Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Book Review: Professional Cake Decorating




by Taqiyyah Shakirah Dawud

Title: Professional Cake Decorating
Author: Toba M. Garrett
Publisher: Wiley
Recommended? Yes, for any learning level.

Didn’t I tell you I’m a “caker?” I’m addicted to carb-filled sweets, so I bake a lot. And I’ve always loved making food perfect to look at before and during eating. So cake decorating is one of my most enjoyable hobbies. I’ve invested plenty of equipment, supplies, time, and sugar into finding the perfect frosting recipes; practicing shells and handwriting; and making chocolate roses and drop flowers.

As much as I love doing it, I almost love reading about it and watching it more. The collection of YouTube videos tucked in a Favorites folder on my browser can attest, and so can my growing collection of baking and cake decorating books. I bought Professional Cake Decorating mostly based on the ratings (4.5 out of 5 from 34 reviewers isn’t half bad) and proceeded to devour it. So to speak.

From Amazon’s author page, “Toba Garrett heads the department of cake decorating and design at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. Garrett holds a Master's Degree in Educational and Instructional Technology from Long Island University and is the author of Professional Cake Decorating, The Well-Decorated Cake and Creative Cookies: Delicious Decorating for Any Occasion. She is a member of the International Cake Exploration Societe and former President of the Confectionary Arts Guild of New Jersey, and was named one of the Top Ten Cake Artists in the U.S. in 2010 by Dessert Professional magazine.”

All that experience shows. This book is meant for serious study by students committed to learning or developing cake decorating skills from the most simple, like shell borders, to the most advanced, like latticework. The 200 full-color photos aren’t only for finished cake creations, although there are plenty of those. There are 125 photos focusing on performing specific steps or stage-by-stage creations (e.g., rosebud, half rose, full rose) and careful illustrations. Beyond the eye candy, there are Decorator’s Hints on many pages offering tips that only a long-time “caker” would be able to dispense, practical exercises at the end of each chapter, and of course recipes for cakes, icings, sugar paste, and chocolate plastique.

I found the instructions meticulous and easy to follow. She notes when a certain way of doing things is her preference, and provides options for students. Her tone is methodical, and each step is outlined as if written as she was performing it. Stencils in the back of the book allowed me to follow along with her exact examples in handwriting and runouts. She demonstrates over 17 beautiful and delicate flowers modeled in gumpaste, and 11 fruit from marzipan. Her recipes go beyond the simple chocolate and vanilla recipes many other authors offer to carrot cake, cherry/cranberry or almond/walnut pound cake, and lemon coconut cake. All come scaled for both regular- and industrial-sized mixers. Recipes for the fillings for each type of cake come afterward, and since she devotes an entire chapter to cookie decorating, a recipe for sugar cookies is included as well. Recipes for all the fondants and icings used in the book are also listed.

The only drawback for me as an American is that a large portion of the book is devoted to decorating the traditional European-style wedding or special occasion cake. That means most of the cakes she models are covered in stiff royal icing over marzipan, or fondant over a crumb coating of buttercream, with royal icing decorations. This makes for a very neat and smooth cake, but Americans tend to enjoy soft, fluffy buttercream better because we can eat it. Toba thoroughly explains how to make, apply, and decorate with buttercream, including many types of borders I'd never seen, but in terms of flowers she doesn't get much more complicated than the full-blown rose. I would probably try using a stiff buttercream to follow the instructions for flowers she demonstrated in royal icing, but I wouldn't recommend that for a beginner.

The most delicate work is done in royal icing because it's elastic while soft and hardens later. But royal icing and buttercream don't mix, so when learning those skills, I'd need to use a fondant-covered cake or a styrofoam model. I never tried it because I'd rather the buttercream, and I'd hate to waste so much time and sugar on something my family and I wouldn't eat. But if you have a European, South American, Australian, South African, or West Indian background in cakes, you'll love to impress everyone with these techniques.

Overall, it’s a thorough, well thought-out instruction book for cake decorators. It goes beyond showcasing the author’s incredible skill to really teach anyone who wants to learn to make sugar beautiful.

1 comments:

Alyssa Ast said...

Great review! Very in-depth and informational!

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