Friday, 30 March 2012

Saved by Cake - Marian Keyes

"Saved by Cake gives an extremely honest account of Marian Keyes's recent battle with depression, and how baking has helped her. A complete novice in the kitchen, Marian decided to bake a cake for a friend, and that was it - she realised that baking was what she needed to do in order to get her through each day. And so she baked, and she wrote her recipes down, and little by little the depression has started to lift, along with her sponges..."

The opening blurb to this book intrigued me as it’s a story I keep hearing in the cake world – how baking and cake decorating has helped someone through grief, depression or illness. I’ve heard the same story from people in other creative fields too such as painting and gardening. Mary Berry described here how baking cakes helped her when her teenage son died (sorry, it’s a link to the Daily Mail – just read the article and don’t look left or right). I found baking such a help in difficult times that I had to set up a cake business just to find a home for the procession of baked goods coming out of my kitchen. As Marian Keyes writes in the introduction to her book “Baking makes me concentrate on what’s right in front of my nose. I have to focus. On weighing the sugar. On sieving the flour. I find it calming and rewarding.

Some people see baking as a hidden art that they don’t dare try. If that’s you and you fancy a dabble – buy this book. Marian Keyes admits she hadn’t baked a thing since Home Economics at school and her lighthearted approach debunks some of the more po-faced attitudes in recipe books that presume you’ve already got your Cordon Bleu certificate. Equipment lists can be daunting but not if they read: “Purple silicone spatula – if you can’t get purple, I suppose another colour would do. Apron – maybe it’s not vital but it’s a laugh. Sugar paste gun – I’m joking, I mean you can if you want, but you’d want to be in a bad way, obsession-wise”. At which point I glanced shiftily at my sugar paste gun.

The 80 or so recipes start with Classics and the very first one is these rock buns, the stuff of school cookery lessons but way, way tastier.
Yes, I've discovered Instagram!
The recipes move on to Cupcakes, Cheesecakes and Liquid Cakes, from which I chose this wonderfully moist coconut milk cake and took it to cake club. It's a big cake that serves about 25 people. It must have gone down well because there was none left for me to bring home.

The recipes move on to Pastry, Meringues & Macaroons, Biscuits & Cookies, Fruit & Veg, and Chocolate. I made these biscuits using the Shoe and Handbag Biscuits recipe but instead of using vanilla, took her advice and tried new flavours: cardamom and rosewater; orange and mixed spice; and maple syrup, all of which I'll making again in the near future.
I lasted at least 5 minutes before I re-arranged the letters to make rude words
The recipes are easy to follow, fun to read and delicious. The book covers baking rather than decorating but Marian offers some gentle encouragement on icing biscuits and a word of warning on addiction – enter the wonderland of cake decoration and before you find the exit you’ll be thinking “I simply MUST have some of these tiny sugar cats!”
Photo from "Saved by Cake"
She admits since starting baking she’s become a dab hand with a piping nozzle and it’s true – I met her on a course on London and saw her neat handiwork. Admittedly I didn’t recognise her and treated her to the conversation Irish people must simply LOVE when they’re in the UK (“ooh I was in Dublin last year and it’s so expensive, I paid €500 for a cup of tea and a scone”...) I'm also sure she was delighted to hear how good those chips were in Rosscarbery. 

This is a well-written guide to some basic and to some more adventurous and unusual recipes. It is beautifully photographed and if you’ve not bought a baking book before, this would make a great start. Within the year you might be stocking up on tiny sugar cats and sugarpaste guns. Just don’t say you weren’t warned...


  1. What a great review, and a wonderfully honest and inspiring insight into your own experience, thank you so much. Saved by Cake is now top of my 'to read' list!

  2. Loved the article and so true that baking focuses you, is calming and most of all rewarding!!! Will be purchasing a copy of Marian's book.