They say it’s good to face your fears, and designer and illustrator Alice Oehr has done just that.

“Baking has been something that always scared me a bit because of the precision required,” she says with a laugh.

Oehr loves cakes – for their beauty, their stories, and, of course, their taste – but instead of stepping into the kitchen, she’s immortalised 50 of them in colourful, quirky illustrations for her new book, The Art of Cake.

Oehr, who spent a lot of time in France when she was younger – and especially in French patisseries – has a particular fondness for creating food and drink visuals. She’s designed for Melbourne ice-cream shop Pidapipo, Market Lane’s string of coffee shops, and Aussie fashion label Kloke; illustrated books on tacos, cocktails and more; and worked on projects for Broadsheet, too.

The cakes in the book range from the familiar to the unusual, from pavlova to prinsesstårta, cannoli to cassatta and gingerbread to gugelhupf (an Eastern European cake “rumoured,” as the book explains, “to be named after a hat or hood”).

“I didn’t want to praise just the most over-the-top cakes as being the best,” Oehr says. “I think baking a cake – even a simple one – is an art.”

There are a few surprises along the way. Alongside a design of a swirling, bright-yellow Swiss roll comes the information that, despite its name, this is actually an Austrian dessert.

Oehr’s version of a king cake – a dessert eaten at the end of the Christmas season in some European countries – looks a little like a crown decorated with different fruits. King cake, the book says, is less about tasting good, and more about trying to get the slice with a hidden trinket, which could be anything “from a broad bean to a plastic figurine”. Whoever gets it wins bragging rights and, perhaps, the honour of baking the cake the following year.

There’s a parallel between the art of baking a cake and the process of illustrating one – some elements you must follow to the letter, others allow more creativity. And different materials and techniques add texture and layers of complexity. Oehr’s images contain a mix of digital and hand-drawn elements.

“For me, the most interesting work is usually created with a balance between the two,” she says. “I’ll always start by sketching on a piece of paper. And then I might trace over it on the computer, then I might do a bit more drawing by hand and scan that in. And then I might paint something and scan that in, and then cut some shapes out by hand.”

Beyond capturing the aesthetics of each cake, Oehr also used materials to talk to their stories and history. “I tried to work in a textile that was significant to the area the cake came from,” she says. Keep an eye out for the tiramisu made with Italian lace, and the green geometric Icelandic pattern with the vínaterta, a nine-layered cake which, the book tells us, also goes by the nickname “the striped lady”.

If reading about cake without being able to eat one sounds cruel, The Art of Cake finishes up with a handful of Oehr’s family recipes, including her personal favourites: carrot cake and tiramisu.

thamesandhudson.com.au/the-art-of-cake