Only you will know that this shockingly sophisticated cake began with a box of pancake mix

This simple sheet cake recipe is perfect for beginners (and those short on time)

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published October 19, 2022 4:45PM (EDT)

Homemade sheet cake ready to decorate (Getty Images/istetiana)
Homemade sheet cake ready to decorate (Getty Images/istetiana)

On a week-to-week basis, Thursday night dinner tends to be one of my favorite meals. It's my "TBD day," which separates my meticulously meal-planned start to the week from my more laissez-faire weekend dining.

It's also an opportunity to use whatever leftover ingredients remain — a half-full box of pasta, any peeled and shredded carrots on their way out, a random sprig of rosemary, a hunk of fontina — in unique ways that honestly tend to turn out pretty well.

That is, unless you ask me to make dessert. 

While intuitive cooking — relying heavily on eyeballed ingredients and tasting as I go — has resulted in some fantastic, savory "TBD day" dishes, it's a style of cooking that doesn't tend to produce beautiful baked goods. Believe me: I've tried, and I have a litany of stories about mealy muffins and wet-bottomed pies to prove it. Let me put it this way: You can mess around with a lot of ingredients, but baking soda or flour measurements aren't on that list.

This doesn't mean there aren't other shortcuts to sweet treats out there. Of course, there are boxed cake and brownie mixes, but I'd like to direct your attention to a humbler ingredient: Bisquick. I mistakenly received a 96-ounce jumbo box in a grocery order, which I've steadily used up by making pancakes, waffles and biscuits.

A couple weeks ago, Thursday rolled around, and I had a distinct craving for something sweet. I didn't have the right ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies or throw together a quick three-ingredient cheesecake (a perennial Salon Food favorite). What I did have, though, was a lemon, a jar of agave, a lot of butter and eggs, vanilla-flavored almond milk, a partially-used container of cream cheese icing and that big box of Bisquick.

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After doing a little Googling and consulting my grandmother for a little pep talk ("Just add a little extra melted butter," she said, which is solid life advice in general), I decided I had enough to pull together a decent sheet cake. The added butter and eggs would naturally combat the, well, biscuit-y texture of Bisquick; the vanilla-flavored almond milk would add a little extra fat and flavor; the agave would bump up the sweetness; and the lemon would give a nice, mellow citrus flavor to the batter.

In under an hour, I had a moist, golden-brown sheet cake ready to be iced. For new bakers — or for those just looking for a quick, low-pressure sugar rush — this is a dessert that yields a shockingly sophisticated flavor with minimal ingredients. Only you will know that it all began with a box of Bisquick.

Lemon-Agave Cake 
1 9"-by-13" sheet cake
Prep Time
10 minutes, plus cooling
Cook Time
35 minutes


  • 2 cups original Bisquick baking mix
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted, plus extra for greasing the cake tin
  • 1/2 cup vanilla almond milk
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1/4 cup agave
  • Salt to taste (See Cook's Notes)
  • Pre-made cream cheese icing



  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use the butter to grease a 9"-by-13" cake tin or pan and set aside.

  2. In a large bowl, combine the Bisquick, eggs, melted butter, vanilla almond milk, zest of one lemon, agave and salt to taste. Stir until cohesive and smooth.

  3. Add the batter to the prepared baking dish, then place it in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes. The top of the cake should be golden brown, and if you insert a toothpick into the center, it should come out clean. This indicates that the cake is fully baked.

  4. Allow the cake to cool until it reaches room temperature. Finally, spread with cream cheese icing and serve.

Cook's Notes

I added an additional teaspoon of salt.

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By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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