The Sweetest Thing
28th August 2013
We all love cake and thought our readers would very much enjoy this post originally from Usborne Publishing's See Inside Usborne blog.
Our newest and loveliest Children's baking book - Party Cakes to Bake and Decorate - is now out in the shops but this book has been months in the making, from the initial idea, to recipe testing, to the final scrumptious design. Here, Abigail Wheatley, Usborne cookbook editor extraordinaire, talks us through the photoshoot for the book. We hope you agree this book really does look good enough to eat!
"Party Cakes has been a brilliant book to work on. It's had its challenges (as all the cookbooks do) but I'm really happy with the result. I hope you'll enjoy using it as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it together.
Right: A finished spread from the book.
It all started around a year ago, when I began researching and testing recipe ideas, working closely with our recipe adviser, Catherine Atkinson. I tested each recipe myself at least once, to make sure it was just right. When I was happy with a cake, I brought it into the Usborne offices and handed pieces around, to make sure everyone else likes it too. As you can imagine, I was quite popular on baking days!
When the recipes were ready, the next stage was getting ready to photograph the cakes. The lovely Usborne designers were the stars of the show at this stage. They spent ages planning just how they’d like each cake to look – from the toppings and decorations to props such as cake stands, plates and napkins.
We needed around 8 days of photoshoots for the Party Cakes book. Contrary to what you might expect, these days weren’t in the least bit glamorous! We started and ended each day by carrying heavy boxes of food, props and equipment up and down several flights of stairs to get everything up to the studio of Usborne’s favourite photographer, Howard Allman.
Such is Howard's genius that he made our party cakes look like they were nestling in the corner of a high-class bakery, even though they were actually sitting on a scruffy piece of hardboard propped up on milk crates! However, there were compensations. Howard's delicious deli-style lunches gave us a welcome boost in the middle of the day, and I'll admit that we did sometimes nibble the odd cake too – though, of course, only after it had been photographed!
The photoshoots wouldn’t have been possible without Maud Eden, our fantastic food stylist, who baked and decorated all the cakes to make them look their very best for the camera. There were a few hiccupps for her to cope with, especially as we were shooting right through last year’s freezing winter days when buttercream often chilled solid the minute it was made. But, despite conditions which you think would be ideal for it, the most difficult shot for this book was the Ice Cream Cake – Maud made four separate cakes and packed them in dri-ice (frozen CO2) to ensure they wouldn’t melt before we’d got the shot we needed.
You might think that once the photography was done, the book was almost finished – but far from it. Back in the office, the designers spent hours placing and adjusting the photographs to perfection. They also commissioned artwork to explain every step of each recipe, and painstakingly hand-placed hundreds of tiny stars, hearts and flowers across the pages, to add that extra sparkle. I was hard at work at this stage too – all the text had to be checked, double-checked and then checked again, to make sure everything was as it should be before we sent the files off to the printers.
Getting the finished book back from the printers in its lovely smart cover was a great buzz – but also really nerve-wracking, just in case I spotted a mistake that had somehow crept through. Fortunately I haven't found one – yet. But the real test of a cookbook is in the eating. Just last weekend, I made the Lemon Cake from this book for a real party – in fact, for a Golden Wedding celebration. I'm happy to say it went down very well with the happy couple and their guests, so now I can claim that at least one of the recipes has been tested under genuine party conditions! I hope all the recipes in this book work just as well for you at your parties.”