Anne Byrn’s A New Take on Cake

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Anne Byrn sitting in front of a wooden cabin
Photo by Bob Delevante

Since the debut of her first book more than 20 years ago, Nashville author and baker Anne Byrn has been known by another name: The Cake Mix Doctor. Taking boxed cake mixes and transforming them into spectacular treats, she taught us that baking didn’t have to be complicated. Now, with years of clever cooking and baking under her belt and numerous books to show for it, she’s out with something brand-new: A New Take on Cake. Featuring updated versions of some favorite recipes from The Cake Mix Doctor series paired with outstanding newbies, this book is one you’ll want to add to your Christmas list immediately. We chatted with Anne to find out more about the book and baking in cast iron. Plus, try her Pumpkin Skillet Crumble from the book. “To me, this recipe is how pumpkin pie can be reimagined for people who think they don’t like pumpkin pie. It’s just better!” says Anne. 

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How did you first get into cooking and baking?

I come from a Southern family of good cooks and was in the kitchen at an early age. I was always fascinated with baking from the idea that it involved problem-solving—and tasted good! After being the editor of my high school newspaper, I pursued a career in journalism in college and was hired by The Atlanta Journal to write about food. That’s where the real education began. I wrote foods news during the day and took cooking classes on weekends. I was in Atlanta in the 1980s when the food scene exploded. I took a leave of absence to attend cooking school in Paris, and I came back to review Atlanta restaurants.  

You originally amassed a following from your collection of The Cake Mix Doctor books, and now, you have a brand-new book called A New Take on Cake. What can readers look for in this new book?

They can look forward to a return to The Cake Mix Doctor in that many of those classic recipes—50, in fact—have been revamped to work with the smaller cake mixes on the market shelves today. And they can expect that level of trust that came with my recipes and homemade frostings. You will know they’ve been well tested. But this time, there are more beautiful photos and step-by-step photos, and the whole feel of this book is to have fun in the kitchen. Yes, to save time is always a goal, but another is to be creative and have a good time baking. In the book, I give attention to new pans, like the cast-iron skillet; new ingredients; gluten-free, vegan, and sugar-free cakes; baking cakes on a budget; baking smaller cakes—all of the things that people have asked me about for two decades!

Both in A New Take on Cake and in previous books like Skillet Love, you devote pages to baking in cast iron. Do you have any expert tips for baking in cast iron?

Take care of your skillets! Prep them as the recipe instructs, and if the cake is to be turned upside-down, do so, and then clean the skillet after it cools. Don’t let water sit in it and don’t put it in the dishwasher! Use as little soap as possible—if you use soap. I don’t use much soap on cast iron anymore. Also, be sure to never cut a cake into serving pieces while it’s in the skillet because the knife can mark up the skillet and ruin the seasoned finish.
 
Cover of A New Take on Cake by Anne Byrn

What are your favorite pieces in your cast iron collection?

I love my old Griswold 12-inch skillet, which is the pan that started it all. I have an old Lodge deep-sided chicken-frying pan that’s got a beautiful finish on it. And I love two-handled skillets for heavy cakes and for taking a casserole right to the table.
 

You’ve made a career out of teaching others that making something delicious doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. Why is that lesson so important, especially as we approach the busyness of the holidays?

Because we need to give each other a break, be kind to ourselves and others, and realize that it’s all about the baking and cooking process that’s important, not if you use a cake mix. I think those judgmental days are over. And we should be especially thankful for people in our lives who bake and cook something for us instead of just buying it at the store.
 

What festive favorites will you be making this holiday season?

I will for sure be baking my cornbread in cast iron for the Thanksgiving turkey dressing. And I will bake the Pumpkin Skillet Crumble in cast iron, too. It makes such a beautiful presentation. I’m hosting Thanksgiving, which means I’ll do the turkey, dressing, homemade icebox rolls, and cranberry sauce. I might even make my mom’s cranberry Jell-O mold! As for Christmas, it will be a smaller holiday this year. We love to cook a small standing rib roast in cast iron or sear filets in cast iron on the grill. I’ll pair those with Yorkshire pudding, twice-baked potatoes, a green or kale salad, and something chocolate or peppermint for dessert, like the White Chocolate Chiffon Cake (also in the book) with peppermint garnish.
Pumpkin Skillet Crumble in skillet
Photo by Danielle Atkins
Pumpkin Skillet Crumble
Author: 
 
Ingredients
  • 1 (15.25-ounce) package yellow or butter cake mix
  • 1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
  • ½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin puree
  • 1 (5-ounce) can evaporated milk
  • ½ teaspoon maple extract (optional)
  • Sweetened Whipped Cream (recipe follows)
Sweetened Whipped Cream
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Instructions
  1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. For the crumble, place 1 cup of the cake mix in a food processor or a large mixing bowl. Add ⅔ cup of the brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon, and 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of the chilled butter. Pulse or beat until the mixture comes together into a ball, 1 to 2 minutes. Fold in the pecans. Remove to a medium bowl and set the crumble aside.
  3. For the crust, place the remaining cake mix in the food processor or mixing bowl—no need to wash it—and add ½ teaspoon of the cinnamon, the remaining 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, and 1 of the eggs. Pulse or beat until the mixture is smooth, about 1 minute. It should have the consistency of thick frosting. Using a metal icing spatula, spread this crust mixture into the bottom and ½ inch up the sides of a 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Set aside.
  4. For the filling, place the pumpkin, evaporated milk, maple extract (if using) and the remaining 2 eggs, ⅓ cup brown sugar, and ½ teaspoon cinnamon in the food processor or mixing bowl. Pulse or beat until smooth, about 30 seconds. Pour the filling into the crust. With your fingers, break the crumble into pieces and scatter it over the pumpkin filling, nearly covering the top.
  5. Place the skillet in the oven and bake until golden brown and it jiggles slightly when you shake the pan, 45 to 50 minutes.
  6. Serve warm with whipped cream. Remove leftover cake from the skillet and store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. You can reheat the cake in a metal pie or cake pan in a 300°F oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
Sweetened Whipped Cream
  1. Chill a large mixing bowl and electric mixer beaters in the freezer for a few minutes or in the refrigerator for 15 minutes while you measure the ingredients.
  2. Pour the cream into the chilled bowl and beat with the electric mixer on high speed until it thickens, about 1½ minutes. Stop the machine and add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. Beat on high speed until firm (but not stiff ) peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes. 3. Use this right away to frost or fill a cake or store the whipped cream, covered, in the refrigerator for several hours.

 

Reprinted with permission from A New Take on Cake by Anne Byrn copyright © 2021. Photographs by Danielle Atkins Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. 

*Recipe has not been tested by Southern Cast Iron.

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