The Art of Cake | Collection Development

By John Charles

Let them eat cake! OK, while Marie Antoinette didn’t really say these exact words to those cranky Parisians, she very well might have if she’d only had access to the cookbooks listed below. From basic guides that will help novice bakers complete their very first home-baked and -decorated cake to more advanced cookbooks that offer detailed culinary blueprints for creating the cake equivalent of haute couture, with these titles in your collection, baking the perfect sweet treat will be a piece of cake.

It might be tempting to think that the ebook revolution means never having to buy another old-fashioned print book, but think again. In some cases, an ebook version of a title like Anne Byrne’s Cake Mix Doctor’s Icing on the Cake makes more sense than a print edition, but the reality is that when it comes to most cookbooks, print is still a major ingredient. While printed book sales fell 4.5 percent between 2009 and 2010, cookbook sales were up four percent and doubled to eight percent in 2011.

Despite an abundance of web resources dedicated to baking and cake decorating, including wildly popular websites and blogs like CakeJournal and CakeSpy, as well as useful commercial sites such as Wilton Industries, many bakers still rely on the tried-and-true cookbook while working in their kitchens.

Assembling a cake baking collection

The key to assembling a great cake baking and decorating collection is to provide a wide range of choices. Newbie bakers will need an easy-to-follow guide that offers step-by-step instructions and plenty of good illustrations. Bakers who have been around the culinary block a few more times will want cookbooks that inspire their own creativity, with fresh, new ideas for cakes and ingenious twists on classics.

Look for titles that offer a lively writing style, a distinctive culinary point of view, a good selection of recipes, and the authors’ ability through their recipe writing and color illustrations to demonstrate to cooks how to re-create successfully a cake in the cook’s own kitchen.

Great cake baking and decorating titles can be found on all major publishers’ lists, including Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Rizzoli, Wiley, Sterling, and Clarkson Potter: Crown, but there are other publishers serving up tempting titles as well. In particular, the Brits seem to be intent on capturing their own slice of the market with New Holland and David and Charles sending a number of useful titles across the pond.

When it comes to weeding your cake baking and decorating titles, the physical condition of a book itself will probably be the first criterion you use to pull titles from your shelves. One thing to keep in mind when working with older cookbooks is that baking books published before 2000 may include the use of raw eggs in a recipe, which could be a health concern for some individuals. While some cookbooks, such as those by Rose Levy Beranbaum, happily remain in print, others such as Tish Boyle’s The Cake Book, Bruce Healy’s The Art of the Cake, Susan Purdy’s A Piece of Cake, and Carol Walter’s Great Cakes are now, unfortunately, out of print, which means any library with these gems in their collection will want to give some serious thought before getting rid of them.

Cakes on TV

The bounty of cooking shows currently running on network and cable channels sends its share of viewers into the library in search of the print equivalent. The don of two TLC shows, Buddy Valastro, with his brash New Jersey style, might not be to everyone’s taste, but libraries will want to consider stocking copies of both his Baking with the Cake Boss: 100 of Buddy’s Best Recipes and Decorating Secrets (Free Pr., 2011), and Cake Boss: Stories and Recipes from Mia Famiglia (Free Pr., 2010). Ace of Cakes has ended its run on the Food Network (though it does turn up in reruns), but that doesn’t mean its star, baker Duff Goldman, has lost all his fans. Ace of Cakes: Inside the World of Charm City Cakes (Morrow, 2009) offers not only details about Goldman and the show’s other cast members but also notes on the wildly imaginative cakes (and the techniques used to create them) turned out by the Baltimore bakery.

Trends in the cake world

Just as in the worlds of fashion and home decorating, trends come and go in baking. The demand for fresh, organic ingredients that has been sweeping the savory side of cooking has extended into the sweeter side of the culinary world, not only influencing the way in which many cakes are made but also how they’re ornamented. While the current craze for cupcakes shows no sign of abating, if any sweet treat can push these little cakes out of the culinary spotlight it will probably be cake balls and cake pops. In the last two years alone, more than a half dozen titles focusing on these small spherical creations have been published, with several more in the works, including Robin Ankeny’s Cake Balls (Running Pr., Jul.), Dede Wilson’s Cake Balls (Harvard Common, Sept.), and Hannah Miles’s Cake Pops (Anness Pubs., 2012).

For more on baking, see the author’s Hitting the Sweet Spot, LJ 11/1/11, and for additional bridal confections, see the baking section of Bonnie L. Poquette’s Going to the Chapel, LJ 12/09.

The following collection of titles can be used either as a blueprint for building a great cake baking and decorating collection, or as a checklist for an older collection that might need some freshening up. Starred titles (.) are core purchases for most public libraries.


The cookbooks below provide a sound introduction to the art of cake baking.

starred review starBeranbaum, Rose Levy. The Cake Bible. 8th ed. Morrow. 1988. 592p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780688044022. $35.
starred review starBeranbaum, Rose Levy. Rose’s Heavenly Cakes. Wiley. 2009. 498p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780471781738. $39.95. (LJ 8/09)

When it was published in 1988, The Cake Bible won the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) cookbook of the year award for a good reason: the book is a superb guide to the art of cake baking. Beranbaum provides a solid introduction to all the ingredients, supplies, and techniques a baker needs, and her precise, detailed instructions ensure culinary success for both newbies and pros. With Rose’s Heavenly Cakes, Beranbaum, who also has her own popular blog Real Baking with Rose, expands the boundaries of her first title by delving into new cake frontiers (including oil-based cakes). Both are essential for all public library collections.

Brown, Warren. Cakelove: How To Bake Cakes from Scratch. Stewart, Tabori & Chang. 2008. 224p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781584796626. $27.50.

Where’s the love? It’s in Washington, DC, where lawyer-turned-baker Brown provides novice bakers with an excellent introduction to cakes (pound, butter, and foam), as well as frostings and fillings. (LJ 4/15/08)

Chattman, Lauren. Cake Keeper Cakes: 100 Simple Recipes for Extraordinary Bundt Cakes, Pound Cakes, Snacking Cakes and Other Good-to-the-Last-Crumb Treats. Taunton, dist. by Ingram. 2009. 176p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781600851209. $17.95. (LJ 9/15/09)

Chattman, Lauren. Icebox Cakes: Simply Irresistible No-Bake Desserts. Harvard Common, dist. by Houghton Harcourt. 2007. 144p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781558323452. pap. $14.95.

You won’t miss the frosting with Chattman’s diverse array of plain, easy-to-prepare cakes in Cake Keeper Cakes, while Chattman will have bakers abandoning their stoves in favor of their refrigerators with her collection of 50 oven-free Icebox Cakes.

Gray, Melissa. All Cakes Considered: A Year’s Worth of Weekly Recipes Tested, Tasted, and Approved by the Staff of NPR’s All Things Considered. Chronicle. 2009. 223p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780811867818. $24.95.

Self-trained baker and NPR producer Gray offers a delectable collection of 50-plus recipes that will please both beginners and more established bakers.

starred review starHeatter, Maida. Maida Heatter’s Cakes. Andrews McMeel. 2011. 368p. index. ISBN 9781449401146. pap. $19.99.

Originally published in 1982, this classic is back in print. With her customary warmth and years of culinary wisdom, Heatter guides new bakers through the ins and outs of creating plain cakes, fancy cakes, cheesecakes, and more. (LJ 7/11)

Holechek, Kris. Have Your Cake and Vegan Too: 50 Dazzling and Delicious Cake Creations. Ulysses Pr. 2011. 144p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781569759202. $17.95.

Food blogger Holechek definitively proves that you can bake tasty cakes even without dairy products or eggs. (LJ 6/1/11)

Huntsman, Alisa with Peter Wynne. Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes. Chronicle. 2007. 224p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780811854481. $35.

Huntsman, pastry chef at Nashville’s Loveless Café, shows cooks how to turn 40 different cakes into luscious three-layer treats.

Klivans, Elinor. Chocolate Cakes: 50 Great Cakes for Every Occasion. Chronicle. 2010. 144p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780811868723. $22.95.

When only chocolate will do, Klivans gives bakers plenty of simple to sublime options. Perfect for chocoholics.

McDermott, Nancie. Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations. Chronicle. 2007. 168p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780811853705. $19.95.

Libraries with a demand for regional recipes will find McDermott’s cookbook a good introduction to the glorious, icing-rich world of Southern cakes.

starred review starMalgieri, Nick. Perfect Cakes. Morrow. 2002. 352p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780060198794. $37.50.

James Beard Award‚ winning Malgieri dishes up a thorough introduction to the art of cake baking with a good section dedicated to ingredients and techniques, as well as 200 recipes that run the gamut from simple cakes for the beginner to more challenging choices.

Matheson, Christie. Cake Simple: Recipes for Bundt-Style Cakes from Classic Dark Chocolate to Luscious Lemon Basil. Chronicle. 2011. 132p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780811879361. $19.95.

Matheson will have bakers dusting off their old bundt pans with this tempting assortment of 50-plus recipes for both sweet and sweet/savory treats.

Mesnier, Roland with Lauren Chattman. Roland Mesnier’s Basic to Beautiful Cakes. S. & S. 2007. 304p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780743287890. $30.

Mesnier was the White House pastry chef for 25 years, and with this book he shares the tips and tricks he learned on the job for baking 22 basic cakes, along with variations on each. (LJ 10/15/07)

Saulsbury, Camilla V. Piece of Cake! One-Bowl, No-Fuss, from-Scratch Cakes. Robert Rose, dist. by Firefly. 2011. 288p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780778802778. $29.95.

Librarians who can get over their old prejudices against spiral-bound books will find that Saulsbury, winner of the Food Network’s Ultimate Recipe Showdown, offers a sensible solution for home cooks who believe they have to choose between commercial cake mixes and intimidating recipes for professionals.

Stewart, Martha. Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone’s Favorite Treats. Clarkson Potter: Crown Pub. Group. 2009. 352p. illus. index. ISBN 9780307460448. $24.99.

From classic to contemporary, Stewart provides everything bakers need know to turn out stellar cupcakes suitable for every season and all occasions.(LJ 6/15/11)


Many of the titles below focus on decorating over baking.

Betty Crocker Editors. etty Crocker Decorating Cakes and Cupcakes.Betty Crocker. 2006. 160p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780471753070. pap. $19.95.

Betty Crocker has been a trusted name with home cooks for nearly a century, and this guide is tailor-made for new cooks who need basic instruction in cake decorating.

starred review starCarpenter, Autumn. The Complete Photo Guide to Cake Decorating.Creative Pub: Quayside. 2012. 328p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781589236691. pap. $24.99.

From preparing a cake for frosting to adding the final touches, Carpenter’s book offers clear, easy-to-follow photos for 40 different projects. (LJ 1/12)

starred review starCastella, Krystina. Crazy About Cakes: More than 150 Delectable Recipes for Every Occasion. Sterling. 2011. 384p. illus. index. ISBN 9781402769146. pap. $17.95.

Castella, a West Coast industrial designer and cookbook author, serves up a tempting assortment of sweet (and occasionally savory) cakes suitable for a wide range of tastes and occasions. The clear, step-by-step instructions and the whimsical yet doable designs will especially appeal to novice bakers.

Damm, Annie. Cake Couture: Modern Sugar-Craft for the Stylish Baker. Firefly. 2011. 144p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781554079490. pap. $19.95.

Canadian cake designer Damm provides detailed instructions for creating 20 runway-worthy cakes. (LJ 1/12)

Dunn, Alan. Alan Dunn’s Tropical and Exotic Flowers for Cakes.New Holland, dist. by Sterling. 2011. 144p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781847738684. $24.95.

Sugarcrafter superstar Dunn shares his secrets for crafting tropical and exotic flowers from sugar. An invaluable guide for ambitious cake decorators and designers.

Garrett, Toba. Professional Cake Decorating. 2d ed. Wiley. 2012. illus. index. ISBN 9780470380093. $65.

Master cake designer Garrett offers a step-by-step guide to acquiring the necessary skills (piping, icing, pastillage, and more) for becoming a pro at cake decorating. An especially good choice for libraries serving professional chefs or culinary school students.

Hansen, Kaye & Liv Hansen. The Whimsical Bake House: Fun-To-Make Cakes That Are As Good As They Look! Clarkson Potter: Crown Pub. Group. 2002. 160p. illus. index. ISBN 9780609608968. $27.50; pap. ISBN 9780307587541. $17.

With a Seussical sense of style, the owners of New York’s Riviera Bakehouse deliver the perfect marriage of flavorful cakes and fun decorations that are certain to inspire bakers who know their way around a whisk.

Hitron, Noga. The Art of Cakes. Sterling. 2008. 112p. ISBN 9781402761249. $17.95.

Hitron, Noga. The Art of Cupcakes: More than 40 Festive Recipes. 2010. 128p. ISBN 9781402759000. pap. $17.95.

Hitron, Noga. Mini-Cakes: Tiny Treats to Surprise and Delight. 2010. 112p. ISBN 9781402739989. $17.95.

ea. vol: Sterling. illus. index.

Hitron’s go-to design ingredients are fondant and modeling paste, and the resulting cakes are colorful, cartoonish, and not without their own unique brand of charm.

Krasne, Karen. Extraordinary Cakes: Recipes for Bold and Sophisticated Desserts. Rizzoli. 2011. 176p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780847858088. $37.50.

San Diego restaurant owner Krasne takes a different approach to cake decorating by relying on natural frostings and the use of fresh fruit and flowers. Broken down by season, this cookbook offers detailed, step-by-step instructions for creating cake masterpieces. Serious bakers willing to invest the time will be richly rewarded.

LoCicero, Joe. Cake Decorating for Dummies. Wiley. 2007. 392p. illus. index. ISBN 9780470099117. pap. $19.99.

LoCicero, lifestyle expert and founder of the online store Practical Whimsy, delivers everything one would expect from a Dummies guide, from tools and ingredients to opening your own cake decorating business.

Mann, Tracey. Cake Decorating Skills. Firefly. 2011. 176p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781554079070. $29.95.

Mann, a self-taught cake decorator and owner of Tracey’s Cakes, offers new bakers a good introduction to the basics of cake decorating, including working with sugar, fondant and gum paste, and chocolate.

Mountford, Meaghan. Sugarlicious. Harlequin. 2012. 240p. illus. index. ISBN 9780373892549. pap. $17.95.

Bakers who want to expand their decorating horizons will find Mountford’s debut cookbook‚ which covers not only cakes but cupcakes, cookies, and marshmallows‚ to be an excellent primer. (LJ 1/12)

Penman, Helen. Fondant Modeling for Cake Decorators: 100 Fondant Features To Top Off a Special Cake. Firefly. 2011. 256p. illus. index. ISBN 9781554079131. spiral-bound. $29.95.

Once libraries get past the sturdy spiral binding, they will find Penman’s book contains everything you need to know about crafting imaginative fondant cake toppers. (LJ 11/1/11)

Peters, Colette. Cakes To Dream On: A Master Class in Decorating. Wiley. 2004. 272p. illus. index. ISBN 9780471214625. $40.

Peters, Colette. Colette’s Birthday Cakes. Little, Brown. 2000. 182p illus. index. ISBN 9780316702744. $35.

Peters, Colette. Colette’s Cakes: The Art of Cake Decorating. Little, Brown. 1991. 163p. illus. index. ISBN 9780316702058. $35.

Her sweet confections have graced the White House and the windows at Tiffany and Company, and now Peters shares her culinary secrets for creating show-stopping cakes. Advanced bakers with time to spare will find Peters’s cookbooks inspiring.

Porschen, Peggy. Pretty Party Cakes: Sweet and Stylish Cakes and Cookies for All Occasions. 2006. 144p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780307337078.
Porschen, Peggy. Simply Spectacular Cakes: Beautiful Designs for Irresistible Cakes and Cookies. 2009. 144p. illus. index. ISBN 9780307464552.
ea. vol: Clarkson Potter: Crown Pub. Group. $30.

British cake decorator Porschen’s designs have a timeless elegance that is suitable for all posh occasions.

Tack, Karen & Alan Richardson. Hello, Cupcake! Irresistibly Playful Creations Anyone Can Make. 2008. 240p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780618829255. pap. $15.95.
starred review starTack, Karen & Alan Richardson. What’s New, Cupcake? Ingeniously Simple Designs for Every Occasion. 2010. 240p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780547241814. pap. $16.95. (Xpress Reviews, 3/19/10)

ea. vol: Houghton Harcourt.

Baking purists might snub Tack and Richardson’s use of store-bought mixes and canned frostings as building blocks for their creations, but there is no denying the results. Both cookbooks are inventive, clever, and perfect for beginner bakers who want to take a walk on the wild and wacky side of cake decorating.

starred review starTurner, Mich. The Art of the Cake: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide to Baking and Decorating Perfection. 2011. 224p. ISBN 9780789322159. $40.

Turner, Mich. Party Cakes: Delightful Little Treats for Special Occasions. 2007. 160p. ISBN 9780789315625. $22.95.

Turner, Mich. Spectacular Cakes: Special Occasion Cakes for any Celebration. 2005. 160p. ISBN 9780789313614. $35.

ea. vol: Universe: Rizzoli. illus. index.

With The Art of the Cake, Turner, British baker to the stars, provides a master class in cake decorating, including cake baking basics plus recipes, as well as easy-to-follow instructions for icing, frosting, and decorating. Bakers with some time on their hands will find plenty of show-stopping cakes for an array of special occasions in Spectacular Cakes, while Party Cakes delivers clever ideas for bite-sized and smaller scale versions.

Weinstock, Sylvia. Sweet Celebrations: The Art of Decorating Beautiful Cakes. S. & S. 1999. 208p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780684846750. $37.

While she is known for the exquisite wedding cakes she has baked for such celebrities as Oprah and Ted Turner (different weddings to be sure), Weinstock believes every occasion deserves a gorgeous cake. Here, Weinstock serves up 24 cakes complete with detailed instructions and decorating advice worth its weight in gold.


Baking a wedding cake is the culinary equivalent of climbing Mount Everest, but with the titles below as a guide, any baker with the time and the right equipment can climb to new heights.

Garrett, Toba M. Wedding Cake Art and Design: A Professional Approach. Wiley. 2010. 280p. photogs. illus. index. ISBN 9780470381335. $50.

This title is geared toward the aspiring professional. Garrett offers sample client scenarios with detailed instructions on how to create the perfect cake to fulfill each different request.

starred review starStewart, Martha. Martha Stewart’s Wedding Cakes. Clarkson Potter: Crown Pub. Group. 2007. 260p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780307394538. $60.

The doyenne of domesticity delivers 100 wedding-worthy confections suitable for almost any nuptial celebration, along with ideas and tips for designing, baking, and decorating wedding cakes. It’s a good thing.

starred review starTurner, Mich. Wedding Cakes. Universe: Rizzoli. 2009. 160p. illus. ISBN 9780789318145. $37.50.

London-based Turner (owner of the Little Venice Cake Company) has designed wedding cakes for both the Royal Family and Paul McCartney, so she knows a thing or two about culinary drama and glamour. Organized thematically, the fashion-inspired cakes range from simple to sublime, and Turner even throws in some tips on serving.

Wilson, Dede. Wedding Cakes You Can Make: Designing, Baking, and Decorating the Perfect Wedding Cake. Wiley. 2005. 176p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780764557194. $29.95.

Wilson has proven her culinary chops by writing an assortment of other cookbooks and hosting a PBS cooking show. Now she offers motivated bakers a crash course in constructing the perfect wedding cake.

An adult services librarian for the Scottsdale Public Library System, AZ, John Charles has been reviewing books for LJ for 16 years and more recently DVDs as well and scorching sugar and burning butter in the kitchen for two decades

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