Commercial Cake Decoration – A Complete Treatise on the Correct Method of Decorating Cakes.
Author: Nirvana (Ernest Arthur Cardnell)
Publisher: MacLaren & Sons, Ltd.
Year: ca. 1950 (1st edition: 1937)
Size: 4.7 x 7.5 x 0.4 inches (25 x 19 x 1 cm)
Weight: 454 grams (1 lbs)
Photos, total: 74
Color photos: 0
Instructions given for cakes depicted: Yes
Price range: around $20 for a nice copy. 1st editions can be more expensive.
About the book:
This small volume is meant to help the professional baker achieve awesome piping skills. As is usually the case with Nirvana’s books, they contain quite a bit of information, lots of advice (the author likes to give inspirational pep talks) and plenty of “simple” designs suited for the beginner. This book is generally cheap with plenty of used copies for sale on Abebooks and eBay, making it a great buy for those, who want to dapple in vintage royal icing without selling a kidney first.
The designs are much cleaner than those we see in other beginners books from the start of the 20th century, making them perfect for the novice. But, as is the case with any book from this era, you need some basic piping skills and a basic understanding of how royal icing works (allow me to shamelessly plug my own e-book The Little Book on Royal Icing).
This book is, with a few exceptions, entirely about decorating cakes with royal icing. It contains no recipes. All designs are cake tops, there are no tiered cakes.
Note: This book is not 1st. edition. It has been revised and might differ from earlier versions.
Chapter I: Materials and Tools.
11 pages. A thorough introduction to royal icing, this chapter covers tools, from the best bowls to spatulas, turntables, flower nails and of course the icing tubes. Instructions for making your own templates are included, as well as for creating the splayed bottom edge, that was used to make the cakes appear bigger.
Chapter II: The Preparation of Royal Icing for Decorating.
5 pages. A fairly thorough introduction to the components of royal icing. It does not give a clear recipe, so you have to read the entire chapter to weasel out any information on eggwhite/sugar ratios and how to mix the icing. No pictures.
Chapter III: The Preparation of Gum Paste.
2 pages. How to make your own gumpaste and how to work with it, also dated. No pictures.
Chapter IV: Icing and Preparation of Cakes for Decorating.
7 pages. How to coat a cake with royal icing, including how to make the base splay. No pictures, but plenty of words. Instructions for coating with poured fondant as well.
Chapter V: Preliminary Exercises.
7 pages. This is where the piping begins. First a guide to folding your own icing bags out of paper, then some instructions on how to practice your piping. This includes piping a lot of basic shapes on a piece of cardboard or glass.
But, obviously having some experience with young, impatient apprentices, who wants to decorate real cakes NOW, Nirvana also devised a system to teach the basics and still allow the young whippersnappers to feel like they are actually doing something worthwhile: 9 piped cake borders, made up of basic shapes. All borders come with pictures as well as instructions.
Clearly Nirvana had some great pedagogic skills.
Chapter VI: Lettering.
6 pages. Some good advice on piping letters. This chapter discusses font types, sizing, spacing and placement on the cake.
Chapter VII: Piping Without Tubes.
4 pages. As the title says, this chapter is on piping without tubes/tips/nozzles/whatever you call them. Mostly about pressure piped flowers.
Chapter VIII: Bird Piping.
3 pages. Short chapter on basic pressure piped birds, nicely illustrated.
Chapter IX: Flower Piping.
8 pages. How to pipe a few basic flowers – narcissus, wild rose, pansy, sweet pea and rose. Good instructional pictures for each flower, as well as instructions for piping a basket with roses.
Chapter X: Birthday Cakes.
14 pages. This chapter contains pictures of and instructions for 13 cake tops. The pictures are fairly clear and the instructions are short, but precise.
An example of the instructions provided for the cake pictured above: “Place an oval template in position well to the front of the cake, outline this, then fill in with soft sugar. When set, pipe completely round the edge with evenly placed dits, using a No. 1 writer.”
Many of the designs feature run outs (soft sugar) and flowers, and most of them are suitable for persons with limited royal icing experience.
Chapter XI: Christmas Cakes.
8 pages. This chapter starts out with some advice for the professional baker and how he should handle the production of Christmas cakes, recommending that flowers, birds and run out pieces are made well in advance and stored until needed. In a later book, Nirvana actually recommends using the slow summer months to fill up boxes and boxes of Christmas designs. Clever guy.
The Christmas cakes – there are 7 of them, all cake top designs only – are fairly simple and all come with instructions.
Chapter XII: Wedding Cakes.
12 pages. In this chapter, Nirvana insists that wedding cake icing “must be of perfect and dazzling whiteness.” Good to know! Dirty-yellow icing is no longer the problem it was back then, thanks to better and cleaner icing sugar, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded how easy we have it compared to the professionals back in the day.
This chapter follows the style of the previous two, containing 9 cake top designs with accompanying instructions. The designs are more elaborate and, except for one, completely devoid of flowers.
Chapter XIII: Christening and Special Cakes
6 pages. The Christening cakes part of this chapter is very short – mainly about how a tier of the wedding cake is usually reserved for the Christening (yum), and then some advice on how to decorate the cake, should an order come along anyway. No pictures.
The rest of the chapter is devoted to specialty wedding cakes. Tiered cakes are mentioned, but no pictures, and this part of the chapter is mostly about keeping the cakes structurally sound, so they won’t topple and knock out the happy bride (fruit cakes with marzipan and royal icing are quite heavy).
Three designs for “specially shaped wedding cakes” are given, with pictures and instructions. In this book, “specially shaped” means square.
Chapter XIV: Built-up Pieces and Architectural Designs.
2 pages. How to build structures in gum paste. Very short and no pictures.