"Before we get started," say the Goldman brothers in their introduction, "we'd like to define what this book is not: it's not a cookbook or a how-to manual." Thank goodness. When I first heard about the Ace of Cakes book, I was dubious to say the least. It didn't seem in keeping with the character of the show or its madcap leader to monetize success by schlepping recipes. Instead, they gave this book a very clear purpose as a "fun, visual, colorful scrapbook," which was absolutely the right path to take.
Cake decorating, especially at the level of execution at Charm City Cakes, is a wildly visual medium, and that comes through in the 300 or so high-gloss pages. They are an ebullient mash of colors, dominated largely by pastels and other frosting-inspired tones. The pictures are excellent as well, bringing an interesting mix of bright stock scenes and meaningful content. There are plenty of family photos of both Duff and his staff, with each employee at CCC getting a dedicated section preceded by a scrapbook-style page. This gives the reader something of a visual insight into the featured person's character and life outside the bakery.
There are also collages of fan mail, clients, and the Ace of Cakes production crew. Perhaps most impressive is the fondant-covered centerfold titled "Charm City Cakes: The First Seven Years." Equivalent to ten pages, the pullout is covered in hundreds of thumb-nail images of cakes and nearly every one is easily identifiable. Browsing through it left me filled with awe at the variety of skill on display and baffled by some of the orders (is that really a Linda Blair in The Exorcist cake???).
For all the images, there is still plenty to read, although the words definitely do not carry the work. Past the introduction, the book delves into a fairly detailed first person account of Duff's life and his artistic journey from Detroit to Cape Cod to Baltimore. In addition to being the longest biography, it is also the most intimate. The staff bios tend to cover the same few topics: how the person met Duff or came to work for him, what they do at the bakery, and their thoughts on being a cake decorator. Formulas aren't all bad, certainly, but in this case I think it gives the book a repetitive feel when read straight through.