* Prices may differ from that shown
A few years ago I took up a new hobby and started doing an evening college course in sugarcraft and cake decoration. I soon became addicted and started making novelty cakes for friends and family for any occasion - any birthday or celebration was an excuse for me to show off my skills and impress everyone with my new found talent!
This book was one of the first I bought when I began cake decorating as it had lots of examples of novelty cakes which aren't overly complicated, and user-friendly step by step instructions. The pictures are excellent and I love just flicking through this book to get ideas. Even though it's aimed at the beginner as it focuses on 'easy' cakes, three college courses later I still refer to it it regularly to get ideas and inspiration. A lot of the cakes can be as simple or complicated as you'd like. Some of them are very impressive with use of fondant and modelling (the cat sitting on the ball of wool is my personal favourite, and one I have recreated for my mum's birthday), whilst some are more 'fun' and use other edible things such as dolly mixtures or marshmallows. This would be good for getting kids involved and maybe helping you to make a cake for a birthday party.
There is some very good advice at the beginning of this book, with techniques and equipment you might need for the projects, and some basic cake recipes and quantity conversions. It doesn't presume that you know anything about cake decorating but at the same time doesn't treat you like an idiot. There is a cake for everyone in here, with cute animal characters, models of people, kids cakes, football cakes and something for all ages. You also don't need a cupboard full of specialist equipment for a lot of the cakes in this book, which I know can be a downfall for people starting to take up cake decorating, as it can soon become very expensive.
If you are a beginner to cake decoration this book is a must, as you're bound to impress your family and friends with its results. If you are a more experienced cake decorator like myself, you may still want to follow some of the full projects and add your own twist to them. Also, I find it really useful when I'm designing a cake but I'm not sure how to make a certain item (e.g a cat or a book), so I just tend to look through and use bits from different projects as and when I need them.
This book is a very valuable resource, and the pictures are a pleasure to look through.
One day I woke up with a desire to bake. Having never done this before or shown any talent for cooking, I doubted myself and assumed it was one of my phases that would pass. There have been several of these over the years... spinning classes lasted one day, the skipping rope I talked about for months was used once and the chronological order of the Kings and Queens of England was never learned.
I think the idea started after visiting the Jane Asher cake shop at Sloane Square with my friend Hannah, who loves to bake. In the window there were lots of cakes, all huge and decorated with coloured fondant icing and tonnes of decorations. They were retailing for up to £250 which I thought was an absolute joke. Who on earth has money to spend on a £250 children's birthday cake? Sloane Square mums obviously. I decided that I would learn to do this myself so that I would never feel inclined to buy a ready-made birthday cake again. The first thing I did was google 'easy party cakes' and this book was the first thing that appeared.
= The book =
The book arrived quickly and I was eager to get started before the idea lost momentum! Appearance-wise the book just screams 'look at me'! Big writing saying "50 Easy Party Cakes" along with a lovely picture of cakes on the front. It's an A4 glossy book which is very user friendly and easy to read. The book begins with the contents page which is wonderful in itself. It lists the name of each cake along with the page number and a small picture of it so you can see straight away which ones you want to turn to. The next few pages tell the reader the types of equipment they will need to make these party cakes and also the techniques that you need to learn in order to make them. There is also a section dedicated to how to bake a Madeira Cake as that is the type they recommend for party cakes because it is strong and won't collapse under the weight of fondant/sugar paste icing and also cuts easily to make shapes. There is also a really useful table which includes all the quantities of ingredients that you need to make each cake.
All 50 cakes in the book have two pages to themselves: one taken up by a picture of the cake and the other with directions on how to make it. It shows a picture of how to shape the cake and whether it should be triangular, circular, bowl-shaped etc. The majority of the page, however, describes how to use different types of icing to design the cake and how to put it all together to get to the end product. On the left hand side of the page is a list of the materials and equipment needed to produce the cake. It gives clearly numbered directions as to how to make the cake numbered which I find very helpful. The right hand side of the page shows an A4 sized image of the finished cake which in all cases looks fantastic and you know from the start that there's no way your own cake will look anything like that.
= My attempt =
My first attempt I decided would be a really basic cake. I had never even made a sponge cake before, never mind made a cake from scratch and then decorated it. My experience of baking was making scones with my mum from a scone mix and a friend's chocolate birthday cake which I prepared using a Betty Crocker mix! I thought a good practice would be to make a cake based on a garden! Green fondant icing as the grass, red, yellow and black fondant icing to make bees and ladybirds. Blue icing for the pond and a pink squeezy icing tube to make flowers. Simple huh!?
I decided the best idea would be to make the Madeira cake the night before and then wake up the next morning to decorate it. Thank GOODNESS I did because I did not anticipate how long it would take! So cake - done. Jam and buttercream in the middle and left it overnight.
Saturday morning I was so excited and decided to get started straight away. There is a cake in the book which is similar but instead of a garden the green cake has a footballer on it. The book said to slice the top off the cake to make it flat which was easier said than done. Still, I managed to do this (eating the leftover pieces obviously!) and placed the cake on my lovely silver cake board. I rolled out the green fondant icing and placed it over the cake covering it entirely. This was much easier than I had thought and it almost fell into place without much help. I then used the excess to cover the cake board entirely which made it look more like a garden. It said to smooth it down with a smoother but firstly, I don't have one and secondly, I don't know what one is or where to find one. I then used the 'Busy Bees' cake description and picture to make some nice little bees to go in my garden. I didn't have sugar glue as they describe in the book so I used royal icing to hold them in place. I made ladybirds using the same idea. The rest was relatively easy - I rolled out the blue fondant icing to make a little pond and drew some fish in it using pink squeezy icing.
I then decided that as we were going to my sister's house that day and her boyfriend's birthday was only 3 weeks away (!) that I would make it into a really crappy birthday cake for Stu. So I wrote 'Happy Birthday Stu' round the outside and added a white "ball" and black "goal post" to make it a "football cake" to make it more him. It looked terrible but he appreciated it and being from a family who can't cook, won't cook and have never even heard of the idea of making a cake, everyone there was suitably impressed! My mum told me she thought I was the most wonderful, talented person in the whole world which is interesting considering a) I'd only made a cake and b) it was terrible!
= Price and availability =
The book is available in many good book stores and online. The book's retail price is £12.99 but can be bought online significantly cheaper. I bought my copy from Amazon for £5.00 who are apparently now out of stock. It is also available at:
The Book Depository £6.96
W H Smith £7.94
= Overall =
This is a fantastic book for anyone who wants to make cakes. I think it would be really useful for experienced cake makers to get ideas for new designs and it was hugely helpful for a beginner such as myself to learn how to start. It starts right at the beginning with ingredients and measurements for cake mixes and tells you what to buy and what equipment you will need for each cake. It was the first book that jumped out at me when I was looking into cook books, mainly because of the fantastic pictures.
Once I get better and have more experience I hope that I'll be able to make cakes which look anything like the ones in the book. I've set myself a challenge of making the ladybird cake for my sister's birthday at Christmas so I have some work to do!
5/5 - I'm even thinking of buying it for some friends and family for Christmas!
(Am also going to post the review on Ciao at some point along with some pictures from the book and also some of my "attempt" at the garden cake so please feel free to take a look and pity me!)