I also love the way that cakes are a treat. I love that they are special; that people celebrate with cakes; that people use cakes (especially cupcakes) as a pick-me-up when they are feeling down; and that turning up at someone's house with a cake makes you especially welcome.
I suppose a lot of this goes towards explaining why I set up a cupcake and sweet treats stall at Dingle's Farmers' Market, where I make cupcakes like this:
As a result, I'm delighted with the current fashion for baking. I've been tuning in to Lorraine Pascale's 'Baking Made Easy' on BBC1 (where she truly does make baking cakes, bread and tarts seem simple). I've tried her lemon cream millefeuilles which were delicious.
So, you can imagine how delighted I was to receive an advance copy of 'Bake and Decorate' by Fiona Cairns in the post. What a perfect cookbook for me!
Like Lorraine's TV show, this book aims to show even the most inexperienced of bakers how to create delicious tasting and wonderful looking cakes. From fruitcakes to chocolate chilli cupcakes, Fiona shares techiques and tricks to make it all seem easy.
I'd never heard of Fiona Cairns before and immediately wanted to know who she was. This is her first cookbook but she is a very experienced baker. Her company produces 750,000 (!) cakes a year for the likes of Waitrose, Liberty, the Ritz Hotel, Harrods, Selfridges and Fortnum and Mason in the UK. She has also been commissioned to make cakes for Bono, Sinéad O'Connor and Paul McCartney. Ooh er!
So, is her cookbook any good? My first impressions are positive and I love the girly cover. I'm also taken by her introduction where she talks about the comfort, pleasure and luxury of baking; how cakes are not essential but are vital for our souls. (She sounds like a woman after my own heart.)
She also brings back some of my first memories in the kitchen; memories of helping my mother bake cakes, hoping I'd get to lick the batter off the wooden spoon. In a family of seven children, this was a hotly-contested treat!
Fiona aims to bring pleasures like this back to our lives. She wants to make baking and decorating cakes as enjoyable as the eating of them and she encourages even the least confident among us to give it a try.
You can start with something simple, like a Victoria sponge or a no-cook chocolate tiffin. Follow the instructions carefully (baking is a precise science) and you'll soon discover that you can do it.
You can then move on to more elaborate creations. There's a range of chocolate cakes (because you simply can't have enough chocolate cake recipes!) including a dark chocolate mousse cake and this wonderful flourless chocolate hazelnut cake:
There are other tempting treats too such as white chocolate and cardamom rosewater sponge, sticky ginger cake with lime buttercream, lemony crunch cake, fruit cakes, pistachio and orange blossom cake and so much more.
There are also cupcakes. I'm eager to try the sticky toffee cupcake with salted caramel buttercream and the mint chocolate cupcakes.
And that's not all. There are also recipes for macaroons, meringues, biscuits and shortbread.
The first half of the book is devoted to baking while the second gives you tips on decorating. This includes everything from how to apply fondant smoothly and how to make crystallised flowers and leaves to how to use gold leaf and lots of ideas for using nuts, flowers, sweets and ribbons.
At several stages in the book, Fiona shares tips and advice. She recommends using golden caster sugar instead of white for flavour (something I always do in my own cupcakes). She says that you should always use ingredients and equipment that is warm or at least at room temperature. And she even gives advice on saving the inevitable disasters.
I've earmarkeed several pages in this book already but first on my list are the sticky toffee and salted caramel cupcakes followed by the chocolate mousse cake. I'll keep you posted on my progress!