5.14.2021

My Favourite Books About Baking Cakes

I've baked cookies, pies and puddings, crisps, crumbles and cupcakes. But there is something about baking a cake that just feels so good. Part nostalgia, part curiosity, the act of baking a cake is something I enjoy immensely. Many of the cookbooks in my home library contain recipes for cakes that I love. And there are cake recipes from friends and family that will always have a special place in my heart. But to have a book (or two, or four) devoted exclusively to the art of cake baking is essential to the home baker, I feel. 

The focus on that one particular confection - how to make it, how to decorate it, how to store it - is really invaluable for the home cake baker. Below are descriptions of the four cookbooks that I rely on consistently for cake baking. Each one engages my interest and sparks my appetite for a beautiful and delicious piece of cake. 

Yossy Arefi has been a contributor to Martha Stewart Living and Bon Apetit magazines, but I had not heard of her until her book was mentioned by her colleague Claire Saffitz in one of her "Dessert Person" video blogs on YouTube. (I highly recommend Claire's YouTube channel, by the way, as well as her "Dessert Person" cookbook). 

"Snacking Cakes" might just be the most perfect little book on straightforward cake baking you will ever encounter. By definition, a snacking cake is a simple, single-layer cake that can be made quickly. The book is perfect for beginners but sophisticated enough to keep even expert bakers interested. Arefi intended to create a book with one word in mind: simplicity. Each of the recipes can be made in one bowl and baked in one 8-inch square cake pan. The ingredients can all be easily found at your local supermarket and the equipment used to make them is minimal - no stand mixer required! 

Arefi also provides pan alternatives, which is so helpful! If you want to make any of the cake recipes in a loaf pan or a round pan, you can. Arefi provides the alternate cooking times for each type of pan.

The recipes are perfect for weeknight baking, something Arefi stresses in her introduction, and are ideal to bake for potluck dinners, school bake sales, or just to have at home for dessert or a quick pick-me-up with a cup of coffee. The book was published last year and is beautifully photographed and well-designed. The recipes are divided into sections devoted to cake types: Fruit Cakes, Warm and Toasty Cakes, Chocolatey Cakes, and Not Your Average Vanilla Cakes, which is simply one foundational white cake recipe with multiple variations for different frostings and additions. Brilliant!

I admire the devotion to simplicity without compromising on flavour. Favourites include the Berry Cream Cheese Cake; All The Spices Cake; Powdered Donut Cake; Salty Caramel Peanut Butter Cake; Sparkling Gingerbread; Espresso Chocolate Chip Cake; Red Velvet Cake, and Fudgy Chocolate Cake. 
I discovered Zoe Francois on Instagram early last year. Beautiful images of her extraordinary-looking cakes kept popping up on my feed and I was quickly seduced. When I found out she was publishing a book on cakes, I knew I had to have it. And I'm so glad I do! 

One of the book's best selling features, for me, is the vast amount of information about the art of cake making itself. The first 60 pages of the book are devoted to an in-depth discussion of cake-baking techniques, ingredients, and tools. There is even a whole "Cake Academy" section with extremely detailed tips and hints for the best batters, frostings and presentation techniques. It's this kind of expert advice that is so lacking in those online repositories of recipes, and why I feel cookbooks are still so necessary for the home baker. 

The book is beautifully organized and photographed (by Sarah Kieffer) with chapters divided into cake types: Pound Cakes, Quick Breads and Bundts; Fruit-Studded Cakes; Soaked Cakes; Cake Layers, Loaves and Sheets; Light-as-Air Cakes; Layered Cakes; Rolled and Fancy Cakes; Icings; Fillings and Flourishes.

It seems to be intended for the intermediate baker, although even beginners will find some delightfully-simple cakes to try, such as the zucchini cake and its dark-chocolate variation. And if you really study the "Cake Academy" section before you start any of the recipes, you'll already have a huge head start. Each of the recipes, too, refers back to the "Cake Academy" section if you need a refresher about a specific technique along the way, which is a very thoughtful addition. There is also a "Baker's Note" at the end of each recipe with more guidance if you're unsure of a certain step. 

Favourites in the book include the aforementioned Zucchini Cake (the chocolate one too!) as well as the following: Lemon-Curd Pound Cake, Apple Cake with Honey-Bourbon Glaze, White Cake, Yellow Cake, Ultimate Carrot Cake, and Black Forest Cake.
I don't know if this book will be for everyone, but it's definitely for me! The camp cover with all its citrus exuberance, and its cheeky title, alludes to the fun that lies between its two covers. Martha Stewart, it seems, agrees, as she contributes an effusive foreword, extolling the virtues of Jason Schreiber, whom she has collaborated with on several culinary projects, both as a recipe developer and stylist. 

"Fruit Cake", of course, is devoted to cakes with fruit in them. So, if you don't enjoy fruit-infused cakes, then this book will be lost on you. The book's subtitle, "Recipes For the Curious Baker", perfectly sums up its aim and ethos; the recipes are designed to intrigue and, at times, even baffle! But that's what is so much fun. Schreiber makes you want to jump in with both feet and give his creations a try. I would not recommend this book for beginners, even though there are some very simple recipes inside. The overarching theme of the book is one of experimentation and idiosyncratic whimsy, beautifully demonstrated in the highly-stylized photography and the occasional Schreiber poem, inscribed between recipes.

The book is divided into chapters that speak the cakes' virtues: Constant Cravings, Out of Hand, Showstoppers, All Rise, Soaked, and a Basics section with all the fundamentals: curds, frostings, meringues, etc. 

Among my favourites in the book: Banana Tiramisu; Raspberry Tea Cake; Applesauce Cake; Fig & Date Snowballs; Orange-Currant Zaleti; Peanut Butter and Jelly Cake; Chocolate, Cherry & Orange Cake; Fig, Port & Chocolate Cake, 

To me, the book perfectly sums up what cake should be about: fun, whimsy, curiosity and delight.
This one should look familiar to a lot of you! Martha Stewart's Cakes was her first book on bundts, loaves, layers and coffee cakes (published in 2013) and it has been a favourite of mine ever since. With more than 150 recipes, it has all the bases covered. So far, it's the best collection of cake varieties that I've come across, spanning the whole gamut of cake types, from cheesecakes to icebox cakes. If you're looking for a simple coffee cake, this book has it. If you're looking for a basic pound cake, this book has it. If it's a three-layer birthday cake with fancy flourishes you're looking for, well, this book has it too! 

I think it's a very good book to invest in if you intend to explore the universe of cake baking. You can bake your way through it over time, starting with the very simple recipes and advancing to the more difficult ones. As with most of the other books mentioned above, this book is divided into cake types, making it simple to navigate: Loaves, Bundts & Tubes, Coffee Cakes, Single Layers, Cheesecakes, Icebox Cakes, Cakes with Fruit, and Layer Cakes. Each recipe is accompanied by a full-colour photograph (always helpful) and there is a Basics section at the back with fundamental recipes for frostings, curds, meringues, lists of essential tools and basic techniques. 

I've tried quite a few cakes from this book and these are my favourites: Basic Pound Cake (my go-to pound cake recipe, always); Maple Cake; Applesauce Cake; Strawberry Cake; Blackberry-Cornmeal Cake; Tender Lemon Cake; Buttermilk Cake with Chocolate Frosting; Pumpkin Layer Cake; Vanilla Layer Cake; Double Chocolate Cake; and Carrot Cake.

I highly recommend this book.
If you have any cake books you love, I'd love to hear about them in the comments. 

2 comments:

Unknown said...

Hi there,

I really enjoy your blog! You have so many delicious and creative postings!

I have been a long time Martha Stewart Living magazine subscriber. I have to say that my most recent summer copy seems
very light on crafts and creativity. Food seems to be the dominant theme lately. I will continue to subscribe until I die, because if I find even one inspiring recipe or photo, it's enough for me.

I do miss the old magazines, but have a pile of them to reminisce with!

ANDREW RITCHIE said...

Thank you so much for your kind words! Yes, the magazine has changed a lot over the years but I think it still has that "something" that no other magazine has. It's hard to put into words. It's certainly more modern now, more current and more in keeping with a new kind of lifestyle. I think it still feels fresh. I have all the old issues, too, and they are such treasures. They are symbols of a time gone by, for sure - before the internet and social media took over. I'll never part with them.