Mistress of Deception: Baking Bad with Christine McConnell
A wise man once told me, “Pretty cakes never taste good.” What of monstrous ones then? Christine McConnell claims her chocolate cake recipe is the quickest way to catch a man if you don’t want to fake a pregnancy. Tell us more, Christine.
Ms. McConnell shot to meteoric fame after the world discovered her Instagram account (@christinemcconnell) and what a feast for the eyes it is. One part pinup girl, one part baker, she whips up the treats, she art directs the photos, and she even makes most of the clothes she wears in the shoots.
As if that weren’t intimidating enough, her recent cookbook claims that you too can bewilder your dinner guests with tarantula cookies. Are you up for the challenge?
Deceptive Desserts: A Lady’s Guide to Baking Bad! is equal parts cookbook and look book. Every section features meticulously art directed photos of Christine. Christine marrying her cat (We've all considered it at one point in time). Christine flying through a field of bunnies on a broom (If you could, you would). Christine eating a melting ice cream cone all sexy-like. Christine with a lemon yellow vintage car and my personal favorite, a whole roomful of vintage-clad Christines. She is every bit the tasty treat as her baked goods are. If vintage clothes and kitsch are your porn, then close the blinds and enjoy.
In her introduction, Christine mentions that she only starting baking cakes a mere four years earlier and she’s self-taught. Also important: unlike those cake competition shows you see where the cakes are covered in dreaded fondant, Ms. McConnell strives to make her cakes delicious, preferring to use buttercream and royal icing to fondant. Just now I Googled fondant and the internet exploded with hatred for the sugar silly putty. “Does anyone actually like the taste of fondant?” and “Do you think fondant cakes are gross?” and the hits keep on coming so I am not the only one.
Deceptive Desserts opens with the basics: white cake, aforementioned man snagging chocolate cake, buttercream and royal icing recipes and caramel (used for gluing all manner of creepy bits together). She offers tips on making your own cake stands and a quick tutorial on buttercream roses. While not exhaustive, there are some good tips in the basics section and if you’ve baked before, it shouldn’t be too intimidating.
Each of the following chapters is broken down by season because every lady knows their desserts, much like her wardrobes and the wreath on her front door, must coordinate with the major holidays.
In all honesty, the baking aspect of her recipes isn’t terribly complicated, the difficulty comes with the decoration. I’ve elected to focus on the easier recipes for each season. Though if you’re feeling ambitious, do take on the face hugger cookie or the Frankenstein shaped monster cake and send photos; we’d love to see.
Spring: this section opens with her fruit pies, that is pies in the shape of actual fruit. While you do need to mold the piecrust around a lemon shaped ball of aluminum foil, if you’ve made pie crust before, you’re golden. Also in the easier category are the Kitten Cannoli though we suggest buying pre-made cannoli shells if you’re in a hurry or don’t want your entire house to smell like fried…stuff. Try chocolate cannoli shells for black kittens!
Summer: The Dragon Bee Lemon Bars are straightforward as are the Peppermint Brownie Bugs. You can also adapt her Rice Crispy Bears into any number of animals and then heap on the decoration of your choosing.
Fall: Pumpkin Ice cream is a no brainer and one of my favorite flavors. The Sugar Cookie Graveyard is a crowd-pleaser for a party. Add names to the headstones because who doesn’t want to point out their guests’ mortality every chance you get? I vow to make the Mint Chip Medusa Cake. I just need to make room in my fridge, buy several more different sized cake pans, a few wooden dowels and then quit my job and really focus on that piping. I will make it, I swear.
Winter: Serpentine Cinnamon Rolls. They’re not terribly difficult. The recipe is delicious and your house will have that authentic festive smell. Her Hansel and Gretel Gingerbread Castle would be a blast to make. I only wish there were better instructions and stencils for the pieces. I know there are those of you out there that already have your gingerbread castle of your dreams designed and ready to go, but I prefer a little guidance.
Overall my main criticism with the book is that the assembly and decoration instructions left a lot of questions. All the recipes could benefit from more how to photos or, ideally, an online series of instruction videos because even the most experienced bakers aren’t seasoned cake sculptors. I can say that the recipes themselves are delicious and nearly devoid of fondant (praise be) but will each of your treats turn out like the photos? Likely not the first time but when has a first time ever been perfect?