Cookbook review: Fiona Cairns - Bake and Decorate

Honestly, is there anything nicer than biting into a slice of fresh cake that has been lovingly baked especially you? For those who bake, the act of making said cake is equally satisfying. There really is such joy in having something prepared for you and sharing it amongst friends. Many of us hold special childhood memories of parents, grandparents or even special friends making us our ideal birthday cake. I guess the ultimate example of this is the wedding cake and it's lovely to know that in times of rationing, world wars etc, communities and families would club together to make the best cake they could to celebrate a special occasion.

As royal wedding fever hits the UK it feels as though the whole country, and perhaps beyond, is clubbing together to bake a celebratory cake for Prince William and his Catherine. I'm sure even those royal wedding humbugs would accept a slice of homemade sponge.

I cannot pretend to be a 'baker', but I do very much enjoy the act of baking and the look on a friend's face when you deliver their perfect cake. Indeed I have already baked two wedding cakes this year including, unbelievably, my own! And yet, until two weeks ago my little kitchen library did not feature a single cookbook devoted exclusively to baking. Somehow I had consigned this genre to the same desolate wasteland that 'scrapbooking' occupies (I'm sure some of you love scrapbooking but I can't think of anything more useless - sorry). How wrong was I?

Since exploring the world of Fiona royal-wedding-cake-baker Cairns' Bake & Decorate I can already see that this tome will occupy a well thumbed place in my library. Fiona, obviously a baker of high regard, also produces cakes for UK supermarket institution Waitrose, and design and style icons the Conran Shop, Harrods, Selfridges, and Fortum and Mason. She's a baker to the stars and Bake & Decorate is her first book.

As the name suggests Bake & Decorate is a book of two halves. The first, Bake, gives the home cook a stock of great cakes - from a basic sponge to a decadent chocolate beetroot cake - from which can be crafted beautiful celebration cakes from the Decorate section of the book. Baking is a creative process and the book encourages you to decide for yourself what you want the end product to look and taste like. 

She begins, though, by introducing the reader to the glories of dipping a finger in the mixing bowl, the language of baking: butter cream, piping bags, scales, the importance of the correct cake tin etc.

The book does well to demystify the world of home baking and the bright pictures always serve to inspire. Don't be daunted by the long lists of ingredients in some of the recipes; once you have the staples (flour, baking powder, icing sugar) you'll be able to grab a few choice ingredients when you finally choose which cake to try.  

Perhaps, cakes such as summer berry and rose-scented meringue or strawberry, mint and balsamic cheesecake. Or why not try one of the many fun seasonal cakes and biscuits, and of course the now ubiquitous cupcake? Perhaps chilli chocolate is your thing? The variety of recipes in the book also demonstrate how baking can make great personalised gifts for any occasion - cakes crafted into tiny fancy hats anyone?

 Finally, yes, the book does venture into the logistics of 'big' tiered cakes, sugar paste flowers and royal icing. And, yes, it does contain a recipe for fruit cake by which you can recreate your own version of Fiona's royal wedding cake. Personally I'll be attempting the fresh petal confetti cake, a riot of colourful fresh petals from lavender, cornflower, rose, marigold, pansy, sunflower, daisy and primula - now that's a cake!