“American Cake: From Colonial Gingerbread to Classic Layer, the Stories and Recipes Behind More Than 125 of Our Best-Loved Cakes” by Anne Byrn, Rodale Books, $29.99, 344 pages, hardcover

Don’t expect to use cake mixes to make the cakes in the latest cookbook from Anne Byrn, author of the bestselling “Cake Mix Doctor” books. Recipes in her fascinating new book are for “from scratch” cakes, but don’t be intimidated. Byrn provides easy-to-follow instructions to help you produce delicious cakes.

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“American Cake: From Colonial Gingerbread to Classic Layer, the Stories and Recipes Behind More Than 125 of Our Best-Loved Cakes” opens with a brief history of cakes in America. It looks at regional raw ingredients — the butter, eggs, sweeteners, flour and leavening — plus the American oven from wood to electric, measurements and baking pans.

In her “How to Use This Book” information, Byrn notes that she had to scale back some historic recipes, such as the Martha Washington Great Cake, to fit today’s smaller pans. Ingredients for some of the oldest recipes were difficult to find, and directions often weren’t given. But, she writes, what’s really changed is our tastes. Early cakes were “less sweet, less soft, and less perfect. Cakes of the mid-20th century seem the sweetest of all.”

Her book’s recipes come from many sources: home cooks, pastry chefs, old cookbooks, recipe contests, home demonstration agents, “back of the box,” historians, restaurants, newspapers, magazines and her own recipe files. Among those sources are Corinne Cook, who writes the Gourmet Galley column in The Advocate and contributed the Louisiana Syrup Cake recipe, and New Orleans food writer Dale Curry, who contributed The Doberge Torte recipe.

Recipes are divided by era, beginning with "1650 to 1799: Baking Cakes in Early America," such as American Gingerbread and New Orleans King Cake. Another chapter covers the introduction of baking powder and another the birth of the American layer cake, and ends with "2000 to the Present: The Cakes of the New Millennium," with such recipes as Chocoflan (Chocolate Impossible Cake) and Rum Sizzle Cake. There’s also a chapter on frostings and icings.

“American Cake” is sure to be a hit with readers. It offers great recipes illustrated with full-color photographs while tracing the history of America’s best-loved cakes.


Cheramie Sonnier is a food writer and columnist. Contact her at sonnierfood@gmail.com, and follow her on Twitter, @CheramieSonnier.