Author: Camilla V. Saulsbury
Publisher: Robert Rose (2011)
I pride myself on making cakes from scratch. A few times a year, I’m able to get really fancy and go all-out with an elegant layer cake with homemade frosting, or a super-rich cheesecake that fills a craving with only a sliver. The rest of the year, though, I like to bake low-fuss, low-mess cakes with minimal adornment – and no box mixes. Camilla Saulsbury seeks to fill this niche with her book Piece of Cake!: One-Bowl, No-Fuss, From-Scratch Cakes.
This book claims to alleviate many of the sticking points that prevent home bakers from making cakes from scratch – recipes here don’t need multiple bowls, creaming, separating eggs, alternating dry and wet addition or sifting. In fact, the roughly 240 pages of recipes in Piece of Cake kick off with the classic, almost never-fail Wacky Cake (p. 12). The cakes are, for the most part, designed to be incredibly simple in their presentation, although Saulsbury does include over 50 recipes for various topping (i.e. icings, glazes, and sauces). For the truly new cake-bakers, this book contains a lengthy introduction covering ingredients, equipment and techniques. Reading this section is 100% optional for those who have baked at least a few times in their lives, but if not, I strongly suggest a perusal.
My favourite part about this book is that Saulsbury includes homemade cake mixes for both “conventional” and “vegan” cakes. While almost any cake can be converted into a dry mix (just by mixing the dry ingredients in a bag separately), Saulsbury’s recipes also include the solid fat component, so much like a conventional baking mix all you’d have to do is add eggs, milk and a touch of oil to have cake any time. I tried the Yellow Cake Mix (p.42) and have to say a food processor is definitely the best way to go here. I did find the cake a little denser than storebought mix, and it took a little more time in the oven than I’m used to – I think this is the result of the book’s mix only calling for 2 eggs instead of three.
My problems with the cake outcomes continued when I went to make a classical favourite here: lemon cake. Titled grandly as Luscious Lemon Loaf (p.73), I had high hopes for this as a perfect accompaniment to tea with guests. Unfortunately, all the liquid in the cake (3 eggs, 1 cup of sour cream and ½ cup of oil) simply caused the “luscious lemon cake” to turn into mush, which burned on the outside while never baking through. After that failure, and my previous experience with the cake mix, I was very wary about trying anything else from this book as I don’t want to waste ingredients. However, I will continue to use the recipes as bases for my own modifications and ideas, as they are plentiful here.
While I may not have found cooking from this book to be easy, Piece of Cake!: One-Bowl, No-Fuss, From-Scratch Cakes does contain solid knowledge of basic baking techniques and plenty of fodder for would be bakers to build on. I highly suggest learning what batters and ratios should look like before attempting anything in this book so as to avoid disappointment.