My earliest experiences of baking were guided by my Mum and her well-used copy of the Be-Ro Flour Home Recipe book. When I left home to study music at University, I received my own copy of the Be-Ro book. It was duly filed away until one day several years later when I decided it might be fun to make a birthday cake for my husband.
It would be nice to be able to say that this was a turning point and that I became an avid baker after the birthday cake. Unfortunately, this was not to be. I used the only cake tin I could find in our house. It was a huge, deep affair and the cake I made in it struggled to rise to even a finger-width. Undaunted, I simply repeated the process and sandwiched my two flat discs together with strawberry jam. My husband was very polite and I didn’t attempt any more cake-making until my elder daughter’s first birthday nearly four years later.
Children have a way of changing your life completely. I bought 50 Easy Party Cakes by Debbie Brown and for the next three years, I made exactly one cake each year. I then doubled my output and made exactly two cakes in the year following the birth of my second daughter.
The recipes for the cakes themselves were secondary to their appearance. Indeed, Debbie Brown advised making a firm cake that was able to stand up to modeling, so I followed her instructions meticulously and never regarded the actual baking-part of the endeavour as anything particularly troublesome. I was more worried about whether the bits were going to stick together or whether the icing would drop off when I moved the cake.
As my children grew, I discovered I held a conviction that they should be introduced to the joys of baking. I still wasn’t very clear at this point what the actual ‘joys’ were, but I believed we should set out to find them nonetheless. Somewhere between the fairy cakes and iced biscuits, I began to realize there was a vast landscape of uncharted territory lying before us. Why was it a Bad Thing if the mixture curdled? What was the reasoning behind the seemingly endless permutations of baking powder and bicarbonate of soda? Why on earth were we told to hang some cakes upside-down to cool? Surely someone somewhere was having a laugh!
Then Rose Levy Beranbaum stepped into my life. Or, to be more precise, I came across her book, The Cake Bible in a second-hand shop in Kirkcudbright. At last, I had found a map for that mysterious realm of cake-making. Moreover, this particular map had been written especially for me! (or rather, for me and the rest of the UK population, since the copy I was holding was the 1992 British Edition of the Bible).
As Rose herself explained in an interview:
“When I started to cook and bake I was very frustrated by unexplained instructions and dictates. When I chose to ignore some I discovered why I shouldn’t have; with others, I saw that there was no reason to have followed them. I wanted to empower the reader to make his or her own choices if they so desired. This can be done effectively only when one understands the reasoning behind the technique. Of course the recipe will work just fine as it is but some people like to make variations and when it comes to baking, you really need to know what you’re doing when you make changes.”
Not only does Rose finally illuminate the mysterious behaviours of flour, sugar, butter and eggs, but she also provides a foolproof method for the production of the most heavenly cakes you have ever tasted. With The Cake Bible by my side, I have successfully brought forth no less than five delicious creations from my oven in the last week alone. And I haven’t even ventured into the icings and fillings sections of the book yet!
Needless to say, my family and friends are also full of gratitude to Rose Levy Beranbaum. Perhaps now, when my children look back on their own steps to Parnassus, they will remember that their earliest experiences of baking were guided by their Mum and her well-used copy of The Cake Bible.