February 4, 2010

Book Review: Confections of a Closet Master Baker

Yes, you read that title right. Many, many double meanings in that one, my friends. But the book is really about having a dream and making it happen. I'm starting a new feature here at Spoonfoolery--book reviews! I am a cookbook junkie, as you learned when I met Thomas Keller and again when I met Gale Gand, and admitted to owning multiples of her baking bibles as well. So since I read cookbooks as if they're bedside novels, I thought I'd review one that more or less is a bedside novel.

Gesine Bullock-Prado is the younger sister of Hollywood A-lister Sandra Bullock. After years as a studio executive mired in Hollywood shenanigans, Gesine chucked it all to purchase, build out, and run a vintage-style bakery in the middle of Vermont. I felt she was a kindred spirit when I read that she took up baking as an outlet to the insanity that is the most plastic place on the planet (Hollywood). That was pretty much my trajectory from editor to pastry chef. Baking was definitely a release from hoeing the cubicle farm all day for me. Gesine and Sandra's late mother, a true German baker, was another inspiration, and the homage Gesine pays to her mom in the book is very moving. Set up more as a testament to her tenacity to turn a completely different corner and make a homestyle bakery work in the middle of nowhere, Confections of a Closet Master Baker is part biography, part cookbook, part stand-up comedienne routine. Each chapter starts with a sharp, witty look at how exactly something came to be at the bakery or in her life in general, and ends with a famous recipe from her menu, making it hard to decide if this book belongs on the living room shelves or in the kitchen. I loved her laugh-out-loud takes on kitchen disasters (including her sister's wedding cake), and her cynical-yet-dead-on assessments of just the way people are sometimes, especially her customers. She is a distinctly different personality than Sandra, and that's something she's been gunning for her whole life. She just never found that in Hollywood, but I think she's on her way now, by making Montpelier, Vt., the French macaron capital this side of the Atlantic!

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