Had I but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it for gingerbread.
–William Shakespeare, Love’s Labor’s Lost
To ease my Downton Abbey withdrawal symptoms, I’ve been treating myself to doses of Britain’s Best Bakery, helmed by Mich Turner, MBE. (MBE means Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, an across-the-channel version of Meilleur Ouvrier de France.)
First off, I like the way she and the other judges take big mouthfuls of the cakes, cookies and sweets they’re judging. And I like the way they chew over every detail–flavor balance, texture, and appearance.
I’ve made cakes that taste just fine, everyone is delighted to see them, but the recipes are banished because they’re just sweet without flavor. Or they don’t look right or serve nicely. And I’ve made cakes that should be good, but come out gummy or tilted–and I have to gird myself to try again. Most gratifying are the cakes I’ve made that people ask me to make again or to share the recipe.
This is all by way of saying that cake-baking takes attention–to the recipe and to your own capability–especially in cakes as perfect as Turner’s. I know my limitations as a baker, and as much as I love a frosted layer cake–they are warranted only for special occasions. All Turner’s creations are special, so you need to be on you baking toes.
When she calls for a six-inch across pan, use one. Your batter will rise, be overstretched, and collapse in an eight-inch pan. When she calls for coconut cream, get on the internet to find exactly what she means, substitutions are risky. And when she says squeeze the liquid from the zucchini before folding it into the batter–do it or risk a gummy loaf.
Accordingly, Turner begins the book with ingredients and techniques–how to get the cake out of its pan, the different methods for mixing up a cake batter. And each cake recipe has tips–what to do and what not to do–to get the best results. Among the most important tips: no rushing and no cutting corners.
And despite what the perfection of decorative fondant and roses would lead you to think, Turner’s cake recipes are quite homey–pineapple upside down, zucchini pecan loaf, or molasses gingerbread. Of course, there’s a basic vanilla cake and for occasions, a chocolate cherry genoise or orange chiffon cake.
The second part of the book is for the ambitious and artistic. Through photos, Turner guides you through making a pastry bag and using it to create the distinctive lacy decorations she’s known for.
Follow Turner’s directions and you’ll have the keys to a world of marzipan butterflies, petal paste poinsettias, and royal icing roses.