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Great Cake Designs. Good Book for Professionals
on January 19, 2005
`Cakes to Dream On', subtitled `A Master Class in Decorating' by major American pastry artist and teacher, Colette Peters has the ambition to be an advanced class in multi-tiered cake decorating. This ambition is not to be taken lightly, as there is very little in this book for the amateur home / bake sale cook. This is not to say that the book is not chocked full of great ideas, if you already know a lot about how to work with royal icing, fondant, marzipan, and multi-layered cakes. I have made a two and three layered birthday cake in my day, but these creations are entirely out of my league.
The book consists of four general parts. The first part is the first chapter on `How to Make a Decorated Cake', which covers materials to use as the base of a multi-layered cake, who to reinforce the layers, and how to make crooked cakes on purpose. For those few of you out there who actually make tiered cakes, this is one of the more useful topics, although I confess much of it is pretty common sensical.
The second part of the book is the next eight (8) chapters, which are almost all alike in being simply collections of decorated cakes done by the author and her company with instructions on how to make these cakes and their decorations. The instructions assume the person making the cake has access to a lot of specialized tools, materials, and specialized training. One decorated cake chosen at random requires:
Gumpaste Ribbon Roses and Leaves
Royal Icing dots on wires (oh my)
Three foamboard circles
Gumpaste curly hearts
Piping bag and #2 tip
Oval shaped dragees
Descriptions of how to construct several of the cakes include printed templates for preparing some of the designs on the cake. I find these particularly unhelpful, as they require one to have an enlarging photocopier handy to enlarge the diagrams on heavy paper from which they can be cut and used as a template. Now I am certain that a commercial pastry shop would have such a copier, so this reinforces my impression that this book is really meant primarily as an idea source for other pastry professionals.
The third section is recipes for cakes and icings. One is likely to find as good or better recipes for these things in books by Maida Heatter, Nick Malgieri, or Rose Levy Beranbaum. If your primary interest is in baking birthday cakes or bakesale cakes, I strongly suggest you get Beranbaum's `The Cake Bible' (which happened to win best cookbook of the year from the IACP a few years back) instead of investing in this book which works much better as coffee table decoration than as a manual for cake baking. Beranbaum includes such things as candy and nut embellishments, food processor fondant, rolled fondant, chocolate fondant, pastillage, rose modeling paste, crystal flowers, as well as her extensive recipes for cake, fillings, and icings.
The fourth section has a title suggesting that now the `master class' in techniques really begins. This chapter includes short sections on which one could easily write a whole book, such as:
Mixing paste colors into Fondant
Painting with Powdered Colors
Airbrushing a cake
Making Edible Crystal Beads
- Dividing a Round Cake evenly for Decorating
- Sculpting a Cake
- Getting Cakes from Here to There
Quick Reference Guide to Tools and Ingredients
Without a doubt, Ms. Peters' cakes are knockouts and her photographs and techniques are chocked full of ideas for professionals. Jacques Torres and Ewald Notter are not going to endorse just anyone's book. It is just that her book is simply not very well organized to teach people with modest skills and objectives.
So, if your objective is to daydream or to open a professional decorated cake store, this book is for you. If you simply want to improve your cake baking and decorating skills a bit, get Beranbaum's book and an inexpensive pamphlet on cake decorating from Wilton at your nearest hobby mart.