With a few easy substitutions you can make your pulled-from-the-cupboard box cake taste homemade-ish.
I learned a lot of valuable cake baking lessons from my grandmère. She makes the best butter cake you'll ever have and hides quarters between the layers like la fève* (don't worry, the quarters are wrapped and never touch anything you're ingesting). One of the important cake lessons she taught me: people would rather a box cake than no cake. So, if you don't have time to make a cake from scratch, make a cake from a box and make it beautiful.
When life happens and you have to reach for a box of cake mix, there are a few simple ways to make it taste a little bit more like homemade.
As we speak, there are six layers of a lemon cake from a box mix rising beautifully in my oven. Here's what I substituted to make it worthy of my sister's birthday (sorry, dude!).
When your box cake calls for oil: use melted butter instead
When your box cake calls for water: use whole milk instead
When your box cake calls for eggs: use one more egg than what it calls for
When your chocolate box cake calls for water: use strongly brewed coffee instead! It brings out the chocolate flavor (just make sure you let the coffee cool before you add it to your batter, you don't want it to cook the eggs)
Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla to the dry box mix
I'm not promising it will taste homemade and definitely not promising it will taste like what my grandma makes, but it will taste a hell of a lot better.
*La fève: In a traditional French King's Cake, a small trinket or bean (la fève) is place in the cake just before baking. The person whose piece of cake contains la fève is named king for the day and is responsible for bringing the next year's King's Cake. My grandma wraps quarters in plastic wrap and places them between the cake layers after they're baked and before she stacks and frosts. Much better than a bean.