Orange blossom & yogurt bundt, left, and pistachio-cherry cake from Benjamina Ebuehi's The New Way to Cake.
Author, food stylist and recipe developer Benjamina Ebuehi was a quarter-finalist on The Great British Bake Off.
Plum and black pepper cake from The New Way to Cake.
The New Way to Cake is Benjamina Ebuehi’s ode to the form.
Our cookbook of the week is The New Way to Cake: Simple Recipes with Exceptional Flavor by Benjamina Ebuehi. To try a recipe from the book, check out: Pistachio-cherry cake, plum and black pepper cake, and orange blossom and yogurt Bundt .
Naked, with nothing to hide behind but the barest dusting of icing sugar and a scattering of fresh fruit, Benjamina Ebuehi’s pistachio-cherry cake stands on the qualities of its key ingredients. As with the other 60 cakes in her first cookbook, The New Way to Cake (Page Street Publishing Co., 2019), its extraordinary flavour is what draws you in.
“I wanted to show that flavour is just as, if not more important as, the way a cake looks,” says Ebuehi, of The Great British Bake Off fame. More impressive than elaborate piping or towering tiers, bold flavours — nuts, spices, chocolate, fruit and florals — are her calling card. “The ingredients are enough. They’re actually more than enough to make you go, ‘Wow,’ and just appreciate a pistachio, a cherry or a peach. They do enough on their own without needing to add all the bells and whistles.”
Ebuehi has been an avid baker since she was a child. Born and raised in London, she grew up in a family of passionate cooks who preferred savoury cooking to baked goods — “plenty of chili, spices, stews, yams and plantains.” Aside from the occasional apple crumble or rice pudding, she recalls, it was up to her to satisfy her sweet tooth.
Using a children’s baking book her mother gave her as a starting point, Ebuehi began experimenting. “Rather than sticking to, ‘This is the way that we’ve done it in our family for generations.’ It was more, ‘Let’s just try and see. It might work, it might not, and then just try again,’” she says. “I think having that free rein really allowed me to express myself and find my own style quite quickly.”
Cakes were her “first love,” and whether for a friend’s birthday or just for fun on a free weekend, they’ve always been her favourite type of baking. Ebuehi studied economics at university, and she didn’t consider a career in food until after starring in the seventh season of The Great British Bake Off .
Finishing as a quarter-finalist — her red onion chutney, brie and bacon Yorkshire puddings, and tropical churros earning her the Star Baker award — Ebuehi came out of the show a more confident baker. In creating a wide array of baked goods during a brief period of time, she had cultivated her baking instincts. A rare breed of cooking competition show, it was an experience defined by camaraderie rather than rivalry.
“Sometimes we had to remind ourselves, ‘We are competing with one other.’ It’s just such a nice family feel. And you genuinely don’t want to see someone else fail, or for their bake to fall or come crashing down. There is that genuine care for everyone else on the show,” says Ebuehi, adding that as a baker, it expanded her range. “It really, really stretched me and challenged me in such a short space of time. Before Bake Off I was mainly just doing cakes, a little bit of bread here and there, but rarely, rarely touched pastry. The show really forced you to be much more of an all-round baker.”
Thinking a career in food was limited to working in a professional kitchen, Ebuehi had written it off as a possibility. But her experience on The Great British Bake Off opened her eyes to the diversity of jobs available within the industry.
Now a cookbook author, food stylist and recipe developer, Ebuehi styled as well as wrote The New Way to Cake . She extended the same elemental, “flavour-first approach” she took with the recipes to the book’s appearance: The cakes take centre stage, with minimal props and adornment. As someone who learned how to bake from cookbooks, she set out to write one that was approachable for home bakers of all skill levels.
“(I hope people) realize how vast cakes can be. And how interesting they can be and how simple and beautiful they can be without chucking loads and loads of things on top. Just let the ingredients speak for themselves,” says Ebuehi. “You could have the most perfectly three-tiered cake that looks absolutely picture-perfect, but if it tasted bad then I don’t really want to know. But something that tastes memorable, it tastes different, it’s like, ‘Oh! What is in this?’ You’re asking questions and you work it out on your tongue. That’s what I really appreciate, and that’s what I wanted to communicate. You can do so much more with cakes by using really, really cool flavours.”
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