For years, the cake has been encased in thick layers of icing, marzipan and jam, and then decorated. However, there has recently been a trend for simplicity; cakes ‘stripped back’ and decorated with fresh edible flowers and vibrant berries, or mixed with pastel shades to make the sponge itself the star of the show.
You may be familiar with author Hannah Miles as a finalist in the BBC’s Masterchef. Previously a lawyer, she has developed a successful second career as a cake maker and food writer, and has written a host of books including The Gluten-free Baker and Milkshake Bar. The concept of Naked Cakes is a cake stripped bare; the decoration is simple and Hannah stipulates in her introduction that the sides of a naked cake should be on display and not covered, although “it is acceptable for them to have a small drizzle of icing, a dusting of confectioner’s sugar, or the thinnest layer of buttercream, provided that you can still see the sponge through the icing”.
In Naked Cakes, Hannah ‘undresses’ a variety of classic cakes in 6 themed chapters: Romantic Charm, Chic Simplicity, Vintage Elegance, Rustic Style, Dramatic Effect and The Changing Seasons. The majority of the recipes in all of these sections are made using the basic sponge cake mixture at the beginning of the book, with flavourings added as required. Tips and Techniques are also listed alongside helpful information on Using Edible Flowers to embellish your baked goods.
The first chapter, Romantic Charm, contains a selection of cakes suitable for celebrating the special person in your life. You can spoil your loved one with the beautiful ombre Pistachio Layer Cake (as featured on the cover), the rose scented Turkish Delight Cake or the spectacular Peach Melba Meringue Layer, amongst others. I was particularly taken with the idea of the plain but very pretty Miniature Wedding Cakes, which can be served individually to each guest at a wedding, instead of a slice of the larger and more traditional confection.
Chapter 2’s Chic Simplicity features beauties such as the Lemon Meringue Cake, the luscious-looking Chocolate Peppermint Roulade with Frosted Mint Leaves and the Naked Battenburg. As a lover of marzipan, one of the high points of the traditional Battenburg is its squidgy almond coat. I’m not entirely convinced by this particular recipe even though this ‘naked’ version is covered with an almond buttercream and toasted almonds. I guess I’ll need to road test the recipe and eat several slices to make sure it passes muster.
In the third chapter, Vintage Elegance, you will find an assortment of cakes designed to “take centre stage at any party”. Recipes include the rather stunning Macoron Cake (pastel pink sponge filled with fresh fruit and whipped cream, topped with pink macarons), the Lime Charlotte Cake and the sweet little Mini Victoria Layer Cakes. Chapter 4’s Rustic Style is a real treat and carries a couple of my favourites from this book; recipes in this section include Banana Brazil Nut Caramel Cakes, the Glazed Apricot Cake and the Orange and White Chocolate Dome Cakes. This chapter also happens to contain my least favourite ‘recipe’ in the book, the Pretty Bird Cake. All I will say on the matter is, “Put a bird on it.”
The penultimate chapter is all about the Dramatic Effect. Included in this section is the original ‘naked cake’, the wonderful Croquembouche, and I’m intrigued by the Green Tea Ice Cream Cake, with its pretty sakura blossom decoration. I love figs and I love chocolate so the Chocolate Fig Cake is high on my ‘try list’, as is the Chocolate Guinness Cake. Naked Cakes’ final (and my favourite) chapter focuses on The Changing Seasons, with recipes such as the glorious Rhubarb and Custard Cake (ok, I’m biased, I love rhubarb as well), the Blackberry and Apple Cake with Cinnamon Buttercream, the Pumpkin Cake and the Hazelnut Harvest Cake with its simple but stunning sugar-work.
Beautifully photographed, Naked Cakes contains a great selection of ideas and minimalist décor inspiration for celebration cakes. If elaborate cake decoration is not your forte – or if like me, you just don’t like to over-egg your custard – then you will appreciate this book. As a seasoned baker, I was initially a bit underwhelmed by the book’s premise when I first received it to review but, having read it, I do think that there is something quite clever and inspiring in its execution. Hannah takes one simple recipe and shows you what is achievable in an un-ostentatious and unpretentious way that is reachable for most us. I love the idea of celebrating the cake as it is and, as Hannah says in her introduction, to just “enjoy the natural beauty of the humble sponge cake”.
Naked Cakes by Hannah Miles is published in hardback by Ryland Peters & Small at £16.99