on November 19, 2003
I used to think that baking from a box was beneath me--until I found this book. This book never fails to impress and now I enjoy "celebrity baker" status among my friends and family. This book also taught me to improvise and make my own creations as well. The lemon cake is great, as well as the coconut layer cake. I still bake from scratch, but the book has taught me with a little extra ingredients you really cannot tell the difference between from scratch or from box taste. The book is worth it.
on April 12, 2004
Usually I'm a great proponent of doing things from scratch, but there are some good reasons why people might want to use Byrn's recipes that turn cake mixes into... well, cakes, but not quite the cakes you'd get if you just followed the directions on the box.
Byrn makes a good case for the benefits of cake mixes. For example, they're made to be very mistake-tolerant. You can mix them too long or not enough, have an oven that's a bit off temperature-wise, or muck up the amount of liquid, and as long as you haven't gone *too* far off you'll still end up with an edible product. More often, anyway, than if you were starting from scratch. Also, while many from-scratch cakes are actually quite simple and easy, some cooks simply feel daunted by them. Starting with cake mixes can feel less like making a real commitment to something. And in some cases, the cake mix version really is easier or quicker or cheaper.
Of course I mentioned that these cakes don't come out tasting like cake mix cakes. Ann makes sure to add things to her cake mixes that you won't find on the box. One of these ingredients is usually butter--lots of butter--so these aren't diet recipes. She also adds a dash of something flavorful. Then she combines her cakes with other things, such as the wonderful icing and frosting recipes she includes.
There are only a couple of things that keep me from giving this cookbook 5 stars. One is that really, most cake mix cakes aren't that much simpler than starting from scratch--this cookbook is great if you aren't a very good cook and your cakes tend to mysteriously fail, but not so amazing if you know what you're doing. The other is a structural problem. Some of the recipes had odd little structural issues that I've never had with "normal" recipes, like a grainy icing or a "chocolate syrup cake" (syrup baked into the middle of a ring-shaped cake) that simply fell into pieces when we attempted to remove it from the pan.
There are handy tips and hints for working with cake mixes and cakes. There's a huge variety of recipes for almost every cake imaginable. The front of the book includes tiny color photos of (I think) all of the recipes. The recipes are uniformly delicious, but they do sometimes have other issues. Buy the cookbook if you need a little help when baking, and make sure to try a recipe ahead of time before making it for company.
on March 6, 2002
This book is VERY well written and fun to read, and loaded with good hints on baking in general, why cake mixes taste and perform the way they do, etc. But my results have been mixed. So far I've tried the Fresh Orange Cake, the lemon cake that follows two pages later, and the Macadamia Fudge Torte, all of which were outstanding. But the Double Chocolate Chewies (cookies), Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars, Pumpkin Spice Cake, and Banana Loaves were just OK. The Apple Walnut Crisp, while extremely easy, was not very good -- it tasted like what it was: apple pie filling with dry cake mix on top and then a full cup (ouch!) of melted butter poured on top! And my real disaster was the Zesty Cranberry Cake (one of the few low-fat ones). It tasted like baby aspirin, besides being dense and heavy, and my husband and I couldn't swallow it, even though we love cranberries.
I have a few general complaints also. One, I wish there were more light/ low fat recipes. Most of the recipes are "doctored" by adding extra eggs and LOTS of fat to them (among other things), and I can't bring myself to put that stuff into my body very often.
Second, she recommends using an electric mixer for just about every recipe (I assume to give the illusion of "quick and easy"), but some of the doughs are much too stiff to use the mixer unless you have a very strong commercial machine. Third, there are a LOT of repeats in the book! For example, the Chocolate Better-than-Sex Cake is exactly the same recipe as the Darn Good Chocolate Cake, and there are many other repeats, sometimes with tiny variations, and sometimes with nothing more than a name change or a different type of pan. And finally, I do a lot of from-scratch baking and I really don't find that using a mix saves me that much time. After all, mixing your dry ingredients only takes a few minutes. With Byrn's recipes you still have to zest the lemons, melt the butter, grease & flour the pan, wash the dishes, etc.
I think this book is best for those whose scratch recipes mysteriously fail, because Byrn's recipes are pretty foolproof and avoid your having to measure dry ingreds precisely (which is often the cause of scratch-baking failures). If you're good at scratch baking and have the few extra minutes to mix your dry ingreds., you should probably stick with scratch for best results!
PS: My review should be *3* stars -- for some reason Amazon has kept it at 4 despite my trying to change it!
on December 26, 2003
Thia review's title couldn't be truer - "The Cake Doctor" is the absolute BEST, without a doubt, cake and dessert cookbook I have ever seen. I love to cook and am usually a "purest," that is, I pride myself on using only the best and freshest ingredients and do not usually use prepackaged food products. Last year a friend served the best carrot cake I have ever eaten. I asked for the recipe and she brought out this cookbook. The carrot cake I so admired had been made from a mix. Many fresh ingredients were also called for, including 3 cups of fresh grated carrots - but the preparation looked ten times easier and faster than from scratch...and tasted as good or better. There's also an extraordinary recipe for orange cream cheese frosting included.
The same friend bought me this book for my birthday and I have been using it ever since. I frequently turn to it, especially when entertaining and during holidays. I have baked the Deeply Chocolate Almond Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (outrageous - but if you don't like the taste of almonds, or prefer your chocolate without - there are many other wonderful chocolate cake recipes), the Orange Dreamsicle Cake, Pecan Pie Cake, the Banana Cake with Quick Caramel Frosting and, of course, the carrot cake.
The book contains more than 175 recipes for cakes, dessert bars, crisps, cobblers, tira misu, frostings, etc. There are beautiful color photographs of each dessert and chapters on how to prepare and "doctor" the recipes for the best results. After tasting the results, you will not believe that all these creations begin with a boxed cake mix - and neither will your guests!
This is THE book for anyone who loves to cook and does not have lots of time. It's for cooks who enjoy preparing great desserts and for those who entertain frequently and prefer serving homemade food. Everyone out there who is not a good cook but enjoys good food, these recipes are easy and fun to prepare. And moms, dads and kids will be able to whip up a delicious fresh baked cake or dessert without a big to-do. Highly recommended; lots of fun; wonderful tasting results!
on October 7, 2002
Did you ever see "Steel Magnolias"? Do you remember the scene at the wedding when they're cutting into the armadillo groom's cake, and it was red velvet cake? Ever wonder how to make that? Well, on page 152 of The Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn, you can find out! This easy-to-use cookbook has recipes for cakes, biscotti, bars, cookie pops, and even tiramisu.
My favorite recipe in this book is the turtle cake. It's so easy to make, and such a popular treat! I've brought it to cookouts and church council meetings, and it disappeared. It disappears even faster when it's warm!
While there are "lighter" recipes in this cookbook, this book is not for the cholesterol conscious. Many of the recipes begin with adding a stick of butter to the cake mix. While it tastes delicious, the nutrition information is not provided.
I use this cookbook often, especially when I need something tasty and quick. It's a great resource for those times when you just don't have the time or inclination to cook from scratch.
on September 1, 2002
This is a clever concept that is going to save my life -- well at least my reputation as a baker. I love to cook and bake and yet, cakes are not my strong suit. We've had way too many flops in this household this year. Previously, I have been one of those to eschew the idea of using "a mix". ... This book offers a great way to do so and the results are much better (and cheaper!)than what I could pick up at the grocery store bakery and, hopefully, will help me break my "flop" streak.
Contrary to what a previous reviewer wrote, the author DOES (a very emphatic DOES) address the whole pudding in the mix issue - in great detail, in fact. The key to making good use of a cookbook is to READ the cookbook, not just a few recipes. There is a lot of important background provided in the first section of this book, as well as in the side-bars. After reading that section and then the review that claimed this was "three-star execution", I felt like that reviewer ... had NOT read the book.
That same person also commented on the baking times. I would remind all users of this book to make sure they are using the same size pan as recommended by the author if they are going to use that time frame. That makes a big difference. On page 405, there is a sidebar to explain how long to bake a cake in a different sized pan than specified in the recipe.
on May 28, 2002
I've made several of the cakes from this book when pressed for time, with great results! And while I still like to bake from scratch, it's nice to be able to give people a spontaneous invitation to dinner at 5:00 p.m. and whip up a cake for dessert with no problem.
Most of the recipes are of the "dump" variety, so you can throw everything together into the mixing bowl at once and beat for about 3 minutes, then bake. They couldn't be easier, and as the author explains, the cake mix manufacturers have gotten the mixes down to a science - you simply can't ruin the cakes without trying *really* hard.
My family's favorite is the fresh orange cake, which I've tweaked with different kinds of fruit juices/nectars. Depending on what you use, the cake takes on the beautiful color of the juice, and is so moist it needs no frosting - I use a decorative cake mold (see Williams-Sonoma) and a dusting of powdered sugar, and voila - a beautiful, impressive cake that tastes (and is) homemade and is still sophisticated. It tastes equally good with coffee or a tall glass of milk.
This book is definitely worth buying and using!
on February 13, 2002
I must say I have enjoyed using this book, and I'm NOT a big cake eater. I have made several of the cakes, and have particularly enjoyed the Lemon Buttermilk Poppyseed and Chocolate Pistachio cakes. I was disappointed in Susan's Lemon Cake and the Fresh Orange cakes, not because they weren't good but because they were somewhat boring. For example when making the latter I added orange zest and chocolate chips to the batter, and put a chocolate glaze on top. I don't think my additional efforts were worth it, though, because it still tasted like cake from a mix. I believe that novice or occasional bakers will appreciate this book, but the more adventurous will grow bored with the results of some of the recipes and begin to look for ways to doctor them even more (which, I suppose, can be fun in itself, provided the efforts are worth it). However, in the final analysis, nothing takes the place of the flavor, texture, and wholesomeness (remember that word? One that Little Debbie and Sara Lee, with their chemical-laden, tasteless concoctions, would just as soon you forget?) of a cake baked from scratch, and those who enjoy cooking just as much as eating don't necessarily consider it a complete burden to take the extra steps; on the contrary, with scratch cooking the ends often very well justify the means. I would not recommend this book to someone who just wants to bake something quickly so they can eat it and get even fatter. Americans need to learn a lesson from their thinner, healthier bretheren over in Europe, which is that when it comes to food, convenience is not everything, and often means sacrificing purity and healthfulness and increasing fat and calories instead of flavor. Therein lies the Achilles Heel of books like this. How healthy is it to eat something that was invented in a corporate laboratory, deliberately to appeal to mass consumption? Think about it. THIS IS WHAT YOU ARE PUTTING INTO YOUR BODY.
on December 17, 2001
I read great reviews about this book and asked for it for Christmas last year.
It was fun to read, as Anne gives great tips you can use with ANY cake.
This year I have made at least 10 cakes from her book ( a couple I have made 3 times). And except for a disappointing lemon cake (tasted more like mix than anything else), the cakes have been fabulous. My favorite cake so far is
the Pumpkin Spice cake with Buttercream frosting. I have taken this to many Holiday parties and it is a hit. It is a fun alternative to pumpkin pie. And everyone likes it because it is not too sweet, or chocolate, etc.
Another great cake is the Milk Chocolate Pound cake. I can make
is using my food processor in minutes and it is great to take to parties.
I have always loved making cakes from mixes and scratch, but now I keep going back to her book. I get fast, easy delicious results that can impress anybody (even my mother-in-law).
If you are a busy working mom like me, this will make you feel like
Martha Stewart in your free time.
on December 3, 2001
I love this book, and I wasn't expecting to. I received it as a wedding gift and so far it has been wonderful. My problem with cake mixes is not the taste - it's the fact that they are boring. So, I use this as a great way to easily create fancy cakes that taste great with less work. Every one that I have made has gotten rave reviews.
The best part of this book is the index of cakes in the front. The first 4 or so pages are of small pictures of every cake, in full color. It gives you a great way to easily scan to see which cakes look good for the occasion. Once you find the one that looks best, follow the page number to the recipe.
I cannot vouch for whether or not a cake from this book would pass the test of a "cake purist." I somehow doubt it would - if you know it has cake mix in it, you're always going to taste the mix even if no one else will. If you really, truly don't like cake mix and can't stand the thought of it, I probably wouldn't recommend getting this book. There are other easy cake cookbooks out there that don't involve mix.
If you are dieting, of course don't expect this to be a book full of diet food. Most recipes call for plenty of eggs, egg yolks, and at least one stick of real butter in both the cake and the icing. However, the last chapter is a whole section of lighter cakes using angel food cake mix.
So, if you aren't afraid of mix and you're not afraid of fat, try this book - it's sure to please.