Friday, 30 August 2013

Cressida Bell's cakes

Cressida's acrylic nails. Very Hackney!

Cake decorating has, for a long time, been a bit too fussy, sugary and, quite simply, naff. But now the textile designer Cressida Bell, has brought out a book of her cake décor and it's stunningly original. Her designs have the beauty and meticulous detail of mosaic.
I went to visit her in her spacious studio behind Pogo's vegan restaurant in Clapton, round the corner from murder mile. Cressida is a descendant of The Bloomsbury Set, who were a group of writers and artists in the 1920s, who were ahead of their time. They led bohemian lifestyles, were atheists, anti-war, sexually adventurous. Their art was figurative and decorative rather than abstract. Cressida's textile work is in a similar vein, I watched her use paint (house paint!) to brush colour onto intricately patterned drawings. She inherited her pattern making ability from her father, Quentin Bell, the potter and artist, (son of Vanessa Bell, the artist) who used to turn the annual family Christmas cake into a decorative work of art. Now Cressida does the Christmas cake.
Cressida is a keen cook but not a baker. She doesn't even like cake all that much. But cakes do offer an opportunity for design that savoury food does not. Although she has decorated whole salmon, chaud froid work.
Her tips:

  • No skills are needed. Just patience.
  • Creating these designs is meditative, lovely while listening to the radio.
  • You can buy edible ink patterns to make your own cake from Cressida's web site
  • Google circular patterns as a starting point if you want to create your own design.
  • If you aren't very confident about baking, buy the cake. 
  • Rose Prince created the cake recipes in the book. I've made Rose's Victoria Sponge recipe, one of the best!
  • Cover the cake with marzipan and ready rolled sugar paste. Cakes were originally covered with marzipan and icing to preserve them. You also want a smooth flat surface for decorating.
  • Generally each cake takes about three hours. Although the leopard skin one took more like two days!
  • Beware, you can find yourself becoming addicted, Cressida's designs became increasingly complex and time consuming.
  • You can use any sweets for the design, my favourite is probably the sugared almond/dragee cake. 
  • Glacé fruits are also very effective and don't go off as they are, by nature, preserved.

You can buy her book here.


  1. Wow, I love these. Fabulous to see beauty and thought in cake design. I think the cake does matter though, would be a shame to have an amazingly beautiful cake that didn't taste good!

    1. Fabulous aren't they? Was lovely to see her studio...a real privilege

  2. Stunning, just stunning. Thanks for sharing Kerstin. x

  3. What sumptuous and funky patterns... makes a change from the sickly sweet frothy guff you see so much of these days. Great post Kerstin. xxx

  4. There are more in the book... Inspiring!

  5. Wow wow wow, this cake design is amazing! x


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