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Thursday, December 10, 2020

Healthier Gingerbread Cupcakes *plus* Homemade Spice Cake Mix Recipe

The cupcake that you saw in my post yesterday was a slight modification of these delicious gingerbread cupcakes from Hungry Girl. HG uses commercial spice cake mix as the base ingredient for the cupcakes. Moisture is added with applesauce and molasses.

I made her recipe almost entirely as she instructed, with these exceptions:

  • for the cake, I used whole eggs in place of the egg substitute (2 whole large eggs plus enough white from a third egg to make 1/2 cup total)
  • for the icing, I used regular cream cheese and regular butter instead of light versions
  • I made my own spice cake mix from scratch ingredients (see below)
  • I lightly brushed my cupcake papers with oil, so the cake would easily come out of the paper. Nonstick cooking spray on the papers would do the same thing. I've found this necessary in low-fat muffins/cupcakes.
I have to say, these were so delicious and not cloyingly sweet. (I know I linked to the cupcakes twice -- they were that good!) I would say they were a cross between a muffin and a cupcake, which is exactly what I was searching for.

My quest for a homemade spice cake mix

As you likely guessed at this point, I didn't have spice cake mix on hand. But I still wanted to try this recipe. The homemade cake mix recipes that I found online didn't contain any milk or fat, but instead called for adding those two ingredients when actually baking a cake. In contrast, commercial cake mixes instruct the baker to add water (not milk) and a portion of the fat. Some boxed mixes contain dry milk and almost all contain fat. Here's an example: Betty Crocker Super Moist Spice Cake mix contains flour, sugar, corn syrup, leavening, corn starch, cinnamon, partially hydrogenated soybean/cottonseed oil, salt, other spices, and a bunch of chemical-sounding ingredients. When you bake the boxed cake mix, instructions call for additional fat in the form of oil, plus eggs and water. 

In order for me to have a homemade mix that would be compatible with Hungry Girl's recipe, I needed to modify a homemade spice cake mix recipe that I found online. 

The most fundamental changes that I made were the addition of 2  1/2 tablespoons of vegetable shortening (an approximation of what would be in a boxed mix) and 3 tablespoons of powdered milk. You can make this mix without the powdered milk, but adding milk to cakes improves the texture. In a commercial cake mix, the function of some of the chemical-sounding ingredients is to improve the resulting texture. 

I also substituted granulated white sugar for brown sugar. Boxed spice cake mix ingredients simply call for sugar, not brown sugar or even molasses solids. Finally, I made my own substitution for pumpkin pie spice and used 1  1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon cloves.

This very long-winded explanation is to say that if you wanted to bake Hungry Girl's gingerbread cupcakes, but don't have the spice cake mix, you can make your own cake mix that will work with her recipe by following my homemade mix recipe below.

Homemade Spice Cake Mix (yields 2  1/3 cups mix)

1  1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons corn starch
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1  1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
3 tablespoons milk powder
2  1/2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

Combine all of the dry ingredients with a wire whisk.
Cut the shortening in with a knife and fork, then with the whisk until shortening is well-incorporated.
Store in a tightly-covered container in the pantry. I checked several sites and all seemed to indicate that homemade cake mixes should keep for a minimum of 2 months.

I used my mix in the Hungry Girl gingerbread cupcake recipe, as called for on her site.

However, to bake my mix as a regular spice cake:

Using a mixer, combine a full recipe of homemade mix with 1/2 cup water, 2 eggs, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1/4 cup vegetable oil and beat for 2 minutes.

Pour into prepared pans and bake at 350 degrees, until toothpick inserted comes out clean:

  • two 8-inch round pans, bake for 17 to 19 minutes, or 
  • one 11 X 7-inch rectangular pan, bake for 28 to 30 minutes, or
  • 14 to 15 cupcake liners, bake for 15 to 18 minutes

Comments on this mix

This mix recipe was a good size for the Hungry Girl recipe. HG called for 1  3/4 cup of mix, and my homemade mix yielded about 2  1/3 cups of dry ingredients. Leftover dry cake mix can be added to pancakes or other scratch muffins/quick breads.

To note, this homemade mix is considerably smaller than a typical commercial cake mix. A 15.25 oz boxed mix contains about 3 1/3 cups of dry ingredients. 

If you are following instructions for a doctored spice cake mix that calls for a whole box of commercial cake mix, you'll want to multiply my recipe by 1.5. That amount would yield about 3 1/2 cups of mix, which is a little over 2 tablespoons greater than a boxed 15.25 oz mix.

Happy holidays without the guilt!


  1. Thanks for the recipe! I love spice cake. I have a hack for spice cake box mix. I add a can of pumpkin and a half cup of water to the box mix and bake it in a 9x13 pan. I call it pumpkin pie cake. It's tasty and healthier. I bet you could make it work with your homemade cake mix.

    Thanks for the idea of oiling muffin liner papers. You are right, muffins and cupcakes with less oil do tend to stick to the paper. I never thought to do what you did ��.

    1. Kris, do you add any eggs to your pumpkin and spice cake hack? Just pumpkin and water?

    2. I don't bake cupcakes or muffins very often, but I'm going to remember the oil the paper tip. Thanks.

    3. L&L, no, there are no eggs in the cake. It's an old Weight Watchers trick--you can use any flavor cake mix but I find that we prefer it with spice cake (carrot cake would probably also seem like a natural to add in pumpkin). I have a sweet tooth but don't always need the calorie load--this is a good recipe for those times. :)

    4. Hi Kris,
      your pumpkin spice cake mix hack sounds so delicious! I have some leftover cake mix that I will try this with this afternoon. I and my family thank you!

    5. Hi Live and Learn,
      Oiling or spraying the muffin papers really works and is worth the effort, I think. I get so annoyed when I bake a batch of muffins and about half the muffin it seems sticks to the paper. I hope this works as well for you!

  2. I'm going to try this using your recipe. Pictures tell a thousand words and the picture was very enticing.


  3. Thanks for posting this! I hope that you don't mind, I've posted a link to this recipe on my Facebook blog, giving you credit. It's unusual to find a spice cake scratch recipe. This is a nice alternative, especially this time of year.

    1. You're welcome, Carol. I hope you enjoy this!


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