The Game-Changing Ingredient That Transforms Store-Bought Icing

When you go shopping in the cake mix aisle, you'll see dozens of choices of cake mix and canned frosting to go with it. You can buy this icing in an array of flavors, including cream cheese, coconut pecan, chocolate fudge, salted caramel, and vanilla (per Pillsbury). Canned frosting is perfectly acceptable to use on cookies and cakes — it's creamy and smooth and has a pleasant taste. And the quality is consistent, can after can.

But if you compare it side by side with homemade buttercream, you can tell the difference. Homemade frosting has a better flavor and the texture is usually a bit stiffer, which is better for piping and decorating. This you can fix by adding some powdered sugar to improve the store-bought stuff, according to Southern Living.

When you are in a rush, however, and just don't have the time or patience to make frosting from scratch, don't despair. There is something you can add to that can of sweetness: a game-changing ingredient that transforms store-bought icing.

Almond extract to the rescue

Almond extract is the perfect addition to make canned frosting taste wonderful. Add about 1/2 to one whole teaspoon per 2 cups of canned frosting for a rich and complex flavor. But before you grab a bottle of almond extract off the shelf, there are a few things you should know. First, there are different kinds of almond extract, per Spiceography.

Pure almond extract, the most common type, is made from something called bitter almond oil, according to Nielsen-Massey. This is from the pits of some stone fruits and can also be extracted from the nut itself. The oil is combined with alcohol and water to make the extract. America's Test Kitchen says that the extract is subtle, mellow, delicate, buttery, and warm; or can be bold, depending on the brand.

Natural almond extract isn't even made from almonds. Its main component is cassia bark, a type of cinnamon, according to Spiceography. Another type, called almond flavoring, can be much stronger than the extract, per LorAnn. It's made from capric/caprylic triglycerides and artificial flavoring.  And imitation almond extract is made from benzaldehyde, which comes from stone fruit pits, according to McCormick. The flavors of these three types of almond extract are much stronger, according to America's Test Kitchen.

Jazz up your canned frosting

So which one should you choose? It depends on what you are frosting. If you are after a subtle flavor, go for the pure almond extract. If you want something with more of a punch, add some almond flavoring. Just one bit of advice: add it carefully and slowly. In fact, add the extract a bit at a time, beat it in (which also upgrades the icing by improving the texture), and taste. Whipping store bought frosting also helps to increase its volume, per Better Homes & Gardens. You can always add more extract. If you do add too much, just throw in another can of frosting, per Spiceography, and slather it on the cake or store it. You'll know when you've reached the perfect level of flavor for you.

Use your flavorful canned frosting to top baked goods like chewy orange almond cookies or chocolate amaretti cookies, or fill almond thumbprint cookies. You don't have to stick with the almond theme: Use your frosting to top sheet pan vanilla cake or very good chocolate cake. Or a boxed cake, if you went the easy route!