Thursday, August 27, 2009

Book Review: Confections of a Closet Master Baker

An online foodie book club that I'm participate in, Cook the Books, recently offered its members the opportunity to read and review an advance copy of Confections of a Closet Master Baker. It is a memoir on the life of a Hollywood career gal turned small-town baker written by Gesine Bullock-Prado (yes, Bullock, as in the sister of Sandra). I jumped at the chance and soon received my proof in the mail. Book junkie that I am, I began to read at once.

My first impression of the memoir was less than stellar. I found Bullock-Prado's style clunky and lackluster. It's not that the writing was bad -- it just was not all that great. Also, she tends to go off on rants. I don't take issue with the rant itself. However, I think that they can be done well, and in this book the rants come across as self-indulgent whining sessions instead of well-crafted criticism. Still, Bullock-Prado has a sharp sense of wit and expression which amused me. The following passage, for example, had me cracking up while I read mid-stepmill workout at the Y, earning me some concerned glances from fellow exercisers:
I was so consumed with passion for the flour arts that I was starting to slip at work. At meetings, I'd bring up baking at the strangest moments.

STUDIO EXECUTIVE: "I'm not buying this whole 'meet cute' scenario we've got in the current draft of the script. It feels contrived. Not the least bit romantic."

ME: "You're right. It's like making an apple pie. You start adding things to make it fancy and 'new' and it just tastes like crap. Instead of keeping it simple, letting the humble apple take center stage."

EXECUTIVE: "What?" (27).
Funny, right? I thought so.

However, I had some concerns about Bullock-Prado's interest in baking. I think that it is fine to enjoy the act and the results of the art, but the author seems to look for something more in her pastries. Even in the sweets she simply eats carry a heavier importance than seems appropriate, especially when read by someone with my eating disordered background. The memoir was full of passages like this one which set red flags off for me:
Back in the wee hours in Vermont when I'm alone in my kitchen, I work full of anticipation. Every pastry has the potential of making someone perfectly happy, of momentarily stripping them of adult worries and baggage. . . . With a little caffeine magic ripping through my veins, I'm conjuring, not baking, creating pastry spells for your every ailment (30-31).
Pastry can make you "perfectly happy"? I agree that a treat is a lovely thing which does have the power to lift the spirit. However, even I, with all my love of the cream cheese croissant or decadent brioche, cannot expect my indulgences to make me perfectly happy. Even when I stumble and I do engage in emotional eating, there is a part of me that remains cognizant of the fact that what I'm eating will not heal my wounds. In my opinion and experience, only God can do that.

Despite our differences of opinion in the power of pastry, however, I slowly began to warm to Bullock-Prado's tales. She presents the lovely sense of community that can develop around the making and sharing of food. Food is something that can bring people together for the author, that can help them remember things worth remembering, remembering and honoring the loved one's we've lost, and I agree. There is something special and sacred about gathering around a table with other human beings, and there is catharsis in cooking. Bullock-Prado writes, "It's the act of making the cake that brings me contentment" (86).

Besides, she runs. She runs as a way to honor her late mother, and because she enjoys the sweaty work of it, and because it is a meditative act. Plus, Bullock-Prado is not advocating the mindless scarfing of treats in her memoir. Instead, she urges the reader to indulge and to savor that indulgence, not to immediately look for another. She bakes with butter, for sure, but she refuses to bake with artificial dyes or sweeteners. She bakes to nourish, not to encourage eating for eating's sake. I respect that and I agree with that. She says, "Moderation, education, and a healthy dose of respect for what you're chewing makes for healthier children, not an all-out ban on sweets" (105). Moderation, eh? Now that's something I can get behind.

While Gesine Bullock-Prado's Confections of a Closet Master Baker contained some flaws for me, I enjoyed this memoir overall. It is warmly written with heaping handfuls of heart and sass, and is downright laugh-out-loud at times. If you'd like to learn more about the author and her arts, check out her sweet blog. Just remember, if you ever meet her in person, her name is Geh-SEE-neh, not Ja-ZEEN.

Her book will be available on September 8, 2009, and is available for online order right now. While you're waiting for the book's September release, why not try your hand at some baking to get yourself in the mood? The memoir is full of delicious recipes that you'll want to be warmed up for. In spite of my dislike of the notion of comfort food, Bullock-Prado's book did inspire me to let loose a little and bake for the first time in ages. What did I make? Muffins, of course! What else? Yes, they were comfort food, but I only ate one with great intention and then froze the rest for future nibbling. Bullock-Prado writes, "It's wise to practice restraint and patience" (195) around pastry, and I think that that kind of eating made these muffins all the more delicious. Happy baking!

Comforting Pumpkin Peach Whole Wheat Muffins

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp powder
1 tsp soda
3 tsp cinnamon
dash of ground nutmeg

1/2 cup liquid egg replacer
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 peach, peeled and diced
1 chunk premium crystallized ginger, diced
1 T sunflower seeds

1/4 cup brown sugar
3 T maple syrup
2 T almond extract
1 T vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350*F. Grease a muffin tin(s) with non-stick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, mix the first 5 ingredients. In a second, larger bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Mix well. Slowly add the flour mixture to the larger bowl, stirring only until just combined. Be careful not to over-stir!

Distribute the batter into the muffin tin(s). Bake for 25-30 minutes, until slightly browned on top. The tops of the muffins should spring back into form when you press gently on them. Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes. Remove the muffins from the tin(s) let cool on racks completely.

Serve with cream cheese and pumpkin butter, regular butter, or your favorite spread.

Makes about 15 normal-sized (i.e., not jumbo) muffins.

1 comment:

  1. Beth, thank you so much for participating!


"I am glad you are here with me."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King