Pros: full color photographs and easy to follow instructions
You may know Elisa Strauss from the Food Network. She has been featured on quite a few of their cake challenges where 4 or 5 professional cake artists compete to make the winning cake creation fitting that competition’s theme. If you have seen her, perhaps like me you were blown away by the immense amount of talent that she has. Now, Elisa is willing to share some of her tips and secrets with us, in a way that can help even a novice cake decorator achieve impressive results.
Confetti Cakes by Elisa Strauss and Christie Matheson is a hardcover book measuring approximately 10.25 x 8 x 1.3 inches. It weighs just over 2 pounds and is 224 pages. It was originally published by Little, Brown and Company in 2007. This book features large, full color photographs along with instructions and templates for making all of the confectionary creations featured within the book.
Elisa is perhaps best known for her unbelievable creations using cake, cookies and related sugar items (fondant, gumpaste, etc.). This book features a variety of projects varying in skill level from relatively easy to very advanced. Some of the items include: a present cake, teacup mini cakes, wine bottle cake (it looks so real!), pool ball cupcakes, baby onesie cookies, handbag cookies, popcorn mini cakes, and a sushi cake. All in all, there are 43 cookie, cupcake, mini cake and cake projects featured throughout this book. You will notice a consistent theme of fun and whimsicalness combined with realism that make her creations a true work of art to behold.
Also included in Confetti Cakes is an introductory section on equipment and techniques used in the industry. This section features photographs of the various tools, along with instructions on how to use each one. Elisa also provides tips on how to construct and decorate cakes, from filling a cake to covering it in fondant. The descriptions are written in such a manner that even someone unfamiliar with baking can easily understand what is being discussed, but at the same time as a somewhat seasoned cake decorator I was still able to pick up a tip or two from Elisa.
Elisa also includes recipes for some basic cakes and accompaniments. These include the following cake recipes: chocolate, red velvet, banana and vanilla. She also includes a sugar cookie and chocolate cookie recipe. In terms of frostings and other coverings, she features: basic frosting, swiss meringue buttercream, chocolate ganache, royal icing, simple syrup and rolled fondant. While I have not tried every recipe personally (I already have my favorites, and I buy most of my fondant), many of these recipes are similar to ones I use so the end results are probably comparable. Certainly, her instructions for each of these recipes are written in a clear and easy to follow manner.
So how often do I use this book? It never leaves my kitchen counter! I bake just about every weekend; if I don’t have a reason to bake I find one. Recently, I had a coworker turn 40, and I was asked to make a cake to celebrate the event. Not wanting to make the black “over the hill” style cake, I opted to give this fun fashionista coworker the purse cake featured on the cover of this book. This was my first attempt at recreating an Elisa Strauss cake, and I must admit I was nervous at first. However, I can honestly say that my cake looked exactly like the cake featured on the cover of this book. I was very impressed with myself!
The main reasons I was able to make such a fantastic cake were: (1) I gave myself time – I spread this project over 3 nights, and (2) I followed the instructions, and I read the instructions start to finish multiple times before even starting to bake. When you work with fondant and gumpaste, things take time to dry and set. Therefore, many of the projects featured within this book cannot be rushed, and Ms. Strauss gives fair warning of that. In fact, she sets a timeline for each project with what can be done the week before, 3 days before, etc. I found that very helpful for my time management, especially since I work full time and have 2 young children. I was also happy that I read everything in advance of starting the project, as I made sure I had all the supplies and materials needed onhand. I would have been a little stressed if I realized at 10 pm that I was out of tint for my fondant or gumpaste.
Since that initial cake, I have made the sushi cake and the sports cupcakes. I have had nothing but rave reviews on all of them, in terms of both looks and taste. I have plans to make the wine bottle cake soon. Even when I don’t have a cake project planned that is featured within Confetti Cakes, I just love browsing through the book. So many of my friends have come over and browsed through the book, amazed each time they turn the page and see another cake. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, “THAT’S a cake?!?!”.
I recommend this book to anyone who has a love of cake decorating. If you are a beginning cake decorator, there may be some projects that are a little intimidating, especially if you’ve never worked with fondant or gumpaste before. But, there are cookie and cupcake projects that are geared more towards beginning decorators, and once your skills and confidence develop you can start to tackle the other projects. As someone who has been decorating a few years now, I was happy to find unique subjects that I’ve never even dreamed of recreating before. I certainly have done my share of 3-tier baby/bridal shower and birthday cakes, but never did I think of making a stiletto pump and shoe box.
The only thing I can say is that while Elisa has some pastel/flowery creations within Confetti Cakes, the majority of her cakes are fun, whimsical, and novelty in nature. If you are looking for a book featuring traditional, white wedding cakes, this is not your book. Confetti Cakes certainly puts a non-traditional spin on a traditional art in a way professionals and beginners alike can appreciate. If you are looking for a fresh spin on this classic art, then Confetti Cakes is probably the book for you. Happy baking!