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Ingenuity & Design: The Cake Café Bake Book (Yum!)

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Vanessa O'Loughlin © 31 January 2013.
Posted in the Magazine ( · Interviews · Non-Fiction ).

The Cake Café Bake Book is compact rather than coffee table, and packs an oven-load of recipes into a practical, and very contemporary, quality home baking book. Vibrantly designed, produced and illustrated, this collectable book expresses all the character, wit and unique voice of Dublin’s Cake Café and its owner Michelle Darmody in something more akin to discovering an exciting new art movement in your own kitchen, than yet another lifestyle cookery book.

Recipes are clearly and cleanly set out, designed to be read off a single page. Full of personal wisdom, with minimum waffle,  The Cake Café Bake Book really an inspirational, practical and exquisite little book about baking. Michelle told writing.ie “The book came about from requests from customers originally. People were constantly asking for recipes when them came to the cafe. It felt like the logical progression. I was then approached by a few publishers and I guess that helped finally to solidify the idea in my head.  I went my own route, self publishing rather than using a publisher as I wanted to work closely with the designers who had helped me build such a strong ascetic for the cafe, Niall and Nigel of Pony Design. I was approached by four different publishers here in Ireland but they wanted, understandably, to use their in house design team and also to use photographs rather than illustration.

I felt I could make a book I was proud of on my own. I did not want to compromise the design so I set up my own publishing company to publish the book. I paid for the book to be designed and printed mostly with my own money but I did raise some of the money through a crowd sourcing website. It was a great way to promote the book before it hit the shelves as well as a means to getting a portion of the cash up front.

cake book 1Once we had a strong image drawn up for the book I sent PDF’s off to Thames and Hudson. They loved the idea and felt it was a perfect gift book as well as a baking book. The have now taken over the distribution of the book and are releasing it in the UK as well as Australia, which is very exciting. It has worked out great, selling out their first order very quickly, and we are now talking about a reprint and second title.”

Design is a major feature of this gorgeous book, and Niall of Pony Design explained, “While we were working with Michelle on this book, we looked through loads of cookery-related publications from the past 100 years, and the ones that got us excited were the pragmatic wartime pamphlets, and the modern illustrated books from the late 20th century — books we would have grown up with. Illustration can be a much richer way of expressing food, and is both timeless and contemporary. So, as well as collecting together all of these fantastic recipes, it was important that the book be compact, that the pages be entirely full of recipes and information, and that there be no blurry lifestyle photographs – the book was to be completely illustrated. With a bright, primary colour palette, hand drawn patterns and geometric shapes, they are closer to the spirit and process of baking, and the textures and tastes of eating, and somehow have the unique “voice” of the Café and the people who have made it what it is today.”

michelle darmody 04-1For Michelle it was a pleasure to be able to combine so many passions and interests between the pages of a book. Like many people, she revealed that she has always collected books, “and dragged them with me from house to house in all of my many relocations. It is great to think I have been able to create something that will be used and moved by many people for years to come.

‘I opened the doors of The Cake Café in 2006 – a small bakery and café, tucked away in Dublin’s south side. It quickly became a pioneer in the new-wave Irish food movement. Promoting the excellent quality Irish food being produced on small farms around the country. I am very passionate about preserving old recipes and supporting Irish food producers. The menu in the cafe reflects this very much. The book is a collection of all of the cake recipes that we use here in the cafe. Most are old recipes originally used by my grandmother and Mom at home when I was growing up.”

Indeed the baking in the book focuses on all things cake. From tray bakes to buns, biscuits to jam tarts, and of course plenty of “cake cakes” proper. It features a section on icings and fillings, together with much practical information, diagrams, equipment & ingredient advice, and even how to make your own vanilla extract with a bottle of vodka and vanilla pods. And The Cake Cafe was awarded The Bord Bia Just Ask Award in 2012 for using the best quality Irish ingredients, so Michelle is an expert in this area.

The Café’s leafy courtyard is an oasis in Dublin city centre and has become a neighborhood staple with an international reputation, a place that is embedded in the conscience of the customers. With their Supper Clubs (as featured in The Irish Times and The Bridgestone Guide,) cookery classes and outside catering they are a real part of the community – so much so that one of the regular customers – comedian David O’Doherty – has written the foreword to the book.

Specialising in good quality home baking with contemporary attitude, rather than fancy, intricate cakes, as Michelle says, all of the recipes in the book are ones used in the Café on a day-to-day basis. Michelle told us, “I see this book as the first of many from the oven, a delicious line of beautiful, tactile and informative books combining my love of food and design.” The book is the perfect compliment to Michelle’s range of funky aprons and tea towels that are for sale at her website and in the shop.

SLICE_ISSUE01_OFCThe Cake Café had massive success not just among cake lovers but in the media – it has featured in Time Magazine, Travel and Leisure and The Food Network USA, and Michelle also writes a weekly column in The Irish Examiner. The Café appears in The Bridgestone Guide, The Georgina Campbell Guide and The Dubliner’s 100 Best Restaurants for the past five years, and is featured in Timeout magazine’s top 20 things to do in Dublin. The Cake Café won Most Innovative Restaurant in The Food and Wine Magazine Awards and has been listed in Vogue’s Secret List for London and Dublin. Most recently, Michelle and The Café were the feature of an episode of Masterchef.

And the success doesn’t end there, as Michelle explains, “Once I had the publishing company set up I figured why not publish more? So I’m releasing a food quarterly called Slice at the end of the week. I’ve asked food writers, chefs and artists to contribute and I have linked up with Fighting Words – money from the publication is going to them. You can pick up a copy in the shop or order online from our website.”

Michelle made a great trailer to show readers what the book was about that might give new authors some ideas:


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