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Anne Byrn, the Cake Mix Doctor, makes baking better with easy cake recipes

ST. PETERSBURG — You've got to love a cook who travels with an apron. • Anne Byrn, who is better known as the Cake Mix Doctor, came to my house recently, sturdy green apron in tow, to do a little baking and chatting about baking. She was at the tail end of a national book tour for The Cake Mix Doctor Returns! (Workman, 2009), an updated 10-year anniversary edition of her wildly popular The Cake Mix Doctor (Workman, 1999). The anniversary edition includes 160 new recipes, though there are a few quibbles in the blogosphere that many are the same.

Not exactly, Byrn says. There are about 10 repeats, but they have been tweaked to include new products or to make them more healthful. Stacy's Chocolate Chip Cake has been lightened, as it now uses less oil. Another change: Byrn found through years of recipe testing that miniature chocolate chips work better in cakes because they don't fall to the bottom of the pan like regular-size chips. She has changed several recipes to reflect her aha baking moments.

Byrn, a former newspaper food writer in Atlanta and Nashville, stumbled upon her genius cookbook idea after a 1998 story about doctoring cake mixes. She asked readers for their ideas and within one week had 500 recipes. A bestselling cookbook and a new career was born. Since then, Byrn has sold more than 3 million cookbooks, among them The Dinner Doctor; Cupcakes: From the Cake Mix Doctor; and What Can I Bring?

At my house, she is making Warm Chocolate Pudding Cake mostly because I've got all the ingredients. Like the readers of her cookbook, I am more likely to make something if I've got everything on hand. That's partly why her concept has done so well, she says. The ingredients aren't exotic and many are pantry staples.

The foolproof nature of cake mixes doesn't hurt either. And, she notes, we've become accustomed to the lighter taste of box mix cakes as opposed to heavier scratch versions.

"A cake mix is going to rise and it's going to work," she says, giving my hand mixer a quick whirl in the air before plunging into a mixing bowl of ingredients. When you're using other people's equipment, she says, you never know how they will operate. She's got that green apron on to guard against splatters.

Her next book, due out in the fall, is a gluten-free version of The Cake Mix Doctor. Since the original book was published, she has heard from increasingly more and more people who can't tolerate gluten. There are gluten-free cake mixes on the market, but they need a little boost, she says.

So, she set about to doctor them up. They don't absorb liquids well, she says, but orange juice seems to help.

"Orange juice is the easiest way to doctor a cake mix," Byrn says. "Any cake mix."

The Warm Chocolate Pudding Cake is just about done as the author reveals her other project: a line of all-natural cake mixes with her name on them.

Seems like a logical next step, though the mixes are still a work in progress.

With the cake still warm, we grab spoons and dig into chocolate gooey goodness. Who needs a bowl for the ultimate comfort food? I follow the lead of the woman in the apron.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8586.

>>easy

Warm Chocolate Pudding Cake

For the cake:

1 package (18.25 ounces) plain chocolate cake mix

3/4 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the topping:

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

1 teaspoon instant coffee granules

2 1/4 cups boiling water

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place the cake mix, buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until the ingredients are incorporated, 30 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium-low and beat until the batter is smooth, 1 1/2 minutes longer, scraping down the side of the bowl again if needed. Pour the batter in a 9- by 13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish.

To make the topping, mix the brown sugar, cocoa powder, chocolate chips and coffee granules in a small bowl and sprinkle the topping evenly over the batter in the baking pan. Pour the boiling water over the batter and carefully place the pan in the oven.

Bake the cake until the edges are firm but the center still jiggles when you shake the pan, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the cake pan from the oven and spoon the warm pudding cake into bowls. Serve with ice cream.

Note: Store this cake, covered with plastic wrap, at room temperature for up to three days or for up to one week in the refrigerator. Freeze the completely cooled cake in the pan, covered with aluminum foil, for up to three months. Let the cake thaw overnight on the counter before serving.

Serves 16 to 20.

Source: The Cake Mix Doctor Returns! by Anne Byrn (Workman, 2009)

Anne Byrn, the Cake Mix Doctor, makes baking better with easy cake recipes 02/09/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 3:30am]

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