I like to bake. A lot. I’ve baked for cake-decorating classes, for holidays, for family and friends. As time goes on, I’ve baked for a collective five birthdays for my two sons ... and a number of goodies for local charities and events.

Of course, I like to bake from scratch when I can. But sometimes ... well, you just can’t. That became especially true with working full-time while raising two little boys. But cake mix seemed so ... generic. So ... impersonal.

Then, earlier in my decorating-class days, I discovered a book called “The Cake Mix Doctor.”

Personalizing and improving cake mixes by ignoring the instructions and adding your own ingredients? I wasn’t sure ... but I was sold by the tempting pictures and yummy-sounding recipes therein — and then by the quality of the recipes once I tried them.

From author Anne Byrn, I learned that even something as simple as substituting orange juice or milk for the water in a recipe makes a difference. And to this day, her Chocolate-Covered Cherry Cake is THE cake my husband and mom always request for birthdays. No substitutions accepted.

So when I was asked to write something on bake sales, the first thing I thought of was, “Isn’t there a new Cake Mix Doctor book coming out?

There was — “The Cake Mix Doctor Returns,” now in stores — and a few e-mails later, I was chatting with Byrn by phone ... and trying not to be a slightly giddy fangirl about it (if bakers can have idols, she’s one of mine).

Bryn, who has three children, has taken part in her share of bake sales.

“That’s always on my mind when I write a book,” she said. “I think what makes a good bake sale is to have a variety — not just of types of baked good, but of size.”

Byrn recalls working at one bake sale where something seemed to be missing.

“It seems we had everything small, from cookie pops and single cupcakes ... we had everything for the child who comes up with 50 cents left over from lunch, but nothing for the busy mom or dad to take home to put in the freezer or serve to company,” she said, adding that fancy-looking layer cakes or Bundts can fill that niche. “People have less time to bake at home, and to have something ready to take home is really nice.”

No time to get fancy? “Bake a pan of brownies in a disposable pan with a lid on it; ready to go.”

On the other side, Bryn said, smaller things have advantages, as well. “Children like spend their own money on something to make their own choice, whether it’s a cupcake or a small plastic bag with two or three cookies.”

Although Bryn’s books contain recipes from the classics to the more unusual (her Web site has a recipe for “Love Cake with Rose and Pomegranate Buttercream Frosting”), she said it’s best to stick with the former for bake sales.

“As far as flavors go, if you stay with the classics ... you can’t beat chocolate layer, your basic pound cake, a carrot cake,” she said. “The tried-and-true flavors sell really well.”

However, be cautious of allergies, as many children — and some adults — can’t have peanuts or other nuts, Byrn said. “Unless you’re selling pecan pies, you really don’t need to put nuts in anything you’re selling at a bake sale.”

Though she encourages sticking to the classics for the most part, Bryn also said that if a contributor has a recipe they’re known for, it makes sense to market that goodie as something out of the ordinary.

“I do like when bake sales really play up their bakers ... when you have something someone is known for, like chocolate toffee, or snickerdoodles, or homemade rolls. That’s where you have fun with the labels. Label it ‘Judy’s snickerdoodles,’ ” she said. “That when it makes it feel like it came from a kitchen with a bit of love.”

The Bake Sale Cupcakes recipe that follows is one that Byrn particularly recommends for bake sales — as evidenced by the name.

“It appeals to everyone. It doesn’t have chocolate, it doesn’t have nuts, and it’s really good way to dress up a yellow cake mix,” she said.

At the same time, the doctored cupcakes are coated with a homemade frosting.

“The caramel frosting sets and it doesn’t smudge,” Bryn said. “It’s very transportable, which is important.”

Jill Keppeler is a page designer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at jill.keppeler@tonawanda-news.com.


• Think whole cakes and whole pies so people can stock up.

• Go with mainstay favorites.

• Think small, as well. Kids like cookies and cupcakes.

• Go with classic or specialty cookies.

• Cupcakes don’t need wrapping. The favorite flavor is vanilla frosted with chocolate ... with sprinkles.

• Have pies. “A cake may woo a woman, but the pie is the way to a man’s heart.”

• Loaves of sweet breads — banana, pumpkin, etc. — are also good ideas.

• Other breads can be hits as well, from homemade rolls to cornbread muffins.

• Jazz up brownies baked in disposable pans and sell them by the panfull.

• Bags of homemade candy can also be a sweet deal.

Source: Condensed from “The Cake Mix Doctor Returns.”

Bake sale caramel cupcakes

24 paper liners for cupcake pans (2 1/2-inch size)

1 package (18.25) plain yellow cake mix

3 tbsp. vanilla instant pudding mix

1 1/4 cups milk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Quick Caramel Frosting (see below)

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 cupcake cups with paper liners and set the pans aside.

Place the cake mix, pudding mix, milk, oil, eggs and vanilla in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until the ingredients are 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 for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes longer, scraping down the side of the bowl again if needed. The batter should look well blended.

Spoon or scoop a heaping 1/4 cup of cupcake batter into each lined cupcake cup, filling it two thirds of the way full (you will get between 22 and 24 cupcakes; remove the empty liners, if any).

Place the pans in the oven and bake the cupcakes until they are golden and the tops spring back when lightly pressed with a finger, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and place them on wire racks to cool for five minutes. Run a dinner knife around the edge of the cupcake cups, lift the cupcakes up from the bottom of the pans using the end of the knife and pick them out of the pans carefully using your fingertips. Place the cupcakes on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes longer before frosting.

Meanwhile, make the Quick Caramel Frosting. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of frosting on top of each cupcake and spread it out with a short metal spatula or spoon, taking care to cover the top completely. The cupcakes are then ready to serve.

Quick caramel frosting

8 tbsp. (one stick) butter

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/4 cup milk

2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Place the butter and brown sugars in a heavy medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil, about 2 minutes. Add the milk, stir, and let the mixture return to a boil, then remove the pan from the heat. Add about 1 1/4 cups of the confectioners’ sugar, but not so much that it thickens and hardens. Ladle the frosting over the cake layers while it is still warm. If you are frosting cupcakes, spoon the frosting on top while it is warm and it will set.

Source: “The Cake Mix Doctor Returns”

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