Books That Cook is a new section of BiteClub featuring contributors’ takes on recent cookbooks. We tell you if they’re worth it — or not by testing a few recipes. In this first entry, Meloni Courtway, a professional caterer, blogger, and trained pastry chef in Petaluma takes on Anne Byrn’s Cake Doctor Bakes Gluten Free cookbook. Her judgment:Though its far from scratch cooking, Courtway says cooking from a mix ain’t half bad.
I’m not going to lie, when I first opened the book “The Cake Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten-Free, I was a little suspicious. This is a book full of recipes designed to use cake mixes.
I’m a trained pastry chef. Wasn’t this supposed to be against my religion?
But, in an effort to give everything a fair chance, and with a grumbly tummy which has of late been avoiding gluten, I ventured into the land of pre-made cake mixes and Anne Byrn’s take on how to mix them up. Turns out, especially if you’re new to the world of gluten free flours, xanthum gums, arrow root powders, and substitute after substitute, this book could be your life saver. The one thing that Byrn certainly does, is take the guesswork out of baking gluten free.
In the book, takes simple cake mixes, then tweaks with things like almond extract, fresh berries, cocoa powder, grated coconut, cinnamon, lime zest, and more – naturally, all gluten-free ingredients.
Off to the store I went then to purchase my first (but not last) gluten-free cake mix. I baked her Devil’s Food Cake with Vanilla Buttercream. Basic yes, but a great launching off point for someone who doesn’t traditionally grab a box and go. It was, I can attest, better than something your grandma might make. The icing, more of a old school frosting, and less like a French buttercream, was super sweet , but strangely reminiscent of that stuff in a can. Of course, it wasn’t from a can and I controlled all the ingredients.
Now, that being said, I do need to pay tribute to the mix I used I suppose, as Byrne only suggests ”gluten free cake mix” but does not designate any brand. I went with King Arthur Flours chocolate cake mix, and was not disappointed. Most of Byrn’s recipes call for a 15 oz. bag of cake mix and every brand I found at whole foods was in a 22 oz serving. That is probably the only bad thing I have to say about this book. What’s a girl to do with 7oz of cake mix?
It is what it claims to be, a cookbook using cake mixes. Like it or not, there is a large number of people in the US using mixes, and this women has addressed an ever growing need, while also taking mixes to the next level. Byrn uses basic mixes to create cookies, whoopee pies and plumped up Bundt cakes, leaving me to wonder, would I ever bake from scratch again?
Want to try a recipe? Here’s the author’s take on strawberry cake, a great summertime treat.
Fresh Strawberry Cake with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
I can’t imagine a spring birthday without a strawberry cake. It has been the cake of choice for my girls, and my guys love it, too. And we’re all in favor of this gluten-free version. I think it’s even more intensely strawberry flavored. Plus it’s pretty, fancy, fun–all the right elements for a great party cake.
For the cake:
- Vegetable oil spray, for misting the pans
- 2 teaspoons rice flour, for dusting the pans
- 2 cups (16 ounces) fresh strawberries
- 1 package (15 ounces) yellow gluten-free cake mix
- 3 tablespoons strawberry gelatin (half of a 3-ounce package)
- ½ cup vegatable oil
- 3 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons pure vanila extract
- Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting (below)
For the frosting:
- 1 large strawberry
- 4 ounces (half of an 8-ounce package) cream cheese, at room temperature
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
To make the cake:
- Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly mist two 9-inch round cake pans with vegetable oil spray, then dust them with rice flour. Shake out the excess rice flour and set the pans aside.
- Rinse and drain the strawberries, then pat them dry with paper towels. Select the 6 prettiest berries for garnish and set them aside. Set aside one large strawberry to use in the Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting. Cut the green caps off the remaining berries and mash the berries with a fork or place when in a food processor and pulse until you have a smooth puree, about 10 pulses. You need ¾ cup of pureed strawberries.
- Place the cake mix and strawberry gelatin in a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. Add the strawberry puree, oil, eggs, and vanilla and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until the ingredients are just incorporated, 30 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat the batter until smooth, 1 to 1 ½ minutes longer, scraping down the side of the bowl again if needed. Divide the batter evenly between the 2 prepared cake pans, smoothing the tops with the rubber spatula. Place the pans in the oven side by side.
- Bake the cake layers until they are golden brown and the top springs back when lightly pressed with a finger, 18 to 22 minutes. Transfer the cake pans to wire racks and let the cake layers cool for 5 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the edge of each cake layer and give the pans a good shake to loosen the cakes. Invert each layer onto a wire rack, then invert it again onto another rack so that the layers are right side up. Let the layers cool completely, about 20 minutes longer.
- Meanwhile, make the Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
- To assemble the cake, transfer one later, right side up, to a serving plate. Spread the top with about 1 cup of the frosting. Place the second cake layer, right side up, on top of the first layer and frost the top and side of the cake, working with smooth, clean strokes. To make slicing easier, place the uncovered cake in the refrigerator until the frosting sets, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Just before serving, garnish the cake with the 6 whole berries or slice the berries and pile them in the center of the cake. Or slice the berries lengthwise 2 or 3 times, slicing up to but not through the green stem end. Gently spread out the berries to form fans and arrange these on the top of the cake.
To make the frosting:
- Makes: 3 cups, enough to frost a 2-layer cake, a 13 by 9-inch cake, or 24 or more cupcakes.
- Prep: 15 minutes
- Rinse and pat the strawberry dry. Cut the green cap off the strawberry and chip the berry into small pieces. Place the chopped strawberry in a medium-size mixing bowl and mash it with a fork until pureed. Add the cream cheese and butter and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until combined, 20 seconds. Stop the machine and add the confectioners’ sugar. Beat with the mixer on low speed until the confectioners’ sugar is well incorporated, 15 seconds. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat the frosting until fluffy, 2 minutes longer. The frosting can be made a day ahead and refrigerated, covered. Let the frosting return to room temperature before using.