Review of “Cake” by Maira Kalman With Recipes Provided by Barbara Scott-Goodman

Barbara Scott-Goodman, a food writer, observes in a forward:

“People think that cake is kind of a big deal, and it is. Serving cake for dessert can turn a simple dinner into an occasion, and nothing says ‘Let’s celebrate’ quite like it.”

For the most part this is a cookbook for cakes, interspersed with Kalman’s vibrant Matisse-like paintings and reminiscences from her childhood. Kalman points out that many of the big occasions in life are marked by cake, from happy times to mourning, to visiting, to when you need a “talking cure.”

Kalman recounts:

“If you go to visit an elderly aunt in a crisp dress (who earlier hauled the wet laundry up to the roof to hang and dry), she will serve you cake that she made at dawn. No doubt about that. Cheesecake or honey cake or fruitcake. Then you can tell her your troubles and she will offer sage advice. Usually. But not always. She is human, after all.”

The recipes are simple and classic – arguably what one should have for a basic cake repertoire (if there is such a thing). They all sound delicious, from “Lemon Pound Cake with Lemon Glaze” (2 sticks of butter in that one – what could be bad?) to sour cream coffee cake and chocolate cakes – both with and without flour. And since I bake cakes more than I do any other activity in the kitchen (aside from eating) I have tried most of these (or very similar) recipes at some time or other and can vouch for them.

Some of Kalman’s comments are whimsical, like her art. She shows a cake iced with the quote “A day without dancing is a wasted day,” explaining:

“When we lived in Rome we had a party and we made a gorgeous pink cake. Lucretius was on our mind. And Spinoza. His search for happiness. And someone mentioned Nietzsche’s quote. He said a day without dancing is a wasted day. You don’t think of philosophers dancing, especially Nietzsche. But apparently they do.”

Evaluation: This homage to cake is also a paean to relationships and shared celebrations and the comfort that can come from the little things. But most of all, it is a collection of recipes worth having. I would call this an “enhanced” cookbook, highly recommended!

Rating: 4/5

Published by Penguin Press, 2018


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9 Responses to Review of “Cake” by Maira Kalman With Recipes Provided by Barbara Scott-Goodman

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    I love to bake but rarely do anymore because we don’t eat it. I’d buy this book for those beautiful illustrations.

  2. Mystica says:

    I like the celebratory part of cake. I hardly bake like to eat though.

  3. Awww, I love this! Maira Kalman is a favorite illustrator of mine — I love her drawings and the remarks she makes to accompany them — so I want to pick this up even though I am very much not a baker.

  4. Mae says:

    Maira Kalman is wonderful! Thanks for the great review. I wish I had some cake right now, especially if it had been baked by a favorite person from childhood as described here.

    best… mae at

  5. I love Maire Kalman’s work. This sounds wonderful!

  6. setinthepast says:

    I love the pictures! “Enhanced cookery books” are so much more interesting than just lists of recipes.

  7. Beth F says:

    I loved this book too. I doubt I’ll bake any of her cakes, but I’m so glad to own the book.

  8. Such gorgeous illustrations!

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