Bacon, cake and coffee worth knowing about

Former Atlanta Journal-Constitution food editor Anne Byrn has made a successful franchise of her “Cake Mix Doctor” series of cookbooks. Her clever premise: start with a boxed mix and doctor it up with various fresh and packaged ingredients to make the cake crumb moister and the flavor more dynamic.

It was only a matter of time before Byrn would turn her attention to the mix itself. The Cake Mix Doctor Mix — available in two flavors, chocolate and yellow, at Publix supermarkets — promises a from-scratch flavor without any artificial colorings or trans fats.

I brought a box of the chocolate home to test and followed the back-of-the-box instructions for both the cake and a quick frosting made with cream cheese, butter and cocoa. Unlike other mixes, this one calls for a cup of sour cream, along with eggs, vegetable oil and water. My layers baked up a bit more domed than those on the box front. But when you prepare a runny cake batter with a lot of chemical leavening, that will happen. The flavor was quite good — definitely passable as homemade. I guess I could make essentially the same cake by combining flour, leavening and cocoa instead of opening the box, but that’s not the point.

This mix is like the cake equivalent to those 12-bean soup mixes your kids made in kindergarten — the ones with all the colorful beans layered in a jar and topped with a little bag of dried herbs. You chop and saute the onions and garlic, add the hambone and cook it for three hours with the beans. It’s not a soup mix as much as it is incentive to make soup. Likewise, a box of this good cake mix will encourage you whip up a nearly homemade cake your family will appreciate. For that, it earns its stripes.

Black Label Bacon: Here’s a guess: Restaurant menus will gradually start to de-baconate this year. We will be seeing less bacon jam used as a sweet-salty garnish to entrees and fewer bacon desserts offered as the de rigueur rock-and-roll Southern styling. Bacon may be headed back to where it started — the breakfast table, where it is doled by the slice and cherished as a treat. That is the glory of bacon, that slice, right from the pan, finding those infinite gradations of chewy and crisp as it starts to cool.

I honestly haven’t tried any bacon I like more than Applewood Smoked Black Label from Pine Street Market. This is the premium product from the Avondale Estates shop, made from heritage breed pork and cured with maple and pepper. It is expensive — $12 a package or about a buck for each thick slice. But butcher Rusty Bowers has really nailed all the details. Not only does the Berkshire pork flavor really come through, but the slices cook to that elusive texture of bacony greatness. You can find all the information at pinestreetmarket.com.

Drip coffee in Duluth: In last week’s Fall Dining Guide, I briefly mentioned Tree Story Bakery & Cafe in Duluth. It is the sister establishment to Fork Story, the Korean-Italian restaurant in the same mall. At first glance, Tree Story looks a lot like other Korean bakeries around town, such as White Windmill, Cafe Mozart and Tous Les Jours. You will find the same kind of selection of pretty decorated cakes and Korean-style pastries to enjoy with coffee — items that range from bean-paste stuffed doughnuts to glazed buns festooned with sliced hot dog.

But there is one major difference from all the other Korean bakeries: the quality of the coffee. Fork Story uses excellent beans from the North Carolina roaster Counter Culture. Not only that, in addition to brewed coffee and barista coffee drinks, the cafe offers delicious pour-over coffee using Japanese Hario equipment. For a small upcharge, the barista will hand brew your coffee using a ceramic drip funnel and a long-spouted metal pot, ensuring just the right extraction.

For a nice little breakfast, order a cup of this coffee with the bakery’s unusual Toad in the Hole — two slices of toasted bread filled with ham and cheese, then hollowed out to coddle a perfectly round egg. The cafe is at 2550 Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth, 678-584-0000. Check their facebook page for special offerings.

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