Come next summer, Bake Off season will be upon us once more, animating home bakers across the country to try their hand at creating their very own show stoppers to impress family and friends. Any budding star bakers amongst the National Art Library’s readers may wish to take inspiration from the vintage icing manuals in the library’s Trade Literature collection: Icing Art: How to Ice and Decorate Cakes (1937) and How to Decorate a Cake (c.1950s). Both were written by Tala’s baking and icing expert, Anne Anson – no doubt the Mary Berry of her day.The Great British Bake Off, with its cheery bunting and nostalgic, make-do-and-mend vibe, often harks back to days gone by, devoting entire themed episodes to 1970s retro bakes and even Victorian era dainties. In its marketing, kitchenware brand, Tala, similarly draws on its own long heritage, to lend its products a vintage, retro image. To infuse your own bakes with this nostalgic glow of yesteryear, you need only look to the helpful recipes, hints and instructions in Anne Anson’s icing manuals. “Every woman has wished she could devise something out-of-the-ordinary for some particularly happy tea-time”, says Anson, “[in order to call forth] the delighted appreciation of eyes and voices and appetites” (Icing Art, p.2). She counsels beginners not to be disheartened by early failures, but to “combine practice with determination” to achieve success. Naturally, Anson strongly recommends the use of Tala’s specialist cake decorating equipment, such as their icing syringe sets and revolving tables. The pages of the 1937 volume are emblazoned throughout with the Good Housekeeping Institute’s stamp of approval. The cover of this little booklet features an enigmatic outline of a lady serving an elaborately ornamented cake, thus enticing the novice baker to imaginatively project themselves into the picture. With Tala’s syringes, Anson’s guidance and a little practice, you too could produce a show stopper like this, the image seems to say.
The 1950s booklet is a feast for the eyes, packed full of brightly coloured, mouth-watering illustrations of flamboyantly decorated cakes and biscuits. Anson assures the reader that “they are, all of them, the work of amateurs” (How to Decorate a Cake, p.1). She includes detailed instructions on things like flower making and designing icing patterns. Her guide to creating netted trellis work, in particular, might have proved useful to last year’s cohort of GBBO bakers in their Victorian tennis cake technical challenge, (one contestant, memorably, having baked the icing by mistake). The booklet also includes gems, such as an English-American glossary, which helpfully translates words like “icing” to “frosting”, and “egg whisk” to “egg beater”. With such fool-proof guidance, how could anyone go wrong? So, as Mel and Sue would say: ready, steady, BAKE!
Anne Anson’s icing manuals available in the National Art Library:
- Icing Art: how to ice and decorate cakes. Birmingham: Taylor Law & Co Ltd, 1937. (TC.K.0014)
- How to Decorate a Cake: let Anne Anson show you. Stourbridge: Taylor, Law & Co. Ltd, [195-?]. (TC.J.0127)