Wednesday 13 February 2013

Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook – Book Review

It's the baking phenomenon that started just two years with the idea of agreeing to meet up with strangers on the premise of bringing a home baked cake, sharing it with others, eating it and taking a selection of leftovers home. The 'clandestine' nature of the club is that the location of the gathering isn't disclosed by the organiser until a couple of days beforehand. Started by Lynn Hill in her home town of Leeds in 2010' the Clandestine Cake Club  now has so many branches that I'm not going to state the number because by the time I publish this post I'm sure it will be outdated. I can tell you though that enthusiastic bakers are now forming groups in all four corners of the world.

Helped by the growth in baking fuelled by the BBC's 'Great British Bake Off' and all things vintage and homemade à la Kirstie Allsopp, cake making has been the UK's recession beater. With more and more people becoming concerned about the provenance of their food quite often the only solution is to make your own from scratch. If you're after classics such as Victoria Sponge or Battenberg they're in here with an added twist. I'd have to say though if you are a novice baker this probably isn't the first book you should reach for as there are a dazzling array of ingredients, methods and cake tins to contend with. If things don't turn out as planned there is a very helpful section entitled 'Cake Wrecks'. Along with advice on burnt or soggy cakes there are tips on how to rescue your cake if you drop it – the nightmare of every Clandestine Cake Club member en route to a meeting.

One of the first things that struck me about the book was the beautiful photography. While I do like to see a picture of every recipe in a cook book (greedy, I know) this one doesn't fall far short. Dreaming up different settings and props for the number of photographs in a book isn't an easy task. It's one that has been worth the effort as I found myself continually flicking through the book and drooling at the cakes on display. Onto the index (inadequate or non-existent book indexes are another pet peeve of mine) and the recipes are listed by both cake name and main ingredients. Annoyingly however is that although there are a number of bundt tin recipes in the book none of these are gathered together under 'bundt'. This is just a small gripe and probably I'll be the only person bothered by it.

Lynn Hill has contributed many of the recipes herself but credit should be given to the weird and wonderful combinations put together by members of Clandestine Cake Clubs around the world. There's a wheat-free 'Blood Orange and Rosemary Cake, a 'Magic Bean Cake' which contains a tin of haricot beans and a love it or hate it 'Chocolate & Marmite Caramel Cake'. These are the type of recipes most baking books wouldn't dare publish but see them in print and you'll be looking for an excuse to bake them.

So what to try first? I fear I may have copped out a bit as I went for one of my favourite cakes in the form of the 'Heavenly Carrot Cake' by Kirsty Lloyd of Abergavenny. My only defence is that I had every ingredient listed in the recipe in my kitchen already, including a glut of carrots that needed using. This carrot cake contains no bananas (a personal 'hurray') but gets texture and moistness from walnuts and orange juice soaked sultanas (tick, tick). I thought I was going to have to abandon this recipe before I even started as the method calls for the sultanas to be soaked overnight in orange. Helpfully the shortcut of gently heating the sultanas in the orange juice for a few minutes is given. As the book is officially released on Valentine's Day I decided not to use the recommended 20cm tin but use my 22cm heart shaped tin instead. Once cooked as per the exact instructions and cooled I made the traditional cream cheese topping. The addition of the vanilla extract in the frosting meant it wasn't as sickly sweet as some toppings are.

I bought this book myself, nobody is paying me to write about but would I recommend it? Yes, I would. I've already bookmarked a recipe for a Clandestine Cake Club meeting I'm going to next month and desperately hoping for a hidden or secret ingredient theme in order to make another one. So buy this book, bake a cake but please remember to share it with some friends or even strangers.


  1. I'm so pleased you're liking the book. I helped on a couple of the photo shoots and had the chance to taste a fair few cakes in the process. One of my favourites was the Green Tea with Orange Icing (that may not be the exact title). So unusual and delicate. Can't wait to try baking it.

    1. It's a great book and how wonderful to be involved in it! I really thought the photography and styling was top-notch.

  2. Spent last night going through all the recipes - what a fantastic choice. I just love the fact that all the cakes are just a bit different from the recipes you normally tend to find in a baking book.
    Can't wait to try some of them out - the hardest part will be choosing which ones!

    1. The variety of recipes was what struck me about the book. We'll have to have a Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook themed meeting.


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