In case you haven’t noticed, I love cookbooks. So when I looked around the web and saw bloggers receiving free cookbooks to review, I thought hey I can do that! So I contacted Rodale Books and asked them if they had any cookbooks coming out they’d like reviewed and they said yes. And sent me Fiona Cairns’ Bake & Decorate: Charming Cakes, Cupcakes & Cookies for Every Occasion.
Now those of you who know me or regularly read this blog might guess at my reaction. I have the worst hands known to man and am not a fan of, as Nigella Lawson’s grandfather would say, “landscape cookery” (I read that in a N.Y. Times article by her once and it stuck because it was SO me). I was expecting one of those books that starts with a box of yellow or white cake mix and helps you turn it into magical creations to wow your kids.
I could not have been more wrong.
First of all, Bake and Decorate is decidedly for grown-ups. Which is not to say that it does not have ideas that will appeal to kids, because it certainly does. But you will not be wondering how to serve licorice flavored candy on your lemon flavored cupcakes (one of the reasons I usually skip the kid cupcake idea–none of the flavors are compatible with anything other than vanilla). Further, if you are looking for that stunning chocolate cake to serve on New Year’s Eve to an adult-only party, you’ll definitely find it here.
Second, Bake and Decorate is about half cakes. Cakes of varying flavors and textures–this is as much cake cookbook as it is decorating cookbook. Based on the chocolate cake featured in this post, I have already decided that had I paid for the cookbook it would have been money well spent, whether it was decorated or not.
Third, Fiona Cairns’ style–a style which very much appealed to me in the myriad of color photos inside the book–is kind of a casual elegance. Some of her cakes are perfectly frosted all around–or perfectly encased in fondant–but many are, as this cake, iced to let the icing or fondant casually yet artfully drip over the sides. It is more casual–and yet, to me anyway, much more appetizing. I am not sure if I perfectly replicated that look, but it is definitely one that appeals to me and that I can strive for–unlike my attempts at more traditional frosting, which always seems to go awry.
You’ve probably figured out by now that I like the book. The chocolate cake featured here was absolutely delectable. Moist, definitively chocolate but not super-sweet. And the icing is basically a ganache, which I love. This is, actually, the very first frosted chocolate cake I have ever made that I liked, let alone loved.
Now for the cons, since there are a few. The cakes are very nut-heavy (not all but many, especially the chocolate ones). Cairns is British, and Europeans love nuts in their cakes, but if you have nut allergies this might not be the cake book for you–although the decorating ideas will still work of course. Further, she calls for a lot of nut flour; I was surprised there were no instructions on how to make your own nut flour and no weight measurements for the nuts in case you have to make your own (since 1 cup of nut flour will not equal 1 cup of nuts). I did find almond flour for this cake, but I suspect I will have to make my own hazelnut flour, which without the weights will probably result in some hazelnut waste.
Many of the more involved decorating ideas will require a trip to the store. Fondant, edible gold leaf, edible flowers–these are all some of the ingredients needed to implement Cairns’ ideas (and it is also why I have not yet attempted any of the decorating ideas–living where I do that will require a trip to the city). On the pro side, though, I do feel like once I do make that trip these ideas are mostly within my ability.
One note about the recipe: Cairns calls for 2 8-inch round pans, but she notes that making a cake slightly bigger should be ok if you do not have the right size pans. So I made the cakes 9-inch and they worked perfectly. However, I forgot that it meant I would need more icing, so I ended up kind of haphazardly adding more ingredients to my icing to bulk it out. Instead, I recommend you double the icing recipe below if you need to use 9 inch pans. Last, while I made the cake recipe exactly to specifications (including leaving out the salt! Is that a British thing?), I preferred the icing with a stronger, less sweet bittersweet chocolate. Although she specifies 50-60% cacao, I think you could use up to 72% cacao to your taste.
- 3½ oz 50-60% cacao semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 6 T boiling water
- 1⅓ cups AP flour
- 1 t baking powder
- 1 t baking soda
- 1 cup almond flour
- ¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1⅓ cups packed brown sugar
- 1 t vanilla
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 3 oz semisweet 50-60% cacao chocolate (can use up to 72% cacao if you prefer), chopped
- 3 T unsalted butter
- 1 T golden syrup (Lyle's Golden Syrup is what we would use in the States)
- 2 T packed brown sugar
- ½ cup heavy cream
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease 2 8-inch round cake pans (see notes above about pan size) and line the bottom with parchment rounds. Grease again.
- Place the chocolate in a bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Whisk it smooth and set aside to cool.
- Sift together the flour, baking soda and baking powder. Whisk it with the almond flour and set aside.
- Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy with a mixer, a good 5 minutes. Beat the vanilla into the eggs. Pour the eggs and vanilla slowly into the creamed butter with the mixer running. Add a tablespoon of the flour mixture to prevent curdling. Mix until nicely blended and then mix in the melted chocolate. Beat in the buttermilk. Fold in the flour mix gently.
- Divide the batter between the pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes (25-30 minutes for 9-inch pans), or until firm to the touch. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out with a only a few crumbs attached, and, as you can see from the photo, the edges of the cake will pull away from the sides of the pan. And they will smell fantastic! Let the cakes cool in the pans for 2-3 minutes and then invert onto a cooling rack onto a piece of parchment paper. Let cool until cold before icing.
- To make the icing, melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave on 50% power in 30 second increments until melted and whisked smooth. Stir in the syrup and sugar. Gradually pour in the cream, whisking, until whisked smooth and thickened. Set aside to cool.
- To assemble the cakes--place the top side down and spread half of the cooled icing onto the cake. Let some drip over the sides. Place the other cake, once again top side down (because the bottoms are perfectly flat) and spread the remaining icing on top of the cake, once again letting some of it drip over the sides. I sprinkled my cake with pearl sprinkles to make it more festive.
Affiliate links were used in this post, but only to link to items I would be discussing and linking to in any case. A copy of Bake & Decorate: Charming Cakes, Cupcakes & Cookies for Every Occasion was sent to me by the publishers for purposes of an honest review. No other compensation was provided, and all opinions are my own.