Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book Review - Party Cakes (Part One)

Title:       Party Cakes
Subtitle:    Delightful Little Treats for Special Occasions
Author(s):   Mich Turner
Publisher:   Universe Publishing
Published:   November 2007
Format:      Hardcover, 160 pages

Party Cakes is an interesting book, both in terms of content and layout. It strikes me as half cake decorating project book and half recipe book. There are distinct boundaries between the decorated cakes (projects), recipes for cakes and slices, and the decorating techniques sections. I find this organisation refreshing, because the reader is not ‘bored’ with techniques and recipes before being inspired by fantastic party cake projects.

Even though this is not a particularly large book, I will be dividing this review into two parts. Part one will cover the first part of the book i.e. the beautiful cake designs, whilst part two will cover the recipes and decorating techniques.

This review begins with the aptly named ‘Decorated Delights’ section of this book. This section contains the instructions for creating each of the miniature cakes featured in this book. Each cake is introduced with a full page, full colour photograph of the finished product. These photographs are gorgeous, even my eyeballs were drooling. They are bright, cheerful and beautifully composed.

If you manage to get past the introductory page for a given project, you will find a couple of lines outlining the project. In this outline, the author may make suggestions for how to present the project, the occasions for which it is suited as well as recommendations for cake and frosting flavours.

For each project, the author provides a full list of the materials required. For the most part the materials are not hard to source, or overly expensive. You will need to go to a cake-decorating store to purchase such items as colour dusts, fondant, sugar paste, modelling tools and cutters. Where required, the author provides templates for each project. These are located in the final section of the book.

The instructions provided for each project are informative and where extra information is required, reference general techniques covered in the latter part of this book, for example how to cover a cake in marzipan. Colour photographs supply further information for techniques that are unique to a given project and require further explanation.

From a technique point of view, the author incorporates a variety of simple decorating techniques to create stunning results. You will not find any fancy piping skills in this book, only simple dots and lines piped using a number 1.5 or larger round nozzle. In addition to these simple piping skills, the author does make use of flooding to create butterfly wings for one of the projects (gum paste or fondant could easily be used as an alternative).

A number of the projects included in this book, require the reader to create decorations using modelling pastes. For the most part, these projects require the reader to use cutters to create primroses, hearts, miniature apple blossoms, roses, lilies, leaves and holly. Where animals are required, the user has to create them by hand. These are polar bears, rabbits, elephants, teddy bears and farmyard animal heads (duck, sheep and pig). Whilst the author provides instructions for each of these figures, it would have been nice if further elaboration was provided, especially regarding the relative sizes for each piece. Thankfully, the photographs are of sufficient quality to show the each of the different pieces used and how they fit together to create each figure.

In addition to modelling and piping techniques already discussed, the author also introduces the reader to the following:
  • simple painting using lustre dust suspended in dipping alcohol;
  • colour dusts mixed with cocoa butter;
  • tempering chocolate and the creation of chocolate scrolls, fans and curls;
  • covering cakes with chocolate plastique, sugar paste, fondant and marzipan;
  • the method for and yield from cutting small cakes from larger ones; and,
  • two tier cake stacking.

Aside from the use of ribbons to enhance the look of the finished projects and the dowles used to hold the tiered cakes together, all of the decorations are completely edible. I am a big fan of this, especially when you are catering for a party with children or intoxicated adults.

When I think of the projects in the first part of this book, the first thing that springs into my mind is how simple, yet elegant the designs are. Whether intentional or not, the projects contained in this book are excellent examples of the old saying "less is more." Good examples of this are the ‘Monochrome Lace’, ‘Cherry Blossom’ and ‘Apple Blossom Bear’ projects.

The ‘Monochrome Lace’ cake, featured on the front of this book, is a 5cm round cake that is covered in marzipan and white sugar paste. A small black ribbon circles the base of the cake, and a simple black lace pattern decorates the top and sides of the cake. The lace pattern is piped using black royal icing. Whilst this is technically an easy piece, it is quite fiddly. In order for this cake to look its best, the decorator needs to ensure that the pearls are even and spaced correctly.

The ‘Cherry Blossom’ cake is my favourite cakes in the book. It is slightly larger than most because it has two tiers (5cm and 7.5cm). This is a great example of how one simple design, carried across multiple tiers can produce a stunning and elegant design. I am a big fan of this. It simplifies planning/design because you do not have to design multiple tiers and the make sure that they tie together and complement each other. Whilst it requires a significant amount of piping, I would say that this is a much easier project than the ‘Monochrome Lace’, because it is a natural pattern as opposed to geometric. With a natural pattern, if something is bigger or smaller than it should be, or if it is a bit wonky, that is fine. Nature is not perfect, unlike geometry.

The ‘Apple Blossom Bear’ cakes are too cute. They would steal the show at any baby shower, christening or first birthday. The key to this design is its simplicity. Each cake is made from a 5cm square cake that is covered in white sugar paste and adorned with small white sugar paste flowers that are made using 3cm and 5cm flower plunger-cutters. Small apple green leaves are hand piped to embellish the flowers. A matching green ribbon wraps the bottom of each cake to act as a boarder. The full-page glossy photo for this project shows seven individual cakes, three of which have teddy bear topper on top whilst the remaining four have additional flowers. This looks lovely. By having these two separate designs, you are able to highlight both the cuteness of the teddy bears and the delicateness of the flowers. If you were to have a teddy bear on top of each cake, I fear that people would fail to notice just how gorgeous these little white flowers are.

I could go on for ages discussing the projects in this book. The ‘Bollywood’ cakes are so vibrant and cheerful as are the ‘Coconut butterflies’. The ‘Christmas Canapé Collection’, ‘Little Venice Lace’ and the ‘Tricolour Chocolate Rose’ cakes look ever so chic/exclusive. The ‘Sleeping Polar Bear’, ‘Bunny Building Block’ and ‘Elephant Polka Dot’ are too cute to eat. These are just some of the projects that you will find in this book, there just as many still to explore that are just as elegant and/or vibrant.

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