We’ve written about decorative artist Cressida Bell before, see here, as we love her work. We often buy her cards and recipe posters, always long for her rugs and furniture, and once saved up for two of her lamps. But honestly, for sheer decorative pleasure, nothing beats Bell’s latest project: a book of her cake designs. It’s utterly wonderful and utterly bonkers – the work of a total obsessive, with sentences in it like: ‘I have always loved the ceramic roundels made by Luca della Robbia in the 15th Century. They look to me as if they were made to be cakes.’ So, no, you won’t find swirls of pink buttercream icing here, or cakes that have been fashioned to look like other things – a tank engine, say, or a snail. These are cakes that look like what they are: absurdly beautiful, highly decorated, fantastically delightful cakes. On the other hand, Bell finds inspiration everywhere, whether it be in a detail of a painting by Klimt, a ’50s swimming cap, or a Bloomsbury flower painting (Bell is the grand daughter of Bloomsbury painter Vanessa Bell and the great-niece of Virginia Woolf). Talk about the tussle between creative and domestic pursuits coming full circle, and, in the pages of this book, being given such a witty, albeit one-off, resolution.
Of course, the book is more about inspiration than instruction (though the Allsorts cake, below, looks vaguely do-able), and Bell happily admits that most people don’t have the time or patience to spend hours sorting out silver balls into different sizes, never mind the skill of putting them to such inventive use – though she is particular about everything having to taste good as well as look lovely. To this end, the cake and icing recipes in the book are by the ever brilliant food and recipe writer, Rose Prince. But it doesn’t matter whether you plan to decorate your own cakes or not. Rather, this book is for anyone interested in design or decoration. And if that does indeed mean an actual cake, then help is at hand. Bell has made icing toppers that you can order from her website for £20. These are her designs, printed with edible ink onto a very thin sheet of icing, that you then drape onto your cake, thus transforming it. See her website for lots of examples. But if that’s not enough, then know that Bell can also be persuaded to make bespoke cakes. For us, we’re happy eating up every single page of the book.