"The Cake Mix Doctor," by Anne Byrn

Pros: Yummy recipes; easy
Cons: Some structural problems; entire sticks of butter
Rating: 4 out of 5

First published 4/24/2002

Anne Byrn has a very good idea of how to deal with cake mixes. She gives tips and hints for additives that will take away any last chemical-taste. She has you add very different ingredients than the ones on the back of the package, and this makes a huge difference in flavor.

She also makes the only really good arguments I’ve ever seen for cake mixes. I’ve made regular cakes – by the time you add eggs and oil to your mix, you often aren’t doing all that much more than a basic cake recipe would have you do anyway. So until I read this book, I couldn’t really see the point.

However, cake mixes do several other things for you besides simplicity. They’re carefully designed to be tolerant to incorrect oven temperatures or the wrong amount of time in the oven, among other things. They’re more forgiving of our mistakes. For people who seem to have perennial problems when cooking, this could be invaluable!

Besides the reliability issues, there’s the taste. Almost every single cake we made out of this cookbook tasted incredible! The flavors are fabulous. I can only think of one cake that didn’t entirely appeal to me, in fact – an Old Fashioned Cola Cake that was pretty good, but not great.

The problems stem from textures and structures. Many of these cakes came out just fine. But I strongly recommend that you make any cake in here for yourself before making it for company – just in case it falls apart or has a weird frosting texture.

In years of making normal cakes, I almost never had the kind of structure and texture problems I had with some of these cakes. Yet they kept coming up over and over with this cookbook.

Let’s take Mom’s Chocolate Syrup Cake, for example. It’s a yellow cake, with chocolate syrup baked into the middle. At the end of the baking process, you “run a long, sharp knife around the edge of the cake and invert it onto a rack…” When we inverted it, the top of the cake dripped off. It tasted amazing, but looked pretty grim. We had a few similar problems with some of the other cakes (for some reason, it seemed like the chocolate cakes had the worst problems).

Icings sometimes had slightly grainy textures, and were only occasionally nice and fluffy. I’d really worry that we were doing something wrong, except for all that experience making cakes the “hard” way and having them come out fine.

Many of these cakes use a whole stick of butter. Ouch! Don’t try eating these on a diet unless you’re willing to have very small slices.

There are several pages at the front on which you’ll find pictures of (I think) every cake in here. They’re small pics, but they are color, and they do give you a decent idea of what things will look like.

There isn’t as much variety in here as you’d think you’d see in such a decently large (454 page) book. Many of the cakes bear a suspicious resemblance to each other. Still, how can you go wrong with Buttermilk Devil’s Food Cake, Deeply Chocolate Almond Cake, Lethal Peppermint Chocolate Cake, Easy Tiramisu, Butter Layer Cake with Sweet Lime Curd, Lemon Buttermilk Poppy Seed Cake, and more?

This isn’t the best layout I’ve ever seen. Small pages combined with large print cause recipes to spill onto 3 or 4 pages typically, meaning that you have to flip around a lot. It also seems to make recipes a little more difficult to keep track of.

There are lots of great little hints here and there, though. All sorts of time-saving bits of advice, hints for making things easier, and so on.

All in all, this is a yummy cookbook and we’re glad we bought it! I really do recommend, however, that if you intend to make one of these for company, you make it for yourself first.

Posted in Cooking, Reviews

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