Running Press sent me Fantastical Cakes in exchange for an honest review. Here’s what I think.
You know you’re getting old when you get that one candle on the cake. It’s like, ‘See if you can blow this out.’ — Jerry Seinfeld • I’ve loved baking and decorating cakes since I was a kid but I can’t remember any that were spectacular to look at or eat. (Well none except the Strawberry Shortcake one I had for my 10th birthday, but that was store-bought.) It’s only since having my own kids (and a few years later, starting this blog) that I’ve learned a little about the hows and whys of baking and decorating and experimented with a few different techniques. If I could turn back time (🎵 If I could find a way🎵) I would have read Gesine Bullock-Prado’s Fantastical Cakes: Incredible Creations for the Baker in Anyone YEARS AGO because it taught me so many things I wish I’d known before. Unfortunately the book only came out in November and before that Gesine was busy running her Vermont baking school and writing five other books and tending to two dogs, two cats, a flock of chickens and the other animals on her farm. (She’s still got the baking school and the farm. And probably another book already started.)
“Baking and decorating a cake can be a challenge, and when the end result doesn’t taste as good as it looks, a big disappointment! Author and professional baker Gesine Bullock-Prado has perfected a method for creating eye-catching spectacular cakes that measure up. Just remember BaDASS: Bake Ahead, Dam and Assemble, Smooth Coat, and Spruce Up. Her step-by-step instruction for baking, piping, and making decorations make each bit manageable, whether it’s baking layers ahead of time and freezing, or taking the time to crank out a slew of gorgeous frosting flowers that hold beautifully in the freezer until you need them. No step is skipped or left unexplained. The layers are as easy as box mixes, and the smoothing and decorating instructions work the first time (not a thousand passes later). From custom shapes to complement a party theme to ultra-gorgeous towering layer cakes for special occasions, it’s all within reach.”
The book is divided into three sections: cake layers, fillings and frostings, and assembly, and mixing-and-matching is encouraged. For yesterday’s cake (above) I tried a naked White Party Cake with pink sprinkles for Valentine’s Day and American Crusting Buttercream (two surprisingly simple recipes that together made for one supermoist cake).
Before that, I went for something more complex — the Royal Purple Velvet Mirror Glaze Cake with Ermine Frosting (a soft frosting you might know as boiled milk frosting). This is how the cake looks in the book:
And this is how ours turned out:
We really wanted our glaze to be purple like Gesine’s, but my red gel food colouring was old and didn’t mix properly so garbage-bag green was the best we could do. Luckily this was just before Christmas so it looked rather festive. This was a labour-intensive and not-inexpensive cake to make (we had SCADS of leftover mirror glaze like Gesine said we would) but it was certainly tasty and definitely do-able.
I’d also love to try the Gingerbread Cake because Gingerbread Spice Cake sounds sooo delicious and the gingerbread cookies on the cake just make me smile.
“I look at this cake and it makes me ridiculously happy,” Gesine writes. “It’s the perfect cake for a big holiday party. It’s the perfect cake for a winter birthday. It’s the perfect cake for a holiday wedding. It’s the perfect cake. Period.”
I love how she said this cake makes her ridiculously happy. I’ve felt that way about a few cakes too. Like, RIDICULOUSLY HAPPY. What about you?
I don’t think the book says what kind of cake this is but one day I’m going to try piping rainbow stripes of frosting around a sky-high beauty like this one and smooth it with a dry, hot icing scraper like Gesine does and see how it turns out. Isn’t it EPIC?
The goal of the book is to help bakers of any skill make cakes that WOW but aren’t overly complicated to make. (I’m guessing the mirror-glazed cake was one of the more difficult ones.) Breaking tasks into steps (aka Gesine’s BADASS method) is definitely key, but just as important as that information is the way that Gesine delivers it. Gentle encouragement and a great sense of humour make the book fun to read (while secretly learning A LOT) and exciting to try. (I find funny things much easier to remember, like how Gesine says, “OVENS ARE BIG FAT LIARS” so you should always use an oven thermometer to make sure you’ve got the right temp.)
POKE IT. DON’T STAB IT.
“Many a cake recipe will recommend that to check for a cake’s “doneness” you should stab the poor thing with a toothpick. In the event that it comes away with wet batter on it, it’s not done. If it appears within the depths of cake either clean or subtly speckled with moist crumbs, it’s done. The thing is, it might not be done. There’s a slight chance that the cake hasn’t completely set and taking it out of the oven will cause the middle to fall a bit. That’s not fair to either you or the cake. That’s why I recommend gently poking the cake to see whether it springs back. If it does spring back, it’s done. If the cake feels set, not at all goopy, but while poking you leave a small indentation that doesn’t leave, the cake’s not yet ready and needs about five more minutes.” — Gesine Bullock-Prado, Fantastical Cakes
I’m a bit disappointed in the photography. Well maybe not the photography so much as the styling (or lack of styling). Cakes this gorgeous could be even more so with a few well-placed props and thoughtful settings. Even the choice of cake stands seemed like an afterthought. (That said, I love the PBJ cake on a brown sandwich bag and the wee glasses of milk in the background. That’s cute.)
I don’t want to end on a down note when there’s so much to love so let’s wrap this up with a
Thanks to Running Press, I’ve got a copy of Fantastical Cakes to share with one of you! To enter to win, tell me your favourite kind of cake to make and/or eat in the comments below. (This entry is mandatory.)
For another entry, follow try small things on Facebook and like (or love!) this post and leave a comment, then tell me you did so and your name on Facebook in the comments below. You don’t have to share, but I really appreciate it when you do!
And feel free to tweet the following once per day and leave the url for your tweet in the comments below (one entry per tweet). Make sure you’re following try small things and Running Press on Twitter for your entry to count.
#Win Gesine Bullock-Prado’s “Fantastical Cakes: Incredible Creations for the Baker in Anyone” from @trysmallthings! https://wp.me/p4xBed-6Tp CAN/US 2/28 #fantasticalcakes
The contest is open to Canadian (excluding Quebec) and US residents 18+ and ends at 11:59 p.m. EST on February 28, 2019. The potential winner (chosen at random) must respond to prize notification within 48 hours and provide the correct answer to a skill-testing question, otherwise another winner will be selected.
Fantastical Cakes cover and images shared here with permission from Running Press.
Update March 2, 2019: Congratulations to Nicole C!