Recipe: Sweet and Spicy Baked Chicken Nuggets

(Image credit: Jenny Huang)

Sometimes what really makes a meal stand out is a small touch of the unexpected. These bite-sized pieces of chicken coated with a crunchy layer of panko breadcrumbs look like your standard homemade nuggets, but take your first bite and you’ll see we reached for something that might surprise you to get to this sweet and spicy crust.

Shhh, It’s Cake Mix!

The secret to the sweetness is all in an unexpected ingredient pulling double duty for flavor and function: cake mix! When used in place of flour, it adds a sweet touch and helps to form the base before the chicken is dunked in the eggs and panko.

Along with everything you’d expect from chicken nuggets, like tender, juicy meat; crispy breading; and a savory, satisfying flavor, you also get a subtle, sweet twist from the cake mix. It’s faint at first — and in fact, you might even miss it — but as you eat on, you become more aware of its playful presence.

Sweet and Spicy Baked Chicken Nuggets

Serves 2 to 4

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into even bite-sized pieces
1 box yellow or white cake mix
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Prepare the ingredients for breading in three separate wide, shallow bowls, and arrange in an assembly line. Place 1 cup of the cake mix in the first bowl; the eggs in the second bowl; and the panko, garlic powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper in the third bowl.

Bread the chicken pieces one at a time. Dredge in the cake mix, tossing to fully coat each piece and then shaking off any excess; dip in the beaten eggs; and finally toss in the panko mixture, fully coating each piece. Transfer the chicken to the prepared baking sheet, then repeat with the remainder of the pieces.

Bake until the chicken nuggets are golden-brown and cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes, flipping once halfway through. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.