Jennifer Davis: The cake doctor is back
Probably like most workplaces, we use birthdays and other milestones as an excuse to bring in treats. We do it so often — hey, it’s Monday, let’s bring in goodies — that we get a little bored of the same old sweets. That’s why I was excited to see a new cake cookbook cross my desk.
Anne Byrn published her first cookbook, “The Cake Mix Doctor,” a decade ago — the whole premise being how to turn boxed cake mixes into masterpieces. Since then, the Nashville-based food writer has written several other cookbooks, including her latest, “The Cake Mix Doctor Returns!”
Several of us decided to try out the book recently, agreeing to share our results for, you guessed it, an impromptu treat day.
Here’s what the Peoria Journal Star food crew found:
Jennifer Davis, lifestyles editor: Easy Coconut Refrigerator Cake
Every recipe in this cookbook is photographed, and the Easy Coconut Refrigerator Cake is a stunning, six-layered tower of angelic perfection. The cake looked complicated, but the recipe title promised easy. Intrigued, I decided to test my skills.
I bought enough ingredients to make two cakes, just in case. It’s a good thing because I didn’t have enough frosting from the first batch. I had to mix up more to cover the sides. Also, one of the ingredients called for is cream of coconut, which I couldn’t find anywhere at Schnuck’s. I ended up using lite coconut milk and the end result was still delicious.
But, I have to say, the end result was not easy.
You make three layers from one box of cake mix. These thin layers are then sliced horizontally with a long serrated knife — no “easy” task. The directions say to frost the layers “cut side up” but I knew that would mess up my pure white frosting with yellow crumbs so I didn’t do that. In hindsight, that may have made it easier to stack them. My way, I had a bit of a sloping issue. In the end, it was barely noticeable, and the cake was beautiful.
The frosting — sour cream, sugar, whipped topping and coconut — made the cake. It was light and really let the flavor of the coconut shine.
I would definitely make this cake again for a special occasion.
Newsroom’s take: Big thumbs up. Moist and light, it looked and tasted heavenly.
Sally McKee, assistant managing editor: Margarita Cake
Since margaritas are my poison of choice, deciding to bake the Margarita Cake was a no-brainer. In hindsight, I should have looked more closely at the recipe first.
One of the advantages of using recipes that start with a cake mix is supposed to be simplicity. In this recipe, there were so many additional ingredients, it felt like I was baking a cake completely from scratch.
Owning a Mixmaster was a big help. For the most part, I just threw all the ingredients into it and flipped the switch. I did squeeze my own fresh lime juice and chose a lemon cake mix over white or yellow, which I highly recommend.
Besides the tequila, another selling point for the Margarita cake recipe was that it used a Bundt pan. Knowing the results were going to be photographed, I definitely knew a layer cake was out for me.
My biggest difficulty with the cake was getting it out of the pan. Despite spraying and dusting it with flour, my cake did not want out. I ran a knife along the outside edge (twice), shook it, tapped it, pounded it. Still no movement. After some more vigorous shaking, it finally plopped out of the pan and onto my platter. Well — at least most of it. I realized when I saw the remaining ring of cake around the center of the Bundt pan, that I had neglected to run the knife around the middle ring. Mistake. I let it cool, then wrapped it for the night, deciding to make the glaze the next morning.
The glaze was fairly simple, although I made mine a bit too thin, and it poured right down the sides and pooled on the platter. Fortunately, the lime slice garnishes helped hide the imperfections.
This cake is definitely not for your kid’s birthday party. The booze-infused glaze is not cooked, and you can definitely taste the alcohol.
The end result was a very moist, tasty, not-half bad looking cake that would be perfect for a Cinco de Mayo party, or basically any other gathering for adults who are partial to margaritas.
Newsroom’s take: Big thumbs up. Super moist and citrusy, we will clamor for this one again.
Karen McDonald, political reporter: Turtle Bars
I chose these hoping I would love it and have another sweet treat to add to my holiday arsenal. Didn’t exactly work out that way. Sometimes cake mixes are, well, left best for cakes.
I was excited when I read the recipe required a stick-and-a-half of butter, plus caramel, chocolate and pecans. Ooey, gooey melt-in-your-mouth mush — then the cake mix had to mess it all up.
The recipe itself is fairly simple. Basically, the cake mix plus a few ingredients.
I’m not usually one to get caught up in presentation and details, but the end result was nearly unpresentable. It just doesn’t look good. It may even have been a bit overdone, though I pulled it out of my oven five minutes before the recipe called for.
The taste was average — I would argue below average. Honestly, the turtle bar mixes you can buy fare much better.
I think the recipe could be salvaged with a homemade graham cracker crust topped with the ooey-gooey mixture plus sweetened condensed milk, minus the cake mix.
But after this near disaster, I don’t know if I have the energy for any more experimentation. At least I saved you some time.
Newsroom’s take: Thumbs down. We know Karen’s expert skills in the kitchen, so the issue was definitely the recipe.
Jennifer Adler, newsroom administrative manager: Easy Chocolate Cookies
Easy and chocolate — what could possibly go wrong?
It was easy. Just add melted butter, one egg and a softened package of cream cheese to the chocolate cake mix and there’s your dough. Easy.
Once you drop the tablespoonfuls of dough onto the ungreased cookie sheet — pop them in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Easy. The whole baking process from start to finish only took about an hour or so, including the cookies cooling completely.
What came out on the pan, however, not so pretty. The picture in the cookbook was a little deceiving. It showed nice round, thin cookies. Mine looked more like big brown blobs of dough. Not terribly appetizing.
Next was to taste them. The first one I tasted was pretty much fresh out of the oven — still gooey inside, somewhat like a brownie. Not bad. The next day, however, was a different story.
Once the cookies were stored overnight in an air-tight container, they were still quite moist, but not so tasty. I guess the warm gooey insides were what they still needed.
I probably wouldn’t make these again. I’m better off just buying already-made chocolate cookie dough at the store. Maybe it would have been better by adding a few of the extras the recipe suggested, such as cinnamon, chocolate chips or chopped nuts. I’m guessing they would have looked a little more appetizing with a dusting of powdered sugar as well.
Newsroom’s take: Mixed. They didn’t taste like cookies, but brownie lovers thought they tasted better than they looked.
Tabby Dorsey, features news assistant: A Better Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcake
The reason I chose these is because I’m not a big fan of cake, but I love cookies. They were pretty easy considering I made them while my 3-month-old son was riding in his swing and crying.
If you follow the directions and fill each paper liner 2/3 full with batter before adding the cookie dough, they overflow. With the second batch, I filled the liners only half full before adding the cookie dough, and it worked much better. I did add a teaspoon of cake batter on top of the dough to make a nicer looking cupcake like one of the notes suggested. Still, it only made 18, not the 22 to 24 cupcakes listed on the recipe.
I did not make the frosting. I bought ready-made frosting at the store to help simplify the recipe a little more. The cake mix I purchased also contained 1 cup of pudding in the mix, so I only added 2 ounces of instant pudding mix to the cake batter instead of the 3.4 ounces in the directions. It didn’t seem to make a difference. The cupcakes turned out moist.
Also, I couldn’t find a 1-pound tub of frozen cookie dough so I had to use an 8-inch log of cookie dough as a note had suggested.
I will say that I was worried whether or not the cookie dough in the middle was cooked completely. The cookie dough does seem a little on the soft and chewy side, which I prefer. All in all, I would say they were pretty easy to make and tasty!
Newsroom’s take: Big thumbs up. Super moist with a wonderful surprise inside, these cupcakes went fast.
Peoria Journal Star