What’s the secret to a moist cake? To start with, you need to measure, mix, and bake it just right. Fortunately, that’s easier than it sounds. Here, we share exactly what makes a cake moist, plus our Test Kitchen tips on how to make box cake moist if you don't have time to bake from scratch.

By Wini Moranville
Updated June 04, 2019
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Dry cake? It doesn’t have to be that way! A dry cake is usually the result of one of the following pitfalls: using the wrong ingredients, making mistakes while mixing the batter, or baking the cake too long or at too high a temperature.

Once you understand how to avoid the common cake-baking blunders, you’ll bake a moist cake every time.

How to Make a Cake Moist

There are many steps in the cake-baking process where things can go awry. Follow these guidelines for a moist cake.

Use Ingredients Called For and Measure Carefully

What makes a cake moist? Precision, for one. Baking requires using exactly the ingredients called for. For example, some cakes use milk, buttermilk (or an acceptable substitute), or sour cream for liquid—these ingredients are not interchangeable.

The same goes for oil, butter, or shortening; use exactly what’s called for. When butter is listed be sure to use real butter and not a substitute; substitutes contain water, which will not give the same tender crumb as the fat from the butter.

What about baking soda and baking powder? Nope, they aren’t interchangeable either. See a pattern here? Indeed, following the ingredient list to the letter is a top secret to moist cake. Measuring your ingredients properly can also help you achieve a moist cake. For example, too much flour can cause a dry cake.

Follow Exact Mixing Steps

Another secret to a moist cake is to follow the exact steps in the recipe (we know, it sounds like a no-brainer). That means following all beating times given and using the utensil called for.

Some cakes are beaten with an electric mixer—either a stand mixer like the KitchenAid Classic Plus Stand Mixer ($259.95, Amazon), or a handheld mixer like the Hamilton Beach Hand Mixer ($14.99, Amazon)—and some are stirred together with a wooden spoon. For a moist cake, follow the recipe to the letter!

Avoid Overbaking

Baking a cake for too long or at too high a temperature can also cause a dry cake. Follow these baking steps to avoid a dry cake:

  • Preheat your oven at least 10 minutes, and use an oven thermometer to make sure that the oven reaches the proper temperature.
  • If you're using dark cake pans, reduce the oven temperature called for in your recipe by 25°F.
  • Start checking cake doneness after the recipe's stated minimum baking time.

How to Make a Box Cake Moist

All the secrets to moist cake mentioned above apply to boxed cake mixes. Following those tips should result in a tender, moist cake from a box. Our Test Kitchen put some other tricks to the test and found one more tip to make your boxed two-layer cake mix turn out especially moist. Add 1/2 cup mayo (yes, mayo!) to the batter when mixing. The mayo doesn't replace anything, it's just an addition. And don't worry: The flavor wasn't impacted by this small amount being added. It gave the cake noticeable moistness. Just note: The volume of batter in the pans was a little less high and fluffy.

Alternatively, some recipes call for adding pudding to make a boxed cake mix even more rich and moist. To make box cake moist using that strategy, try this Butterscotch Marble Cake Recipe.

How to Make a Cake More Moist: Poke Cake

There are moist cakes, and then there are poke cakes—one of the moistest cakes ever! Sometimes called poke hole cake, a poke cake has holes poked in it after baking, usually with the handle of a wooden spoon or skewer. Then, a liquid is poured over the baked cake to soak into the holes. Find our step-by-step directions for making poke cake. Or check out our best poke cakes.

Get the Recipe

With each of these must-have cake tips, you'll never serve a dry cake. Moist chocolate cake recipes, red velvet cakes, pound cakes, you name it, you now know how to make all of them stay tender and moist through the whole process of how to make a cake.

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