Make Store-Bought Frosting Better With These Chef Tricks

SHave what you want about store-bought frosting: Sometimes you just need it. And thank goodness there are ways to improve a pot of it.

To wit: A few weeks ago, the teenage girl next door ran up to greet me with hugs and an enthusiastic announcement that she had just graduated from high school. Although I was on my way to work and running out of time, food is my love language and I knew I had to kick things up a notch to bake this fresh grad a cake that night. (She was moving the next day!) So at 7 p.m., I ran to the grocery store to get a cake mix and some canned frosting.

Once the cake was in the oven, I tossed the frosting into the bowl of my mixer, whipped it until airy and creamier, added food coloring to make it purple (the grad’s favorite color), I frosted the cake and covered it with pretty sprinkles. Boom: A happy family made happier by sugar.

This got me thinking: What are some other quick ways to improve store-bought icing? I spoke with professional pastry chef Tie Whittaker to get her ideas.

Tie owns Buttermilk Shop, a pastry shop in Clayton, North Carolina. She specializes in custom cakes and desserts, and the North Carolina’s Restaurant and Lodging Association named her 2021 North Carolina Pastry Chef of the Year.

His niche is taking nostalgic Southern flavors and reinterpreting them using modern techniques (think s’mores macaroons and red velvet crème brûlée). And while Tie typically uses fresh, locally sourced ingredients for her baked goods, she thinks there’s a time and a place for boxed cake mixes and canned frosting, and a way to give them a go. A good taste. Here are some of his greatest hits.

Note: For consistency, Tie and I both used a 16 ounce can of frosting because 12 ounces is not enough.

Heavy cream

“Canned frostings are notorious for being too sweet,” says Tie. She suggests whipping a pint of unsweetened heavy whipping cream into its most airy state, then folding a can of frosting into it. “It not only tames the sweetness, it will add a nice fluffy texture to the outside of the cake as well as to the middle layers of the cake.” Clever!


Tie cautions that this suggestion will add to the already super sweet taste of pre-made frosting, but in moderation, she says, adding jelly to frosting is ideal when layering cakes and looking for an interesting and tasty topping between layers. “Take a basic icing flavor like vanilla and mix in your favorite seedless jam or curd,” she explains. “I would start by adding half a cup of jam to a 16 oz container of frosting. But add more to taste.”

Author’s note: I tried this, and it’s very sweet, but a nice kick of flavor! I resisted the urge to overmix so that there’s an indulgent, professional swirl of jam when you serve a slice of cake.

pudding mix

Hiding right next to those boxes of frosting at the store is another hack: pudding mix. “Canned frosting can get a little runny when you add it to a cake,” Tie explains, “so adding two tablespoons of vanilla pudding mix to a can of vanilla frosting creates a icing with better resistance without changing the flavor.”

Cocoa powder

His grandmother, Angel, inspired both the name of the bakery – a nod to Angel’s famous buttermilk pies – and this next idea. “My grandma really liked dark chocolate, so she would add cocoa powder to chocolate frosting to make a devilish cake,” Tie explains. “To up the ante, she would also add chocolate pudding mix.”

Author’s note: Angel was a passionate baker for her community and her church. Lucky. Adding these two powders to the frosting creates a dark, decadent chocolate flavor that completely makes you forget the base is store bought.


Again, Angel to the rescue. Tie’s grandmother baked ‘naked’ cakes decades before it was a trend with her famous s’mores cake: she baked three layers of chocolate cake with marshmallow frosting and graham cracker crumbs crumbled between each layer. Tie recalls, “My grandma couldn’t get marshmallow fluff to spread easily, so she added canned vanilla frosting, and it became one of our favorites.” A box of vanilla frosting mixed into a 7.5 oz tub of fluff makes for an easy recipe to remember.

Author’s note: He’s a keeper! The texture is puffy and nice like the inside of a marshmallow, but easily spreadable and not too sticky due to the addition of the frosting. Add graham cracker crunch to three layers of chocolate cake – and you have a new hit on your hands. Tie’s grandma strikes again!

READ MORE: Which Birthday Cake Recipe Matches Your Birth Month?

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