Reviewed by Carem Bennett
"101 Things to do with a Cake Mix is as stylish and fun as its packaging. The book comes in a 7 1\2 by 5 1\2-inch size, with spiral binding and a plastic cover. The binding makes the book extremely useful -- no propping the pages open or worrying about wrecking the cover by dropping cake batter all over it. All cookbooks should be this easy to have in the kitchen.
101 Things to do with a Cake Mix will please a wide range of bakers, but parents will value this book as a treasure chest of family fun. The final chapter of the book is "Children's Delights." The recipes include "Delicious Dirt," which is a recipe for a chocolate pudding cake, covered with "dirt" (crushed Oreo cookies). There are seasonal recipes for holiday activities, such as "Valentine Cookies," "American Flag Cake," "Halloween Spider Cake" and even a "Peppermint Cake." The children's chapter is filled with fun for cooking with your children during the holidays.
Two recipes in 101 Things to do with a Cake Mix particularly stand out: "Heavenly Brownies" and "Sweet Delights." "Heavenly Brownies" is a classic cream-cheese brownie recipe, without the brownie mix. Ashcraft substitutes a chocolate cake mix in place of the traditional brownie mix. These brownies bake wonderfully, they are moist and decadent. The "heavenly" twist in the name makes them ideal for church bake sales and Sunday school classes. I pack them in tins and give them away as "care packages."
The "Sweet Delights" recipe is a sure kid-pleaser. My test audience was my one-year-old nephew. He gobbled these cookies down, leaving behind nothing but a chocolate-covered giggle and fudgy handprints on his highchair. The cookies are moist, chewy and don't involve measuring a large amount of ingredients. The recipe relies solely on a cake mix (of any flavor, I chose Devil's food), brown sugar, oil, eggs and chocolate chips. They were almost too easy for how good they tasted. A winning recipe.
For fans of bundt cakes, Ashcraft includes recipes for eight different varieties. The recipes include classic favorites such as "Death-By-Chocolate" and "Luscious Lemon." Newer favorites include "Pistachio Pound Cake" and "Cream-Cheese Lemon Pound Cake." The variety of bundt cakes in this chapter seems designed to please every palate.
On the whole, 101 Things to do with a Cake Mix relies on readily accessible ingredients: cake mixes, brown sugar, eggs, oil, chocolate chips, powdered sugar, nuts and flour. Some recipes, however, require planning as they use ingredients that you may not keep handy. Cherry pie filling, lemon instant pudding, wheat germ, cream cheese and sour cream are examples of ingredients I did not have stocked as I perused the recipes.
My one difficulty with using this book is that there are no pictures. Not one. There's not even a smiling picture of the author. Not having a reference for colors and textures is aggravating; you have to guess your way along unfamiliar recipes. There is also no guide for decorating ideas. This requires a fair bit of experience and creativity on the part of the reader. However, it's an inexpensive book: the cover price makes it a bargain purchase, pictures or no pictures."
Carem Bennett is a freelance writer and cake decorating enthusiast.