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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586.