Growing up, my mom made everything from scratch: layered birthday cakes, traditional French bouche de Noel, strawberry shortcakes in summer. Literally everything. I only remember seeing a box of mix cross our countertop once and that was during my sixth birthday party when each kid baked and decorated our own slice of “cake.” I don’t know how my mom did it!
I, however, am a slightly lazier home chef. Maybe it’s a function of my pragmatic personality, or maybe it’s because my son is still only three and therefore has the attention span of a fruit fly, but finding the sweet spot where an enjoyable mother-son baking experience intersects with a delicious homemade treat depends on having a simple recipe that’s nearly impossible to screw up. Which is where a high quality baking mix comes in handy.
I first began doctoring cake mixes when I worked the Saturday evening shift at KCBS Newsradio in San Francisco. My friend, Megan, was the overnight editor and our shifts overlapped by a few hours. After a few months on that schedule we decided make spending Saturday nights at work a little more festive, so we decided to take turns bringing baked goods. One week, Megan brought the most delicious turtle cake I had ever tasted. She’s an incredible cook, and the flavors of real vanilla, butter, and high-quality chocolate left me no reason not to believe it was homemade.
I looked at her blankly. “Who is the Cake Mix Doctor?”
Megan launched into an enthusiastic synopsis of the cookbook series which would soon bring on years’ worth of Saturday night cake comas. In a nutshell: the author, Anne Byrn, has published as series of cookbooks detailing how to transform store-bought cake mixes into drool-worthy desserts by adding everyday ingredients. The most well-known is called The Cake Mix Doctor, and in the introduction she explains that store-bought mixes are engineered to be delicious even if you make a mistake, which also makes them fantastic blank slates for creative home chefs.
I hadn’t worked much with mixes since switching to a paleo-ish lifestyle two years ago, but when a ski trip butted up against my son’s birthday this year, I picked up a box of Simple Mills chocolate cake mix so I could quickly whip up a birthday treat for him to bring to school. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a gluten-free cake mix. Would it be dry? Would it be heavy? Would it taste too coconutty for a three-year-old’s palate? The rich results earned the clean plate stamp of approval from a dozen cake-faced toddlers, and mine too. So I started baking my way through my grocery store’s selection of “cleaner” and gluten-free cake mixes and quickly discovered that they yield consistently delicious results despite the lack of chemical emulsifiers which make traditional mixes foolproof. That realization opened the door for me to start doing some doctoring of my own, starting with these Gluten-Free Beet Orange Brownies. And I could not be more excited to share the delicious results!
I know what you’re thinking: why would you add beets to brownies? Well, beets not only provide natural sweetness, but their earthiness deepens the complexity of the chocolate flavor while their moisture helps to create an almost lava-like fudgy texture. (Which is why I emphasize letting them cool completely in the recipe. But if you want to spoon hot, gooey amazingness on top of ice cream when they’re straight out of the oven and haven’t completely set, well then who am I to argue with you?)
While any gluten-free mix will do, I still prefer using Simple Mills because of their clean ingredients and easy availability. (I’ve seen them stocked at Target, Safeway, Whole Foods, Amazon, and Nugget.) I also chose to use ghee in this version because I crave a buttery flavor in my baked goods, but coconut oil works beautifully if you’re vegan.
The best part: they take minutes to throw together, taste fancy, and are pretty much impossible to screw up. Also, they transform beet-eating into brownie-eating. Pretty brilliant, if I do say so myself.
Beet Orange Brownies (Gluten-Free)
They may sound fancy, but these fudgy, gluten-free treats bake up in a snap thanks to store bought cake mix. I used Simple Mills, but any brand will do.
- 1 box Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake or Brownie Mix I used Simple Mills
- 3 eggs
- 3 tbsp Orange Juice
- 6 tbsp ghee softened
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- zest of 1 orange
- 1 c coconut sugar
- 3/4 c beet puree from approx. 6 small, prepackaged, cooked beets
- 5 oz chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 and grease an 8x8 brownie pan.
Combine eggs, orange juice, ghee, and vanilla in a bowl. Whisk until smooth and whites and yolks no longer separate.
Add orange zest and whisk again until evenly distributed.
Add coconut sugar and baking mix to the wet ingredients. Stir until you achieve a uniform texture.
Add beet puree and stir until thoroughly combined.
Fold in chocolate chips.
Pour the mixture into greased pan and bake for 30-35 minutes. The brownies are done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for at least 30 minutes - preferably until completely cooled - before slicing.