What’s not to love about cake? It’s a season-less dessert that is appropriate for any occasion — my occasion of choice is usually breakfast! Over the past several years I’ve really come into my own as a baker and, I found that cookbooks with inviting, accessible recipes helped me to develop my skills. Therefore, I appreciate Rebecca Firth‘s approach so much — having recipes that are easy, approachable, and (most importantly) fun, are the key to success. Her flavour combinations are delicious too — in the fall of 2020, I looked for a dessert recipe to bake for our Thanksgiving gathering and I decided upon Firth’s Spiced Apple Cake w/ Brown Butter Buttercream (recipe link here). Well, when I shared the cake to my Facebook, it looked so wonderful that everyone wanted to make it! And, as I started to hear back from over a half dozen people who tried the recipe, it was clear the cake was a winner! Right then, I knew that The Cake Book (her second book after The Cookie Book) would be on my list to review!
As I read through her book, it’s clear that Firth is influenced by her family and that her love language is food. Several of the recipes are loving nods to family: Aunt Kathy’s Carrot Cake, Granny Pete’s Chocolate Cake w/ Marshmallow Frosting, or Gavin’s Ice Cream Cereal Cake, to name a few. And its Firth’s passion for the ingredients and occasions that she imparts to each cake. The cake recipes are organized into 8 chapters: 1) Party Favorites!, 2) Cakes to Eat With Champagne, 3) Casual Cakes, 4) Single & Fabulous, 5) Mega Jazz Hands, 6) Big Beautiful Bundts, 7) Baby Cakes, and 8) Holiday Cakes. At the beginning of the book, Firth takes the time to walk the home baker through the different elements of baking from the book — notes on flour, types of pans to use, storage tips, troubleshooting, etc. She recommends using the pan specified in the recipe for optimal results and she’s chosen ingredients with care considering the pandemic has change shopping habits as well as altering the way food systems operate.
Since my family is between birthdays now, the cakes I baked from the book were ones to enjoy for breakfast or with an afternoon coffee. I love the way the house smells from baking and, there’s a certain kind of comfort when you settle into a comfortable chair and enjoy a warm drink and a slice of cake. A good cake for this activity is the Caramel Apple Cake. Spiced with cinnamon, ground ginger, and nutmeg and studded with small bits of apple, this cake is only made better by the addition of the Calvados Caramel Sauce. Calvados is an apple cider that’s distilled into a brandy which is made in the Normandy region in France. The thick and rich caramel sauce tastes lovely with the cake, but I think if you’re not into using alcohol in your baking, the recipe would work find without it. As a side note, the use of liqueurs and spirits are noticeable throughout the book (i.e., champagne, Negroni, Cointreau, rum) but, as I just mentioned, they can be omitted if that is your preference.
Another delightful apple cake recipe from The Cake Book is the Apple Cinnamon Everyday Cake — the cake is made with extra-virgin olive oil and almond extract, which lends such lovely flavours and the EVOO creates such a delicate crumb. After the cake batter is poured into the prepared pan, it’s topped with thinly sliced apple, sliced almonds, and lemon juice, then it’s sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. As it bakes, the almond slices toast and the apple slices soften and kind of melt into the cake. This cake is great anytime of day and makes for a great slice in the morning with a cup of coffee.
As you can probably guess, I love fruits in desserts and one of my favourites from the book was the Blueberry Muffin Skillet Cake. Again, the cake is made with almond extract and extra virgin olive oil, but this time 2 cups of blueberries are mixed in before the batter is poured into a cast-iron skillet. I ended up lining my skillet with a piece of parchment paper to allow for easy removal and serving. Such a great breakfast cake! My daughter adored this cake and, I froze the extra slices so that she could enjoy it for future breakfasts. This skillet cake is tender and light, and not too sweet. While I appreciated the pops of blueberry, I’m looking forward to the summer when I can give other fruits and berries a try! I feel like this could be great using cherries or sliced peaches. Firth’s recipes fit right in with the other “forever recipes” I have tucked away (the recipes you keep making, that become ingrained in your family food stories).
The Cake Book also offers a few cake-adjacent recipes such as Pavlova and crème caramel. When I saw her recipe for Spiced Vanilla Crème Caramel, I couldn’t wait to give it a try. Unlike a recipe for single-serve crème caramel I had made years ago, Firth’s recipe is made in an 8-inch round cake pan. First, I made the caramel — she gives the method for making a dry caramel using only granulated sugar which is cooked in a saucepan until it’s melted. Then I made the spiced-vanilla custard. I didn’t have any vanilla beans on hand, so I used some powdered vanilla instead. This is a recipe where you need to exercise a great deal of patience because once the crème caramel is baked, it needs to be refrigerated for 12 hours so that it can set properly. Like any dessert that needs to be unmolded, I ran my offset spatula around the edge and hoped for the best! The crème caramel released beautifully onto the serving plate and had set up properly so that each serving sliced cleanly. Even with seemingly difficult recipes, Firth provides instruction so that the results will be glorious. I am not that experienced with baked custards, so the success of this recipe has really buoyed my confidence.
What Rebecca Firth’s The Cake Book offers home bakers are accessible, delicious recipes to enjoy for any/every occasion. While reading through her book, I felt the joyfulness Firth experiences when she bakes love into the cakes she makes for her friends and family. And I appreciate that she means for this joy to be experienced in our kitchens too.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Manda Group and Page Street Publishing for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.