A Piece of Cake December 2012

You know it’s December when the calendar is over-committed, the refrigerator stocked high with butter and eggs, and you bake before bedtime. That’s the case at our house, even though with just one child left at home there are fewer teacher gifts to make. We pull out my mother’s toffee recipe, make a coconut or caramel cake for my husband’s birthday, bake cheese wafers and toasted pecans for nibbling, roll out and decorate gingerbread stars and sugar cookies once my girls get home from college, and then run around the block!

I am just home from my first leg of book tour and successfully survived airport delays, live TV, and late-night cooking classes. I love book tour because I get to meet readers like you. Unbelievably Gluten-Free is my new book, a dinner book for anyone who is gluten-free or has to cook for someone they love on a gluten-free diet. In fact, that was why I wrote the book. I found gluten-free prepared foods at the supermarket expensive and tasteless. Why not make your own quickly, deliciously, inexpensively? (Check out the second half of my tour dates below).

For everyone, g-free or not, welcome to another newsletter, filled with recipes and ramblings, wisdom and wisecracks, and now approaching its 13th year. Who was it that told me I needed to start writing a newsletter? Think it was the first web designer I had who skied during the daytime in Park City, Utah, and created the Cake Mix Doctor website, and others, at night. It was a good idea. We have shared a lot of great recipes here, and always great baking ideas. I love the ideas you come up with – and this newsletter is no exception. So read on, bake on, and be well this month and into 2013.

Happy Baking!

Recipe Swap

I spent 20 years in Georgia, first in college at the University of Georgia, and then in Atlanta as food editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Along the way I met wonderful people and picked up some of my favorite recipes. Gwen Bentley and her husband, the late Jimmy Bentley, were friends of mine in Atlanta. Jimmy was known in political circles, in the real estate world, and to all who loved good food. One of my favorite of his recipes was his caramel cake, which he made by stacking two 9 by 13-inch yellow cakes on top of one another, and frosting with his burnt sugar icing.

I had forgotten until recently that Jimmy also folded in a peach and orange marmalade conserve into the bottom cake layer just before it baked. This was such a Southern twist on a simple cake – to fancy up one layer, not both, so you have this beautiful contrast of flavor and texture when you take a bite of cake. Conserves are similar to preserves but they usually have nuts added, and in this case it is chopped pecans. I have scaled down the cake to 9-inch layers, and I have added my mother’s recipe for Caramel Frosting, which is easier to prepare than the old-fashioned method of caramelizing white sugar. This cake will take you through the holidays into the winter and into spring and summer. It is seasonless and lovely.

Southern Caramel Cake with Peach Conserve

Makes 16 servings
Prep: 30 minutes
Bake: 32 to 38 minutes
Total time: 62 to 68 minutes

For the peach conserve:
¼ cup peach preserves
2 heaping tablespoons orange marmalade
2 tablespoons finely chopped pecans

For the cake:
1 package yellow cake mix (see Note)
2 heaping tablespoons instant vanilla pudding mix, if desired
3 large eggs
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups milk, warmed

Quick Caramel Frosting:
12 tablespoons butter
¾ cup dark brown sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

    1. 1. For the peach conserve, place the peach preserves, orange marmalade, and pecans in a small bowl and stir to combine. Set the conserve aside.
    2. 2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 9-inch cake layer pans and set aside.
    3. 3. For the cake, place the cake mix and pudding mix in a large bowl and stir to combine. Add the eggs, butter, and milk, and blend on low with an electric mixer until the ingredients are combined, then increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until smooth and thickened, 1½ to 2 minutes. Turn half of the batter into one of the layer pans. Fold the conserve into the remaining batter and turn this batter into the other layer pan. Place the pans in the oven side by side. Bake until the tops are golden, the tops spring back when lightly pressed with a finger, about 32 to 38 minutes. The layer with the conserve added will take several minutes longer to cook than the plain layer.
    4. 4. Remove the pans to a rack to cool 10 to 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan, shake the pan to loosen the cake, then invert the layers once, then again, onto the rack to cool right-side up.
    5. 5. While the cakes are cooling, assemble the frosting ingredients. When the cakes are cool to the touch, you can begin making the frosting. Place the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. When the butter has melted, stir in the brown sugars until well combined and bubbly. Add the milk and reduce the heat to low. Add the vanilla. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth.
    6. 6. To assemble and frost the cake, place the layer with the conserve on a cake stand. Spoon a generous layer of caramel frosting over this layer and spread evenly to the edge of the cake. Immediately place the second layer on top of the first, and with generous spoonfuls, ladle warm frosting over the top of the cake. It will set as you spread it. Frost the sides of the cake, working quickly as the frosting sets as it is spread onto the cake. If the frosting gets too hard to spread, place it back over low heat and add a dribble of milk to thin it slightly. This cake will keep at room temperature for three days.

    Note: If you use a 15- to 16-ounce yellow cake mix, add 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour to the mix. This recipe is perfect for my cake mix, The Cake Mix Doctor’s Old-Fashioned Yellow cake mix, which is 21.6 ounces. Why add instant pudding mix? It helps suspend the nuts and preserves in the cake layer.

    And it’s Free!

    My 30 favorite frostings – yes, I really do love that many frostings! – are all together in a cute frosting booklet called, “The Icing on the Cake.” You can download a free version of the 48-page book during the month of December. Yes, it is free!

    A New Kind of eBook

    A new format of ebook will blow you away – really. It is from Inkling, a creative California-based company that started by making textbooks more interesting to use. Now there are Inkling versions of cookbooks. The photography is everywhere. Recipes don’t jump from one page to another but instead seem like long recipe cards with little interactive pockets of information, tip boxes, and call-outs from sidebars. I am thrilled to have two of my books in Inkling offerings – The Cake Mix Doctor Returns and also Unbelievably Gluten-Free. Check them out! You can buy the whole book in Inkling format or just a chapter.

    Anne’s Cake Mix

    Two years into the cake mix business, and I am thrilled to say my mixes are now not only in the Central Markets throughout Texas but also Winn-Dixie in Florida and St. Simons, GA, and just added to the fabulous Star Markets in the Boston area. Check out https://cakemixdoctor.com/annes-cake-mix/ for locations. If there is no location near you, then you can order online. Or drop me an email anne@cakemixdoctor.com and let me know of a store near you that should carry my mixes. My mixes are unique in that they are easy to bake – dump in a bowl – but have no artificial ingredients.

    Holiday Coupon: And now, if you order online, you can take advantage of a winter baking special of 20 percent off! Type the coupon code WINTER20 on the order page. All orders come with a free recipe card.

    My Favorite Things

    Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens are not some of my favorite things during the holidays. I prefer:

    • India Tree decorating sugars for a beautiful upscale look to decorated sugar cookies.
    • Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate for making chocolate ganache.
    • Using dried and sweetened cranberries and cherries instead of raisins in cookies.
    • Citrus of all types – satsumas, clementines, California navel oranges, and some juicy temple oranges this year. We make pomander balls of lemon and oranges by poking holes in the citrus with a toothpick and them plugging the holes with whole cloves. Place these in a pretty glass bowl in the center of the table and they are not only beautiful to look at but this colonial period decoration keeps the house freshly scented as it did years ago in the pre-air freshener days.
    • Ginger. My sister’s name and also a spice that gives a little pick-me-up to whatever it inhabits – apple pie, pumpkin bread, gingerbread cookies, etc.
    • Allison’s Gluten-Free Granola from my new book. I stash in the pantry for easy breakfasts or pack into plastic bags for gifts. Allison’s recipe has coconut, almonds, pepitas, and dried cherries so it is unique and fun. You don’t have to be g-free to love it.

    Unbelievably Gluten-Free Book Tour: Part 2

    I may be in a city near you! Come see me. And remember even if you are not gluten-free, my other books will be sold and I am happy to visit with you and answer any baking or cooking questions.

    Wednesday, January 16th, 7 pm
    Seattle, WA
    Third Place Books
    17171 Bothell Way NE
    Lake Forest Park, WA 98155
    (206) 366-3333

    Tuesday, January 22nd, 7 pm
    Grand Rapids, MI
    Schuler Books & Music
    2660 28th Street SE
    Grand Rapids, MI 49512
    (616) 942-2561

    Thursday, January 24th, 6 pm
    Twin Cities, MN
    Cooks of Crocus Hill
    24 S. Main St
    Stillwater, MN 55082
    (651) 351-1144

    Wednesday, January 30th, 7 pm
    Phoenix, AZ
    Changing Hands Bookstore
    6428 S. McClintock Dr
    Tempe, AZ 85283
    (480) 730-0205

    Thursday, January 31st; 7:30 pm
    Denver, CO
    Tattered Cover Bookstore
    9315 Dorchester Street
    Highlands Ranch, CO 80129
    (303) 470-7050

    Hot Tips

    Where would I be without great baking tips from readers like you?

    Ilene Leventhal writes that she has been baking from-scratch cakes for years but started using my recipes to make things a little easier in the kitchen. Her great tip is to make a sheet or round cake, let it cool, then slice in half horizontally and drizzle the inside “very lightly with rum – white and not dark. I use just enough to moisten the cake and not have that rum flavor.” And Ilene adds, she now uses extra-large eggs when baking because oftentimes the large eggs are not large anymore! I agree, Ilene, and have resorted to weighing eggs to make sure they are at least 2 ounces each. Ilene started baking when she was seven years of age, and she credits her love of baking to her mom who encouraged her. “Because of her praising me, I was hooked and loved baking, cooking, etc.”

    Survey Says…Few are happy with reformulated, smaller cake mixes

    Diane Rockwell, aka The Cake Lady, of Lancaster, MA, wrote earlier this fall. She was surveying cake bakers as to their opinions of the new smaller cake mixes. To get things in the right order, Diane first wrote a letter to the CEO of Smuckers, parent company of Pillsbury cake mix, last summer saying she had been baking with the Pillsbury mix for 35 years and included not-so-favorable comments about the smaller mixes from internet chat boards. Then she received a phone call from Smuckers, asking her to come meet with their marketing and research and development teams. But before her visit Diane wanted to have facts in hand, so she conducted an online survey of bakers and as of early November her survey had yielded 348 responses. Here are Diane’s survey results:

    • Two-thirds of the bakers switched to another brand of cake mix when theirs was down-sized.
    • One-third of the bakers add more mix or dry ingredients to get back to the volume of the old mixes.
    • The majority of bakers did not like the new size, texture, and volume of the mixes.
    • Only 20 percent follow box directions – most people customize them with added ingredients.
    • Half of the bakers have more than 10 years baking experience.

    My advice is to add 5 to 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour to the smaller mixes before adding other ingredients.

    Diane and others are petitioning cake mix companies to bring back the original formulas and sizes. To help them, fill out the survey by visiting:


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    Mix-cellaneous! If you would like more news from my kitchen, would like to hear about must-have ingredients I stash in my pantry as well as updates and recipes using my cake mixes, sign up for a new newsletter – Mix-cellaneous!

    Next issue:  News from the road. Winter baking. Keeping fit.

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Showing 8 comments
  • Leticia

    Question about this: “… she now uses extra-large eggs when baking because oftentimes the large eggs are not large anymore! I agree, Ilene, and have resorted to weighing eggs to make sure they are at least 2 ounces each”

    Do you weigh them in the shell? I’m thinking yes…but need confirmation.


  • Nancy Copeland

    I have been using your cake books almost since the first one hit the streets I am well known for my wonderful box cakes and always give credit to you. I have never seen you scheduled for a show in Virginia, I used to live in northern va 9 outside Washington DC) but now live in Tidewater (Norfolk,Va Beach, Williamsburg Hampton) Please think about paying us a visit.

    • Anne

      Will do! Would love to get to Virginia!

  • Serena

    Leticia, yes, you weigh the egg in its shell, and it should be 2 oz.

    • Fran

      Thanks Serena, You answered my question, too. Merry Christmas!

  • Jo Ellen Helmlinger

    Remember, that under USDA regulations, eggs are sorted for size based on a minimum weight per dozen : jumbo–30 ounces per dozen; extra large–27 ounces per dozen; large–24 ounces per dozen; etc. This means that eggs of different sizes can be in the same carton as long as the carton meets the minimum weight requirement. Almost all recipes and mixes are written or tested for large eggs.. The best way to ensure that you have the correct amount is to measure eggs by cup increments or ounces. Five whole large eggs = 1 cup. Four extra-large eggs = 1 cup.

  • Chris Baiz

    Hi, Anne. I love your cakes. Every one has been delicious. I particularly love your pretty in pink cupcakes. I have found that your leftover frosting freezes well. I had the idea to try some of the strawberry cream cheese frosting on some chocolate cupcakes, and it was a big hit. It was like a chocolate-dipped strawberry. Please keep those wonderful recipes coming!

  • janet Byrne

    Do you have recipes, of chocolate spice cake? I need by Monday April 8

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