A Piece of Cake December

I used to dash to flights at the last minute, begging Delta not to close the plane door. But now, thanks to maturity and airport security lines, I arrive early, painfully early. I pack days in advance, run through mental lists in my sleep the night before, and am proof that organization can be learned. But as much as I pride myself on being on-task, life remains a juggle of calm and chaos, of sticking to a plan and thinking outside the box, of structure and of whimsy. Maybe that’s why I enjoy cooking and baking so much. Good cooking needs a plan – a repertoire of favorite recipes, fresh ingredients, cleanliness, discipline – but it also needs creativity, spontaneity, and flexibility. This time of year is a great example. Pull out your favorite cake or cookie recipe, make time in your busy schedule to prepare it, but stay cool if the kitchen gets messy with spilled sprinkles, sticky counters, and dirty bowls stacked in the sink. I love the creative and spontaneous aspects of cooking. So did my mom. She didn’t stress about the mess and did her most productive gift baking and wrapping late at night while our family slept! Last night as I wrapped brownies and pumpkin cake for a school bake sale, I thought about how wonderfully quiet and productive my kitchen was. But it was lonely, too. I got nostalgic thinking of the sprinkles my kids used to spill on the floor as they chatted away, decorating Christmas cookies together. From my kitchen to yours, I am hoping for a wonderfully spontaneous and creative Christmas and a joyful new year.

Happy Baking,

Anne

Cookies are Mood Changers:

No wonder everyone at our house is in a great mood in December. It’s the cookies. See the Cake Mix Doctor on Facebook for my favorite cookie recipe to bake this month.

Cake Mix Doctor’s Mix:

Distribution is growing! My new mixes, with no artificial ingredients, are found at the Central Markets in Texas, Straub’s Fine Groceries in St. Louis, A Southern Season in Chapel Hill, NC, and retail stores in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Kentucky, and New York. (Check www.cakemixdoctor.com for specific locations). Look for my mix if you are a Bed, Bath & Beyond shopper as it will be going into many stores across the country this month.

December Online Special: Use the coupon code — holiday20 — for 20% off orders through December. The Terrific Trio makes a great gift for the baker because it comes with my frosting booklet called “The Icing on the Cake.” You can also order the booklet alone from www.cakemixdoctor.com.

In addition to the Holiday Pumpkin Cake, and Scarlet’s Red Velvet Cupcakes, I like to bake the Old-Fashioned Yellow Mix by adding 1 stick soft butter, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, 3 large eggs, and 1 cup warm milk. For the Chocolate Cake Mix, I often use Greek yogurt instead of the sour cream or turn the mix into the Chocolate Praline Cake.

More from The Cake Mix Doctor:

Want to hear more from me? I will send you recipes and the latest info on my cake mixes. Send your name and email address to anne@cakemixdoctor.com. Place “cake mix” in the subject line.

Cupcakes for the Holidays

Earlier this year, my publicist Selina Meere asked me to develop a Red Velvet Cupcake in honor of her daughter Scarlet’s first birthday. Here is a terrific Red Velvet cupcake with peppermint frosting, perfect for holiday baking:

Scarlet’s Red Velvet Cupcakes
Makes 24 cupcakes
Prep: 15 minutes
Bake: 20 minutes

For the cupcakes:
1 package (21.6 ounces) Cake Mix Doctor’s Old-Fashioned Yellow cake mix, or your favorite yellow cake mix
1 package (3.4 ounces) vanilla instant pudding mix
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
1½ cups milk
2/3 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
Half a 1-ounce bottle red food coloring (see Note)

For the peppermint frosting:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
Crushed peppermint candies, if desired, for topping cupcakes

      1. Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place 24 paper liners in two cupcake pans and set the pans aside.
      2. For the cupcakes, place the cake mix, pudding mix, cocoa, milk, oil, eggs, and red food coloring in a large mixing bowl and blend on low speed of an electric mixer until just combined. Increase the mixer speed to medium and blend until smooth, 1 to 1½ minutes. Scoop the batter into the liners, filling them three-quarters of the way full. Place the pans in the oven.
      3. Bake the cupcakes until the cake springs back when lightly pressed with your finger, 20 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool.
      4. For the frosting, place the butter in a large mixing bowl, and blend with an electric mixer on low until creamy. Add 2 cups of the confectioners’ sugar, the milk, and extracts, and blend until smooth. Add the remaining 1 cup sugar and blend on medium-high until the frosting is creamy and fluffy. Set aside.
      5. When the cupcakes are cool, spread a tablespoon frosting over each one. Garnish with crushed peppermint, if desired.

Note: If you don’t like the flavor of red food coloring, Wilton makes a flavorless red food coloring called “No Taste” food coloring gel.

Q&A:

Q. I’ve noticed that when I mix my cake mixes using a KitchenAid stand mixer, the cake comes out a little different than if I use a hand-held mixer. The cake kind of deflates once it comes out of the oven and is cooling. I wonder if maybe the batter is being over-mixed. Any suggestions? – Tricia Wetta.

A. Cakes that shrink when they cool and also have big air pockets – tunnels – are signs a cake batter has been over-mixed. Because the big stand mixers are more powerful than a hand-held mixer, it is easy to over-beat a cake batter that begins with a cake mix. I usually use a hand-held mixer for cake mix cakes and save the stand mixer for frostings and breads. Hope this helps!

The Cake Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten-Free: I loved being in Rye, NY, this fall for the Colin Leslie Walk for Celiac Disease (www.colinlesliewalkforceliacdisease.org) Rye is a gorgeous town just 30 minutes from Manhattan, and for several years Cheryl Leslie, her son Colin Leslie, their friends and family, have hosted a benefit for the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University. In addition to the fund-raising walk, there was a vendor fair where I tasted the best gluten-free bread imaginable. Baked by Everybody Eats, a Brooklyn, NY, bakery, the French baguette tasted like the real thing. You can order online at www.everybodyeats-inc.com. The walk made $56,000 for gluten-free research.

Speaking of gluten-free, I have been finishing up my gluten-free dinner cookbook and have for months promised to share the pie crust recipe with you. Here it is! Fill with your favorite pecan, pumpkin, mince, apple, chess, filling for the holidays. My cookbook will be published in the fall of 2012.

Anne’s Gluten-Free Pie Crust

My quest to create an easy, flawless gluten-free pie crust began in Knoxville, TN. I was there last year at a gluten-free fair and after talking about cakes I mentioned to the crowd I was searching for a gf pie crust. An hour later a sweet woman and her husband came up to meet me. She said she had been baking gf pies for 20 years and had mastered a recipe. “Begin with the green box of pie crust mix,” she told me softly, “and use cream cheese.” Then she vanished into the crowd. The green box would turn out to be the Gluten-Free Pantry brand. And after baking it by the directions we decided to omit the sugar called for on the package (to reduce over-browning) and decided to try the cream cheese trick. We add a little baking powder, cold butter and cold cream cheese, then eggs, cold water and a little cider vinegar. Why vinegar? Acids seem to tenderize rice flour, making it less gritty. With this crust you don’t get a vinegar taste at all, if anything, this pie crust tastes buttery and rich and is perfect with fruit pies, chocolate pies, even chicken pot pie and pizza turnovers. Enjoy, and thank you, Knoxville.

Gluten-Free Pie Crust Recipe

Look for this recipe and more surprises in The Dinner Doctor Cooks Gluten-Free, by Anne Byrn, to be published September, 2012, by Workman Publishing.

Next Issue: January. A great slow-cooker recipe. Slimming down packaged brownies.

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Showing 24 comments
  • Wayne
    Reply

    I have a KitchenAid mixer, but have no problem with cake mixes. The thing to remember is that “Medium” in a hand mixer is not the middle of the dial of the KitchenAid. If you use 2 or 3 instead of 5 or 6 I think you will not overmix your batter. Use the same time limits on the box or recipe. Works for me!

    • Anne
      Reply

      Wayne,

      Great suggestion. Thanks!

      Anne

  • Roni Tewksbury
    Reply

    In looking at your December newsletter, there is a cake pictured at the top of the newsletter, but no recipe for that cake later in the letter. What kind of cake is it? A red velvet cake? It looks delicious!

    • Anne
      Reply

      Roni,

      That is the Holiday Pumpkin Cake. Click on the blogs and you will see the recipe, then click on recipe and you will see a photo of one slice of the cake. Love this cake!

      Anne

  • Lynn
    Reply

    I am seeking a doctored mix recipe for Mock Pannetone using pine nuts, currants, etc. Any suggestions? 🙂

    • Anne
      Reply

      Lynn,

      I’ll have to think about this one as Pannetone is a yeast bread. Am thinking you could do a version of my cake mix cinnamon rolls from the Cake Mix Doctor Returns book. Use that dough, and add pine nuts and currants, then it would need to be baked in a deep springform pan. Let it rise a bit before baking to let the yeast activate. Hope this helps!

      Anne

  • Michael Ferraro
    Reply

    Anne,

    Thank you for great cake and cupcake recipes. Happy holidays to you and all those that are in your life..

    Fondly,
    Michael

    • Anne
      Reply

      Michael,

      Best wishes to you and yours, too!

      Anne

  • John Aydelotte
    Reply

    I’ve been experimenting with the Melted Ice Cream Cake. That recipe is so versatile so far as flavor is concerned. I’m in agreement with you on using Ben and Jerry’s, but I recommend you try using Ben and Jerry’s Phish Phood Ice Cream. That makes the best, and most moist chocolate cake. I made some for a church party. That cake didn’t even last fifteen minutes.

    • Anne
      Reply

      I cannot wait to try Phish Phood ice cream! And use it in the cake. Thanks for the great idea!

  • Marilyn
    Reply

    Anne-
    Your words above really hit home. I am also a very organized person but I enjoy thinking outside the box too. It never dawned on me (until I read your holiday comments) that it could be the reason I enjoy cooking/baking so much. I am guilty of getting up at the crack of dawn (or like your Mom, staying up till the wee hours) and preparing something yummy for my family. Keep the inspirational recipes coming. Peace on Earth and Happy Holidays.
    Marilyn

    • Anne
      Reply

      Marilyn,

      Thinking outside the box keeps me sane. Your family is fortunate to have you.

      All best!
      Anne

  • Terry Cunningham
    Reply

    Please, I am begging you….I need a good, plain gluten free brownie recipe.

    • Anne
      Reply

      Terry, it’s coming in my gluten-free dinner book, which should be published later this year. I hope to share that recipe this year in the newsletter prior to book publication. A hint – cocoa and cornstarch act as flours in baking. So you really don’t need wheat flour to bake a good brownie!

  • Karen
    Reply

    I recently discovered that B.C. (and probably others) have down-sized their cake mixes by 3 oz. The instructions call for less liquid. Until your mixes are available to me in the store, what changes do I need to make for your recipes?
    Thanks for all your recipes! I own 3 of your cookbooks and have been a fan from the beginning.

    • Anne
      Reply

      Karen, we tried the down-sized mixes and believe it or not, they still work with my recipes. The cakes are a lot spongier in texture. I would choose my recipes that have less liquid and add-ins. I am disappointed in how much smaller these smaller mixes look after baking.

  • Jennifer
    Reply

    I use mixes all the time and you inspired me to bake with them with confidence but for some reason when I mention to people I used a box I get criticized really bad…it bothered me so that I went and graduated from pastry school….BUT prefer boxed..its quicker…how do I shake my crtics and haters as some call them? I own 4 of your books

    • Anne
      Reply

      Don’t bake a cake for them would be one way…Seriously, the longer I live and bake I tire of judgmental cooks who turn up their noses at shortcuts, or at bleached flour. Everyone has the right to bake how they please. You obviously like the soft, sponginess and ease of a mix, so enjoy baking with them.

  • Karen
    Reply

    My most recent cakes (layer and bundt) have been crumbling when I cut the slices. I’m not sure what’s causing this. Any suggestions to try? Thanks.

    • Anne
      Reply

      The crumbling could be from the cake being too dry, or too warm to slice, or there could be add-ins inside the cake like chocolate chips, nuts, or coconut, that can make slicing messy. I need a little more info on the type of cake that is crumbling. Thanks!

  • Diane
    Reply

    Your gluten free recipes are wonderful! My friends and I have switched to gluten free for medical issues. Our weight has decreased and pain has subsided. The gluten free foods taste so much better; lighter and tastier (we’ve all forgotten how food tasted before wheat added to EVERYTHING!) Thank you for taking the time to help!!

  • Johnetta Barger
    Reply

    Please do a pie book using shortcuts. Maybe pies made with Jello pudding and pie filling using add-ins so that they don’t taste as if they’ve been made with a pudding and pie filling mix. I have all your books and use them all the time to make delicious cakes but I also make lots of pies from scratch. I would love to have your help in making easier pies.

  • Johnetta Barger
    Reply

    Please do a book for pies. Maybe pies using Jello pudding and pie filling with add-ins so they don’t taste as if they’ve been made with a pudding and pie filling mix. I have all your books and use them all the time to make delicious cakes but I also make lots of pies from scratch and would love your help in making easier pies.

  • Sherry
    Reply

    the melted ice cream cake sounds intriguing, where can I find your recipe? I’m new here and so far love you blog!! Keep the ideas coming!!

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