Planet Cake: A Beginner's Guide to Decorating Incredible Cakes is the first book by Paris Cutler, the owner of Sydney-based cake design house, Planet Cake. It is an instructional volume aimed at beginners to cake decorating.
The cake projects here are bright and whimsical creations often presented with a dash of humour. In fact, many cakes do not even look like cakes but are made to look like a handbag, a racing car, or a BBQ among many other unlikely things.
One thing to note is that experienced decorators coming to this book might feel that some of the cake designs lack fine details but be reminded that this is a book aimed at the beginner decorator.
No doubt many of the cake designs have probably been simplified for the sake of the beginner. Provided you work your way from the front to the back of the book, the cakes are workable and organized in a way so as to enable you to acquire the decorating skills progressively.
For me, many of the designs remind me more of child or Pre-teen birthday cakes. These are fun cakes to look at and make for people who love colour and will amuse those with a penchant for novelty but, if you are looking to be inspired by elegant and classy designs ala Martha Stewart, you are advised to look elsewhere. This book might not make the grade in that respect.
Planet Cake includes several recipes for the cake base (Chocolate Mud Cake - my favourite, Carrot Cake, White Chocolate Mud Cake, Coconut Cake, and Flourless Orange and Almond Cake) giving readers some options outside of the standard madeira or fruit cake recipe of traditional fondant cakes. All these recipes are deliberately heavy cakes and should produce a solid cake base that can support all manner of fondant decorations.
Planet Cake actually recommends using Ready-To-Roll (ready-made) Fondant but goes the extra step of providing a homemade fondant recipe for decorators who might want a challenge. A thoughtful touch. Recipes for ganache (dark AND white chocolate versions) as well as royal icing are also supplied.
The book's presentation was better than I anticipated with more cake designs than I expected. In addition to large cakes, the book includes several cupcake designs. All cakes are photographed in full-colour and some projects come with smaller how-to photographs or illustrations showing a key steps. The book is printed on quality glossy heavy duty paper and the cover design actually looks better in hand than viewed online before purchase.
The book has the requisite equipment and technique advice but of these, a couple of tips stand out as being particularly innovative for me. For example, despite owning many books on cakes and decorating, I found myself pleasantly surprised by Planet Cake's innovation on the crumb coat that does not involve using marzipan or buttercream.
Forgive my ignorance, I may have been living under a rock but to date, I have only seen perfectly sharp cake edges on finished cakes achieved with buttercream via the (hot) spatula technique and had not known how this effect could be achieved in fondant cakes.
For me, this Planet Cake 'secret' on setting up the cake was worth the price of the book. Not being a fan of marzipan or having buttercream under fondant (fondant cakes with buttercream underneath can sag under humidity or if not properly doweled), this innovation will change the way I seal fondant cakes forever. I was astounded by how obvious and practical this technique was yet I am the first to say that it completely eluded me.
This is probably one of the reasons why I don't own Planet Cake and am completely in awe of Paris Cutler, the stockrunner turned cake decorator owner, who does. She and her team have achieved amazing things with the Planet Cake brand.
According to Planet Cake, the benefit of their unique pre-fondant sealing method allows a decorator to achieve sharp, smart edges with the fondant layer later on. The added bonus is that this method of preparing the cake base prior to the covering of fondant makes a cake of this nature last longer and taste better. In fact, so perfect is this technique that it has enabled Planet Cake to ship some cake orders to countries far, far away from their Sydney studio without the need for refrigeration! This was certainly an impressive claim.
This book's interesting variation on the cake sealing technique also makes it easier for the new decorator to understand how to achieve the quirky cake shapes that have now become Planet Cake's signature.
Do note that all the cake designs here rely heavily, if not entirely, on fondant so the inspirations may not be suitable for decorators who dislike fondant or prefer buttercream-based work. Even then, Planet Cake advises that the ideal thickness for the fondant layer on cakes should not be more than 3mm so as not to be overwhelming with fondant.
Planet Cake also shares an invaluable tip that will make working with fondant easier for beginners by showing readers how to make their own cheap flexible fondant scraper tool for shaping and repair work.
It was impressive too to see this book include a section on how to repair tears and clean stains in fondant. This addresses a reality that many cake decorating books strangely seem to ignore but will, no doubt, get many new decorators out of a decorating jam.
While I personally prefer Peggy Porschen's cake designs and believe that Martha Stewart and Team still make some of the most beautiful cakes ever, this book is not without its value. It is a cute book that is not only fun to look at but broaches many fundamental fondant techniques.
Thoughtfully, project templates are included at the back thereby making life a little bit easier for busy decorators. The book also demonstrates two ways to cover a cake board with fondant, as well as show readers how to make a gumpaste bow and fondant tassle.
The cake projects here are a good source of inspiration for cake designs that exude fun and novelty. There are some good designs that will be suitable for children or pre-teen events or for any function seeking a cute or humourous centerpiece.show more
by Amelie Oatley