The author's premise is that average cooks with ordinary cake mixes can produce a stunning array of cakes by adding a few -- and sometimes more than a few -- extra ingredients. She states that 50 years of corporate research and development has resulted in modern cake mixes that are pretty much foolproof.
That is because cake mixes have been road tested like those steel-belted tires on your car. They've been tested over and over in corporate kitchens to make them as friendly as possible, ready for the tiniest slip-up from the consumer.
The first 23 pages of the book are packed with cake mix lore, history, tips and facts, and I found them every bit as entertaining and interesting as the recipes that followed.
In order to produce a cake of the first order from a cake mix, an arsenal of ingredients can be chosen. To boost the flavor, try lemon zest, coffee, unsweetened cocoa powder, peppermint schnapps or fresh strawberries. To make it richer, add buttermilk, sour cream, eggs, yogurt, butter or peach puree. To guard against the real villain, cake mix taste, use dry sherry, lime zest or pure almond extract.
Ms. Byrn tells you how to do it in 175 fantastic recipes, and she got creative with their titles, too. There's Earthquake Cake (based on a German chocolate cake mix), Snickerdoodle Cake (based on a plain white cake mix), Sweet Potato Cake with Coconut Pecan Cream Cheese Frosting (based on a spice cake mix), and Mississippi Mud Cake (based on devil's food cake mix).
The book is divided into sections -- chocolate cakes, cakes with fruit, cakes with spirit (Pina Colada Cake, Fuzzy Navel Cake), and so on -- and there are sections for coffee cakes, bars and cookies, special occasion cakes (yes, there's a Gingerbread House), lighter cakes, and a dynamite frosting section.
Ms. Byrne's web site, www.cakemixdoctor.com, basically promotes and sells the book, but readers can sign up for a newsletter that is published every other month or so.
I'm sure I won't give up baking cakes from scratch. But The Cake Mix Doctor deserves no scorn, even from the most discerning cooks. The book is fun, and baking the cakes is fun. It may even be habit forming.
The Cake Mix Doctor
Softcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company; 2nd edition (November, 1999)
Purchase Book on Amazon.Com