There’s nothing as comforting as the smell of a cake baking when you walk into a home. It smells like love. (1)
Some reviews write themselves. Last weekend I had a cookbook club meeting. It was early Sunday morning and I was sitting with a cookbook in my favourite chair by the window. I had inwardly rejoiced at the prospect of baking something from one of the cookbooks I needed to review, since the scope of this meeting was about baking. But, as I flipped through the cookbook, I couldn’t find a recipe I had all the ingredients for, or even had the time to make. The meeting wasn’t until late Sunday afternoon, but I still had laundry, lunch to cook, and other chores and, honestly, I didn’t want to devote time I didn’t have to elaborate baking. Don’t misunderstand me, the books I’ve been sent to review are delightful and marvelous, but they offer a particular type of baking — like cooking, baking can be broken down into two types: weekend and weekday. One needs time to complete and enjoy, the other can be enjoyed when it seems like you might not have any time to spare. With my husband and daughter giving me the saddest eyes ever because I would be baking (but not for them), I reached for my copy of Odette Williams’ Simple Cake because I knew I would be able to bake not one but two cakes (one to take with me and one to leave with my darlings) AND, I would still be able to get everything I wanted to get done before leaving for the meeting.
Williams’ book has only been with me a short while, and, in that time, it has become my go to for cakes. Published by 10 Speed Press in 2019, this cookbook is full of great recipes as well as beautiful photographs by Nicole Franzen. Not a book I was sent to review but one I treated myself to (and I’m so glad I did!). Reading through Williams’ Introduction makes me a bit emotional — it’s all about nostalgia and memories. About Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book, eating more batter than cake, her father, and her children and family. Not only is her introduction about all these things, it’s about luring the home baker into the kitchen with the promise of cake. Simple and joyful. I appreciated her warm tone — one that told me baking a cake isn’t complicated.
Simple Cake is organized into 4 main chapters: Let the Baking Begin!, Cakes, Cake Toppings, and Cake-Worthy Moments. I appreciate how she begins by outlining all the essential advice, equipment, and techniques you’ll need and, follows this with the cake recipes and toppings. Williams even offers instructions on how to bake up cakes for any event or reason — I already know that the “How Did You Get So Big?” Cake will be the one I bake for my daughter’s upcoming birthday. Doesn’t chocolate cake with marshmallow icing sound perfect? There’s also a small section at the back of the book that is dedicated to ingredients. I appreciate that the book is called Simple Cake and the recipes contain a very small number of ingredients. How simple is that? The ingredients are all ones you most likely have in your pantry right now, and if you don’t, then you can find them easily at the local supermarket.
I love to bake with my daughter and, Simple Cake is a great first cookbook for young bakers. With 10 cakes and 15 toppings the possibilities are limitless and offer what kids love the most: experimentation. A “choose your own cake adventure” if you will. It started with a fistful of leftover candy canes and some peppermint bark. We decided on the recipe for Very Vanilla Cake and instead of adding sprinkles for the Funfetti variation we added crushed up candy cane to the batter and a bit of peppermint extract. Our glorious creation was frosted with her Easy Creamy Icing and was then topped w/ chopped up peppermint bark. My daughter was so proud of our “Ode to Christmas” Cake! We sliced it up and she gleefully took her first bite. The look on her face is what childhood is all about. And, in case I’d forgotten, my first bite tasted like childhood too.
This is also a fun book to hand to any visitors that come to stay. Once the book is in their hands you tell them to choose a cake to make. When my dad was here, he picked out the Cinnamon Spice Cake and when my MIL came to stay, she chose the Bribery Cake (the Chocolatey Chocolate Cake topped with Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream). My Mother-In-Law loves anything chocolate (my husband comes by his adoration of chocolate honestly!) so I was excited to bake her something special. What I wrote when I posted pictures of this cake to my Instagram feed is true: Perfection on a plate but, to be honest, it’s so much more. About three years ago I saw a gloriously layered and buttercreamed cake I wanted to make for my daughter’s birthday. The cake turned out fine, but that buttercream was such a fail that it brought me to tears (and, of all the things that do bring me to tears, food usually isn’t one). But with Willams’ tips and instructions I was able to overcome my fears and try again. This luscious frosting has been renamed (in my mind) “No Tears Swiss Meringue Buttercream” — it’s the perfect topping for a cake that I’m calling the “Have Faith Chocolate Cake” because when you pour the batter into the cake pan it’s so soupy you wonder (doubt) how it will ever bake, but, it does! (A good metaphor for life when you wonder how it can get better/turn out, then magic happens).
So, returning to my Sunday morning, I started to bake up a Cinnamon Spice Cake (full of beautiful ingredients like spelt flour, honey, and applesauce) which I frosted with the Cream Cheese Frosting and sprinkled with chopped, toasted pecans. The cake smelled like a dream while it baked! I chose to bake it as a 9X13″ sheet cake but Williams also gives options (as she does with all of the cake recipes) for other sizes. Just as the cake for cookbook club was finishing baking, I got to work mixing up the Very Vanilla Cake recipe using the Funfetti variation for my family. I made it in a 6″ springform pan — a perfectly petite afternoon treat and, I also used some clear, imitation vanilla extract to really double down on those Betty Crocker-laced memories of funfetti cakes of my childhood. As soon as the cake cooled, I dusted it with icing sugar and then I whipped up a batch of Nutella Whipped Cream. While it might seem foolhardy to try to bake two different cakes in one morning, I think this situation is a perfect illustration of how simple Simple Cake is.
Some cookbooks can act like a safety net — even when you’re not sure of anything, you can trust in the recipes. Simple Cake is the cookbook I turned to so that I wouldn’t show up empty handed to my cookbook club meeting and as I took the carrying lid off my cake carrier at the meeting, I knew that this cake would be loved. Sharing it with the group, I think that this is a cookbook everyone should have in their life. As I said earlier — some reviews write themselves — I knew when I came home on Sunday evening that I would write a review to share this book with you because even with a small, unassuming book like, Simple Cake, it’s one that will bring much joy to your kitchen like it has in mine.
I used my own personal copy to happily write this review.