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Contributed Photo by Bob Delevante / Anne Byrn

Anne Byrn is the author of 15 cookbooks, and her latest, "A New Take on Cake" (Clarkson Potter, 384 pages, $27), is the long-awaited follow-up in her popular "Cake Mix Doctor" series.

No one has their finger on the pulse of America's home cake bakers more than Byrn, a native of Nashville and former food editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Tennessean in Nashville.

The birth of the "Cake Mix Doctor" began as a food story Byrn wrote about her mother's creative touch in giving cake-mix cakes a "cakelift." Readers responded in droves with stories and recipes of their own. And "The Cake Doctor" was born.

That was in 1999. Since then, Byrn has written cookbooks about cookies ("American Cookie"), gluten-free cooking ("Unbelievably Gluten-Free"), and easy meal solutions ("Anne Byrn Saves the Day Cookbook"), but it's the "Cake Mix Doctor" dynasty that remains a beloved baking tome for home bakers and cake lovers. Her latest, "A New Take on Cake," was written for people who loved the "Cake Mix Doctor" and wanted more, Byrn says, adding that she updated many of their favorite recipes and gave them ideas on new ways to make not only easy cakes, but also cookies, vegan cakes, cupcakes, muffins, squares and bars using cake mix.

"I also wrote it for my daughters' generation, time-stretched cooks who have no problem starting a cake with a mix," Byrn says. Her millennial daughters, Kathleen, 31, and Litton, 27, weighed in on the flavors their mom put together in many of the recipes, as well as the look and feel of the book.

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Clarkson Potter/Cover Photo by Danielle Atkins / "A New Take on Cake"

"Millennials love 'work-arounds,' as they call them," she says. "They think it's clever. But the cake needs to be gorgeous enough to take a photo of for Instagram. Thus, the subtitle of the book: Beautiful and Doable."

It's a book for seasoned cooks who appreciate the ease of cake mixes, as well as an entirely new generation of cooks, Byrn says.

"I started seeing younger cooks using a cake mix to jump-start a vegan cake, and my readers have asked me for years to update their favorite recipes using the smaller cake mixes on the shelves today," she says.

Smaller boxes of cake mix are one of the major changes Byrn has seen since the first "Cake Mix Doctor" was published. Instead of boxes containing 18.5 ounces of cake mix, they come in smaller sizes from 15.25 to 16.5 ounces, making it difficult for people using Byrn's original recipes. She also believes the recipe manufacturers use for making the mixes has been reformulated, giving them less structure.

So old recipes in the new book have been tweaked and new recipes have been added.

Cake on Ice

Anne Byrn, cookbook author and food writer, is married to former Lookout Mountain resident John Whitaker. Byrn remembers years ago when an ice storm hit the Scenic City and paralyzed many living on the mountain.

“I was visiting Lookout Mountain with my family, and there was an ice storm,” she recalls. “We lost power, but it was so cold we didn’t worry about refrigeration. We just put what was in the refrigerator in the garage. I had baked a coconut cake from the ‘Cake Mix Doctor’ before I came, and it sat out there in the garage an extra day or two and got even more flavorful. When I think of coconut cake, I think of garage coconut cake!”

That recipe, with an improved frosting, is one of 175 that are in Byrn’s new cookbook, “A New Take on Cake.”

For example, she uses a butter recipe mix and turns it into an almond cream cheese pound cake — one of her favorites — with the addition of cream cheese, extra eggs and almond extract.

Byrn's fans will also note that she's not sticking with traditional cake pans in every recipe. She's expanded her pan collection to feature cakes made in springform pans and cast-iron skillets. And she's found that coconut milk, which wasn't on her radar 22 years ago, is better than whole milk in baking yellow cakes and pound cakes.

The cookbook is a win-win for people on the go as well as those who may not feel comfortable making a cake from scratch from start to finish.

"A New Take on Cake" takes the cake in new directions with updated recipes from yesterday and new ones for tomorrow. Here are some examples of how you can make a cake mix cake that says "Wow!"

 

The Confetti Cake

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Contributed Photo by Danielle Atkins / The Confetti Cake

This cake has "party" written all over it, writes Anne Byrn in her latest cookbook, "A New Take on Cake."

"The layers were cooling on the kitchen counter, and I hadn't even stacked and frosted them yet when my son asked whose birthday we were celebrating. It's that kind of cake! And so much better than any of those confetti cake mixes. Mine is a sturdy and rich batter filled with sprinkles, spread with cream cheese frosting and decorated with even more sprinkles on top or around the sides. It's the birthday cake you always wanted."

For cake:

Vegetable oil spray or shortening, for greasing the pans

All-purpose flour, for dusting the pans

1 (15.25- or 16.25-ounce) package white cake mix

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1 1/4 cups whole milk or full-fat canned coconut milk

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup sprinkles

Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

1/4 cup sprinkles, for decoration

Make the cake: Place a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 9-inch round cake pans. Set the pans aside.

Place the cake mix in a large mixing bowl. Measure out 1 tablespoon of the flour, and set it aside in a small bowl. Add the remaining flour, along with the sugar, to the cake mix, and stir to combine. Add the eggs, milk and butter, and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until blended, about 30 seconds. Stop the machine, and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium, and beat for 1 minute. The batter should be well blended.

Pour the sprinkles into the bowl with the reserved flour, and toss with your fingers or a spoon to coat. Fold the sprinkles and flour into the batter. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans, smoothing it out with a rubber spatula.

Place the pans in the oven, and bake until the cakes are lightly golden brown and the tops spring back when gently pressed in the middle, 25 to 30 minutes.

Let the cakes cool in the pans on wire racks for 10 to 15 minutes. Run a dinner knife around the edge of each pan, then invert each layer onto a rack. Invert the layers again so they are right side up and allow the cakes to cool completely, about 20 minutes longer.

Assemble the cake: Place one cake layer, right side up, on a cake plate, and spread 1 cup of the frosting over the top. Place the second layer, right side up, on top of the first. Spread another cup of the frosting over the top. Frost the sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Decorate the top with the sprinkles. Slice and serve. Store, lightly covered, at room temperature for up to 4 days.

 

Cream Cheese Frosting

Make sure both the cream cheese and butter are soft and at room temperature before making. If you need to soften them quickly, do so in the microwave. Unwrap both, and place them on a plate, microwaving at 10- to 15-second increments on high power.

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 to 3 1/2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and butter, and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add the vanilla and 3 cups of the sugar, beating on low until the sugar is blended, about 1 minute. Blend in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, if desired. Increase the mixer speed to medium, and beat until fluffy, about 1 minute.

Frost cake right away, or store the frosting, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Let the frosting come to room temperature before using.

 

Almond Cream Cheese Pound Cake

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Contributed Photo by Danielle Atkins / Almond Cream Pound Cake

This cake is close to my heart, writes Anne Byrn. "The original recipe was sent to me by the late Ross Beck of Texarkana, Arkansas. Through the years, his recipe became the go-to cake for many good cooks until the mixes decreased in size, and then that threw this recipe's devotees into a tailspin. I tested this recipe many different ways in order to perfect it and get it to work with the smaller cake mixes, and in the end, it tastes just like the original! Yet, I did omit the extra sugar and poured it into a Bundt pan this go-around, which gives it the support it needs to rise high, be moist and rich, and make everyone happy, including me!"

Vegetable oil spray or shortening, for greasing the pan

All-purpose flour, for dusting the pan

1 (15.25-ounce) package yellow or butter cake mix

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature

3 large eggs

1/2 cup warm water

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 teaspoon confectioners sugar, for dusting (optional)

Place a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan. Set the pan aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cake mix, cream cheese, eggs, water, oil, vanilla and almond extract. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until blended, about 30 seconds. Stop the machine, and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium, and beat until the batter is smooth and fluffy, about 1 minute. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula.

Place the pan in the oven, and bake until the cake springs back when gently pressed in the middle, 40 to 45 minutes.

Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Run a long knife around the edges of the cake, shake the pan gently and invert the cake onto a wire rack or cake plate. Let the cake cool for at least 20 minutes longer. Sift the confectioners sugar over the top, if desired. Slice and serve. Store, tightly covered, at room temperature, for up to 5 days.

Note: If you use a tube pan for this cake, add 2 tablespoons flour and increase the baking time by about 5 minutes.

— For a Meyer Lemon Cream Cheese Pound Cake: Make the batter for the Almond Cream Cheese Pound Cake, but omit the vanilla and almond extracts and add the grated zest and juice of 1 Meyer lemon to the batter. (A Meyer lemon is a little sweeter than a regular lemon and is actually a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange.) Bake as directed.

 

Lavender, Vanilla, Blueberry Baby Cakes

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Contributed Photo by Danielle Atkins / Lavender Vanilla Blueberry Baby Cake

Plan ahead when making this cake, as the lavender blossoms need to steep for several hours, then the water will turn faintly pink and smell of lavender, writes Anne Byrn. "This is a lovely cake to bake for small tea parties, intimate book clubs, or to nibble on while you read Jane Austen." The fact that they're baked in 6-inch pans gives them their name, Baby Cakes.

For the lavender "tea":

1 tablespoon dried lavender (see note)

1 cup boiling water

For the cake:

Vegetable oil spray, for misting the pans

1 (15.25-ounce) package yellow or butter cake mix

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

3 large eggs

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting (recipe follows)

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen (thawed) blueberries

Sprig fresh lavender, for garnish

Make the lavender "tea": Place the dried lavender in a small glass bowl, and pour the boiling water over it. Let it steep, uncovered, for at least 6 hours or preferably overnight.

Make the cake: Place a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Mist the bottom and sides of 2 6-inch round cake pans that are 3 inches deep. Line the bottoms with rounds of parchment, and mist the parchment. Set the pans aside.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the cake mix, flour and sugar. Add the eggs, butter, oil and vanilla. Strain the lavender tea into the bowl (discard the lavender buds). Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until blended, about 30 seconds. Stop the machine, and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium, and beat until the batter is smooth, about 1 minute. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula.

Place the pans in the oven, and bake until the cakes are golden brown and the top springs back when gently pressed in the middle, 35 to 40 minutes.

Let the cakes cool in the pans on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of each pan, then invert each layer onto the rack and pull off the rounds of parchment paper. Invert the layers again so they are right side up, and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes longer.

To assemble the cake, slice the rounded dome (about 1/2 inch) off the top of each cake with a long, serrated knife and discard. Slice each layer in half horizontally. Set aside. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the blueberries for garnish.

Place the bottom half of one layer, cut side up, on a cake plate. Frost with about 1/2 cup of the frosting, spreading it nearly to the edges. Scatter with 1/2 cup of the blueberries. Top with the top half of the cake layer cut side down, spread it with 1/2 cup frosting, then scatter with 1/2 cup blueberries. Top with the bottom half of the second layer cut side up, spread with 1/2 cup frosting, and scatter with the remaining blueberries. Place the top half of the second layer cut side down on top. Spread the remaining frosting on top of the cake, and thinly around the sides to create a barely naked look. Scatter the reserved blueberries on top of the cake, and decorate with a sprig of fresh lavender, if desired. Store, lightly covered, at room temperature for 1 day or in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Note: If you don't grow lavender, you can purchase dried lavender from natural foods and spice stores.

 

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

For the creamiest and most delicious frosting, add the confectioners sugar and milk in increments to get the consistency right, advises Anne Byrn. "If you use unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt to balance the sugar. But if you use salted butter, omit the salt. Sift the sugar after measuring for the best results, but if you are in a hurry, just check to see if your confectioners sugar has any lumps in it before making the frosting, and if it does, press those through a sifter or mesh sieve."

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted or salted butter, at room temperature

2 1/2 to 3 cups confectioners sugar, sifted

3 to 4 tablespoons whole milk, as needed

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer on low speed until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add 2 cups of the sugar, 2 tablespoons of the milk, the vanilla and the salt (if using), and beat on low until the sugar is incorporated. Add 1/2 cup more sugar and another tablespoon of milk, and beat until smooth. If the frosting is spreadable, do not add any more sugar. Increase the mixer speed to medium, and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 1 minute. If the frosting is too thick to spread, beat in another tablespoon of milk.

Frost cake right away, or store the frosting, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Let the frosting come to room temperature before using.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com or annebraly.com.

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