld beater that will work perfectly well. Maybe you usually mix your cakes by hand, if so, you shouldn’t have much trouble doing the same with this one.
The true secret to this recipe isn’t actually the cake mix, however. It’s the lemons. Fresh lemons really give this cake its zing. Because you’re starting from a cake mix, you won’t mind quickly juicing and zesting a few lemons. I find that four lemons is usually more than enough to get juice and zest for both the cake itself and the frosting. I always zest the lemons before I squeeze them.
I love the added vanilla in this recipe, both in the cake itself and in the frosting. It adds a real dimension of depth to the fresh lemon flavor that I find to be divine. I like to use simple vanilla extract, but if you prefer to work with fresh vanilla bean, that would be perfectly lovely. It might be best to do a quick google search to find the right substitution ratios for vanilla extract to vanilla beans.
Finally, neither the cake nor the frosting will be the same if you don’t use real butter. I actually use salted butter because it’s what I always have on hand. Unsalted butter would be fine, but you may want to add a pinch or two more salt to both the cake batter and the frosting, depending on your salt preference. If you find that using unsalted butter in your baked goods leaves them a bit bland, then adding a little more salt may work well for you.