Book Club Tuesday: Coco Cake Land

I am meant to be posting another review for a different book, but I’ve come across a cookbook that’s too good not to share. Two weeks ago, I was preparing to bake my daughter’s birthday cake and, we did as we always have done – we looked through my cookbooks to see which cake she’d like. I had recently picked up a copy of Lyndsay Sung’s Coco Cake Land and, it was here, within its pages that my daughter found her “dream cake” (the Circle Garland Party Cake). Immediately I appreciated Sung’s choose your own cake adventure approach – while the instructions for decorating this cake are in the chapter for Pretty Cakes, bakers are to choose which recipe they’ll use for the cake base in the section for Basic Recipes (same goes for choosing the frosting). So, my daughter decided she wanted a chocolate cake for the layers and pink buttercream for the frosting.

Circle Garland Party Cake, p. 131-133 (One Bowl Dark Chocolate Cake, p.147 / Simple Vanilla Buttercream, p.149)

And, as I mixed up the recipe for the Simple Vanilla Buttercream, I realized with a sigh that the buttercream was turning out really well and, it was just as Sung promised: simple. While I love baking and I’m ok at decorating cakes, I’ve spent many moments of my life crying over a troublesome batch of buttercream. Runny, split – you name the problem, and I’ve probably encountered it. So, it was refreshing to bake the cake and prepare the buttercream without any stress. While cake decorating seems complicated when looking at the finished cake, Sung takes the time at the beginning of her book in the section Let’s Bake a Cake! Baking and Decorating Basics to take the home baker through a step-by-step guide on how to create a beautifully decorated cake. The rest of the book is divided into three main sections: Cute Cakes, Pretty Cakes, and Basic Recipes. There’s also a useful set of templates as well as a list of resources so that you can get started.

There’s a poignancy to Sung’s work – in the introduction, she reveals that after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and completing active treatment in 2016, she looks for the “good, sweet, or funny” moments to hold close.(x) And, when she exclaims, “Nothing beats the magical twinkle in the eyes of a child as a candle-lit cake is set before him or her, the sweet sound of the “Happy Birthday” song in the air. And for me, as the person who made the cake, it creates a feeling I cherish: it’s like a giant buttercream-frosted hug.” (xi) In a way, her book has become an invisible hug to all the home bakers who try her recipes and, all the happy recipients of these efforts.

The Circle Garland Party Cake was a success! Using the recipe for One Bowl Chocolate Cake, I had baked the layers in 6” heart-shaped pans and, ended up only using two for the layers (I kept the extra for a Valentine’s Day treat). In keeping with the heart theme, I used hearts instead of circles for the garland as well as a red/pink multi-mix of sprinkles. I followed along with Sung’s instructions and, that final cake was a sight to behold! The chocolate cake was so moist, with the “deep chocolate flavor” Sung describes in her recipe notes. There is something very satisfying about a cake well-baked and decorated without any tears.

Is it any wonder that when I needed to bake up something for my daughter’s birthday party a week later, that I turned to the Coco Cake Land cookbook? For the party, my daughter requested vanilla on vanilla and, since I was trying to keep it easy, I chose to go with frosted cupcakes. I went with the recipe for Vanilla Cream Cake but used Sung’s variation for baking cupcakes instead of layers and, while the stated recipe yield was for 28 regular-sized cupcakes, I managed to bake an even 30. Again, I went with the Simple Vanilla Buttercream because now that I have this recipe in my back pocket, I’m never letting go! Tinted a much (much) lighter pink than the Baker-Miller Pink I used for her cake, I piped a dollop onto each cupcake which was then topped with seafoam coloured sanding sugar and gummy bears. I appreciate Sung’s buttercream recipe for it’s tempered sweetness – not nearly as sweet as a traditional American-style buttercream, her version is sublime.

Vanilla Cream Cake (as cupcakes), p.146 w/ Simple Vanilla Buttercream, p.149

I’ve only just scratched the surface of Lyndsay Sung’s Coco Cake Land cookbook but from these early bakes, I can see years of joyful cake baking in my future! Whether you’re looking for whimsical designs or more classic ones, all of Sung’s cakes are magical – guaranteed to make people smile. (And, for anyone looking to experience Sung’s cakes in vegan form, while this book offers a recipe for vegan chocolate cake and a vegan whipped ganache frosting, she has a new book on vegan cakes – Plantcakes — due out this September from Appetite by Random House).

Nothing sponsored, I used my own personal copy to happily write this review. 

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