A World of Cake

There’s all manner of cake in here frosted with color and creativity.

A World of Cake: 150 Recipes For Sweet Traditions From Cultures Near and Far is a sweet and enticing proposition. Author Krystina Castella offers a veritable catalogue of cake both common and those we’ve never heard of before. As a self-avowed curious cake lover, Castella writes that she’s “… always been interested in [this] crossover between cultural and culinary history…” and then posits, “What could be a better way to learn about food history, cultural evolutions, religions, ingredients, and techniques than through baking some cakes.” That statement thus launches her on her quest to explore the cakes of the world with 150 recipes of what she believes are the “greatest cakes on earth.”

This book could be considered a history book, but oh, if only all history books could be as stimulating! The 14 chapters are arranged by continent/culture, with emphasis on that area’s notable cakes – i.e. Eastern Europe: Marzipan, Gingerbread, and Other Fairy Tale Cakes. Chapter 1 immediately draws the reader in with “A Sweet Tour of Cake History, Culture, and Language” where it’s learned that cake began as something flat baked on a stone. How it has evolved since then!

Every chapter is imaginatively rendered with a surfeit of photos – gorgeous photos – that beguile and set mouth watering. Numerous sidebars, also lavishly illustrated, are replete with more information, further underscoring how exceptionally well-researched this book is. It’s truly impressive in its scope. Some of the more fascinating sidenotes include Cakes For The Dead, The World’s Most Popular Cake (Black Forest, though I can’t say I agree), A Family Tree of Cakes, and a truly insightful Field Guide to Cakes, a thorough categorization of creamy to chewy to dense to fluffy cakes.

Recipes begin on Chapter 2, North America: Sugar and Spice and Doughnuts Are Nice. As with every good and satisfying recipe to peruse, there are heaps of headnotes instructing the reader what to expect, a photo to motivate, and informative, helpful text. The recipes look doable, succeeding in inspiring and informing, with some requiring a day-long commitment for those weekend baking warriors. Gleaning from other reviewers’ comments about this book however, perhaps one should treat it more as a source or history book and not as a true baking book.

Some of the more intriguing cakes complete with equally arresting names are the Marta Rocha Torte, a Brazilian dual-hued confection named after a Brazilian Miss Universe contestant; Norwegian Omelette, which is really France’s way of calling a baked ice cream cake covered in meringue; and The Netherlands’ Lazybones Cake, the photo of which you should see.

Especially riveting reading in this book are the Field Guides, pockets of information that compel and enlighten – guides on Breakfast Cakes, A Family Tree of Cakes, World Tour of Famous People Cakes (and another for Cheesecakes too). I’m truly absorbed by the chapters on Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian Subcontinent, featuring cakes that border on the arcane but allure nevertheless. Closer to home is the Far East chapter where I’m greeted by China’s mooncakes and Taiwan’s pineapple cakes. Needless to say, I revel in the South East Asia chapter where there’s more than a brief mention of Philippine cakes and surprise, even a recipe for Ube Cake (yes, it’s really called that, and not the more benign Taro Cake).

An Appendix offers a trove of Toppings and Fillings for cakes plus a baker’s recipe arsenal for Pastry Creams, Sauces, Glazes, Pastes, etc. If you like cake, you should really get this book. I can’t recommend it enough.

A World of Cake: 150 Recipes For Sweet Traditions From Cultures Near and Far
By Krystina Castella
Paperback: 352 pages
Storey Publishing, LLC
Available at Fully Booked.

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