For Mother’s Day this year, I bought myself the new Hummingbird Bakery recipe book, Cake Days. In the week that followed, I spent whole afternoons drooling over the gorgeous glossy photographs of cakes and cookies, muffins and slices, found within its pages. On April 16, however, I learned that Hummingbird Bakery had also released Cake Days as an application.
Given that I already had spent £10 for the book, could I really justify also paying £4.99 for an iPhone version that contained a smaller selection of the same recipes? In the end, I told myself that it would be useful to have both ‘for research purposes’. People often say that the film’s not as good as the book – but in 2011, is the book as good as the app?
The great book vs app comparison began in the lead-up to the long weekend, when I turned to page 158 of the recipe book and decided that those lovely-looking Banoffee Cupcakes with their dulche de leche custard topping would make a great Easter treat. They were. But they were also harder to make than I expected, with multiple cooking and cooling steps for the custard. Later, when I looked up the same recipe on my phone, it said Skill: Intermediate. That difficulty level wasn’t included in the printed cookbook. You can’t record your star ratings for each recipe in a printed cookbook either (without writing on the pages at least).
I’m not a tidy baker, and sometime between measuring the flour and getting the cakes into the oven, I managed to splash the Banoffee Cupcake page with excess milk. Cookbook damage is always a potential side effect in any of my kitchen efforts, so when it came to baking the Caramel Cupcakes (rated easy) the following weekend using the Cake Days app, I was grateful for my iPhone’s hardened case and wipe-clean screen.
I was also keen to try out the feature that allows you to clap your hands to move the recipe on to the next stage. In theory this is great, allowing you to work through the instructions without getting your sticky fingers on the technology. However, in practice, it wasn’t so effective. Every time I shut a drawer or cupboard, it triggered a new step. I had to keep swiping back to the ingredients list at the start anyway, to work out just how much milk or caramel I was supposed to be adding. The book definitely wins here by displaying the ingredients and instructions on one page.
Where the app comes into its own is with the extras it offers. These include the ability to save the ingredients for your planned sugary treats to a shopping list. I would’ve liked to be able to add just the ingredients that weren’t in my cupboard and to be able to send the list to myself via email – but having this on my phone is still better than carrying around a photocopied page.
Another highlight of the app is the video content. There’s a section at the end of the book, for example, which gives written instructions on how to perfect Hummingbird’s signature swirled frosting along with step-by-step photos. However, the short video demonstration on the app makes the whole process seem much more achievable. I also discovered, after baking my Caramel Cupcakes, that there was also a video on the app showing how the professionals make them.
The Cake Days cookbook, with its bright pink cover, looks very pretty on my shelf. For now – at least when I want to try out one of the 85 recipes that are also in the app version – I’d say it’ll stay on my shelf. While there are still some flaws in its usability, and extra features that could be added, the Cake Days iPhone app does, I feel, outperform the book. On the iPad, with its bigger screen, I’d imagine that the application works even better.
Of course, in both the book and app baking experiments, the final cupcakes were delicious. And there are some that would say that’s the most important thing.