Visually, this book is a feast in itself. The recipes are lovingly presented with full colour pages holding taste temptations and delicately placed text. While initially seeming somewhat overwhelming, there is a unique logic to the set out and chapter presentation.
The book is separated into an introduction which encompasses instructions on how to use the book along with tips, pantry essentials, tools of the trade and styling advice followed by 8 sumptuous chapters each based on a theme.
The title is the giveaway on how this book works. It is dedicated to themed celebrations and provides a main centrepiece cake followed by a variety of sweet treats and decorative crafts to enhance the theme. Styling advice is also provided for the more decoratively challenged amongst the readers. Themes include: Spring Fling, The Grill Master, A Frightening Feast and Happy Holidays.
Recipes are well presented and easy to read with a clear ingredients list followed by step-by-step instructions (with pictures for the more complex instructions). There is a presumption that the user will possess at least basic culinary experience.
As appears to be somewhat more common these days, there is cross referencing of recipes within recipes, thankfully with page numbers which helpfully direct the reader towards the back of the book where all the basics wait ready to aid and assist. The bonus here is that there is also a very comprehensive index when all else fails. The recipes list the number of servings but do not list gluten or dairy free alternatives or the time each will take (experienced cooks will be able to judge fairly easily though).
The recipes range in complexity from strawberries dipped in chocolate through to towering cakes linked to a teapot via a pour of chocolate. I chose to create some of the simpler recipes because I was time poor. All four of the following were created within a 2 hour window.
I decided to create a selection of recipes from the Tea For Two chapter. I should note here that ALL the recipes in this section served between six and twelve, despite the chapter name. I reduced the size of recipes accordingly.
Garden Tea Cup Cakes (page 93)
These are a simple but stunning option where a few added garnishes turn a run of the mill cupcake into a feast for the eyes. The recipe used a fairly basic butter cake batter into which white chocolate chips were mixed and frozen raspberries were added prior to baking. I decided to use what I had to hand which meant I added a handful of milk chocolate chips to the batter too. The frosting on these delightful little treats was to be white chocolate ganache however I ended up using butter cream frosting due to a little too much nibbling on the chocolate chips! This in no way diminished either the taste or the visual appeal of the cakes which were displayed in coloured cases and antique tea cups to go with the somewhat romantic theme of the chapter. The author recommends decorating the cupcakes with edible blossoms. All I had available was Sweet Peas which worked beautifully.
Café Latte Mousse Cups (page 97)
Firstly, I discovered that I do not in fact own latte cups in the correct size for this recipe so had to improvise yet again. I ended up halving the recipe and using shot glasses instead making these more like espresso shots. The mousse was surprisingly simple to make and the time taken to create this recipe was predominantly spent waiting for things to cool down. They were creamy, rich and delicious and certainly looked the part. This is more a delight for the adults around the table though as the coffee is quite strong. Decaf coffee is an option if serving this later in the evening.
Cocktail Trifles (page 99)
These individual trifles are a variation on the traditional cake/jelly/custard trifles our nans used to make. And while there was nothing wrong with nans offering, these are a tad more special. Fresh berries abound and are paired with vanilla pudding, shortbread crumbs and jam. The sharpness of the berries works well with the smoothness of the pudding and the biscuit crunch provides another layer of texture. The recipe calls for a piping bag to pour pudding over the fruit, however in true McGyver style I used snaplock bags with the corners snipped off. Much less messy and just throw away when done.
Layered Fruit Smoothies (page 101)
I really love the fact that many of the recipes featured fruit rather than copious quantities of chocolate. I did face a challenge trying to source frozen vanilla yoghurt and had to concede defeat and go with a mixed berry yoghurt instead. I discovered the hard way that blending the frozen fruit and frozen yoghurt without any other liquid was nearly impossible so I ended up having to add milk. The result was a smoothie that was drinkable through a straw and less like a soft serve.
Reviewed by Judi Bemmer
Rating out of 10: 8