The art of cakes around the world – SBS

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We celebrate with cake, we commiserate with cake, we chill out with cake. Cake offers comfort for various emotional needs, and for an inanimate object made primarily from flour, butter and eggs, it’s not a bad effort.

Someone who knows the true healing power of a good slice of cake is Melbourne-based illustrator Alice Oehr, whose lifelong affinity for the sweet treat has manifested in her first published book about, you guessed it, cake. 


Oehr’s book chronicles cakes from around the globe and explains their origin stories. “Many of these cakes were originally developed for royals back in the day before the trade spice, where simple ingredients we take for granted today, like sugar, were prized and hard to come by,” she says. 

We’ve come a long way since but the celebratory nature of a cake still lives on. “Today we have access to these ingredients but now we know eating cakes isn’t healthy so savour them for special occasions like birthdays, weddings and catch-ups with friends.”

Oehr’s fascination with cakes started in childhood when she was tasked with making the biggest decision of any five-year-old’s life: choosing her birthday cake. “It was always really exciting,” she says. “Mum would always bake them for us and my favourite has to be a moon-shaped cake she made for my space-themed birthday.” 

Her grandmother was also an avid baker. “She was a master of the sponge cake and made marbled pound cakes, they were quite simple but it was more about how she intricately decorated them with silver balls, cream and strawberries.”

The pride and artistry devoted to cake decoration also inspired Oehr’s book. “I can’t think of many other food types that take decoration so seriously,” she says about Italy’s Cassata, Germany’s Black Forest Gateau and the US’ Baked Alaska, which feature in the book. 

“Making a cake takes a good chunk of time so when somebody takes that time to personally bake you one it’s really special.”

While Oehr herself takes pride in drawing cakes instead of baking them, she’s the first to admit the novelty of receiving a cake never wears off. 

“Making a cake takes a good chunk of time so when somebody takes that time to personally bake you one it’s really special.”

As an adult, this illustrator’s interest in cakes has not waivered. Living in Melbourne, she seeks out continental cakes from around the world all across town, making the hard choice of deciding which cake in the pastry cabinet she’ll take home. “We’re so lucky Melbourne’s so multicultural, we have access to all sorts of amazing traditional Italian, French, Vietnamese and Jewish cakes and baked goods.

“Writing the book was a good opportunity to learn about each country’s speciality cake or how some simple cakes like the pound cake have travelled globally,” she adds.

The book documents the well-known such as pavlova, eclairs, babka, and her personal favourite, tiramisu. “I can’t go past a bitter and sweet cake,” she says. 


But she also documents the lesser-known including Sweden’s Prinsesstårta cake, a layered sponge cake with raspberry jam and vanilla pastry cream, encased in a hardened shell of pistachio-green marzipan topped with a marzipan pink rose. It sounds fit for a princess (or three), because it is, and was originally commissioned in the 1930s for Princess Margaretha, Märtha and Astrid of Sweden. 

Then, there’s the completely elaborate. “The Croquembouche is a standout for me, it’s a spectacular tower of profiteroles and so hard to bake,” she says. 

For Oehr, being able to immortalise her love of cakes has been a real pleasure, and that she was able to eat ample cake in the name of ‘research’ a bonus. “I love that cakes are universally beloved and found all over the world, everyone has their own and very personal story when it comes to cake.”

The Art of Cake: The Crème de la Crème of the World’s Favourite Desserts by Alice Oehr published by Thames & Hudson. 

Bake the book


Source: Thanks