Don't we all dream of escaping our soul-sucking jobs for what we were really meant to do? The numbers of people finding succor in the food industry grows each quarter, it seems. Everyone escapes cubicle nation for the kitchen. That is one of my dreams, too. The big one, the untenable one, is owning/running my own bookstore. How foolish is that given the advent of online book retailers?
And yet, my food dream revolves around opening a small restaurant that only sells desserts: pies, cakes, cheesecakes, tortes, etc. I stare longingly at vacant storefronts and imagine what the reality would be: That everyone in my small city names it their number one after-meal destination because no other restaurant's desserts could possibly compare to mine. Ah, dreams.
Gesine Bullock-Prado can tell you what the reality is. And her advice for those wanting to take similar flight is to start small and work in a kitchen to learn the ropes before taking on too much as the owner of a business. She quit her career in Hollywood with a production company and moved to Vermont to open a bakery and confectionery. After attending law school she entered the entertainment industry at the bequest of her sister, a famous actor. Dealing with the insincere, soulless people with whom she worked dragged her morale through the mud and left her wanting more satisfying work.
Bullock-Prado lived a double life: Hollywood executive by day, baker by night. She spent more and more of her free time in her kitchen, cooking, as a means of channeling her creative talents into personal projects. When she "came out" as a baker, she drew a great amount of support from folks who loved her creations and that reception caused her to consider a major life change.
Confections of Closet Master Baker: A Memoir chronicles her days as the owner/baker of a successful bakery in Montpelier, Vermont. She gets up at 3:30 a.m. every day and tackles recipe after recipe. It sounds like sweet work though, squishing your hands in buttery croissant dough and inhaling the yummy sugary, yeasty aromas in the air.
There were so many things I liked about this book. First, it's so well-written. Her prose zips along the page. I gobbled up this book. Obviously, her skills in the kitchen are not her only talents. Her flair for writing is evident from the start. And her style/voice, is amazing, too. Describing it, well, really doesn't do her justice. Characterizing it as spunky or flirty might leave you with the wrong idea, like she's flip or irreverent. Perhaps it's that her whip smart wit and personality shines through on every page.
The truth is that the book is a glowing testament to her mother's legacy. Bullock-Prado credits her mother's example as a master baker as propelling her toward a career as a baker. Likewise, the limits Bullock placed on the amount of sugar her daughters consumed made the confectionery an especially rebellious affair. Her mother's death from cancer inspired Bullock-Prado's change of focus. The strength of the mother-daughter relationship is revealed in the book's pages and will warm every reader's heart, because we all love our mothers and can relate so easily to the author's sentiments and her experiences as a daughter.
There are three recipes I cannot wait to try: Golden Eggs, Carrot Cake, and Helga's Cake; named after her mother. Golden Eggs sound mouth-watering. Simply divine. Bullock-Prado describes them as originating from a "technique that made ordinary cake taste like donuts, without all the deep-frying." (13)
I'm always eager to try a new Carrot Cake recipe. The simple fact is that I've never made one and have never been gung ho about carrot cake. I've had scrumptious carrot cake a few times in my life, and that was when I lived, of all places, in Sitka, Alaska. The Backdoor Cafe had the best carrot cake, ever. Carol Rice Spurling promised to share her recipe when she finds it, but I shall make do with the one from Confections... until then.
Helga's Cake was originally called Orgasm Cake. Its a three-layer chocolate pecan torte iced with chocolate buttercream that her mother made. She was never a fan of it when she was a child. The first time she made it she described it as "a complicated piece of goodness," and essentially a sensual piece of cake. (217)
Another thing that I enjoyed about the memoir was the insight into life in Vermont. Bullock-Prado writes about her regulars. They are her dear friends. They are for whom she bakes. A criticism from one about her disappointment with a cherry pie causes our heroine to spend additional hours tweaking the recipe and learning how it went wrong. The problem, of course, was that she had not made it herself and one of her staff failed in one or two steps. Her customer raved with the next cherry pie and declared it the best ever.
Learning about a baker who delights in the delight of her customers just made my day and made me wish that there were more craftspeople so dedicated to producing outstanding items. Bullock-Prado inspires the service industry to do better at serving our public and creating long-term relationships with them that inspire protracted conversations.
Cupcakes. There were no cupcakes. I suppose that was the only glaring ommission. But not everybody must make cupcakes.
And I almost forgot this: Bullock-Prado is a tease. That's right. She launches into what I think is going to be a Vivian Ward moment. You know, Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman? When she enters the fancy shops and the women won't help her? Bullock-Prado sets up a similar situation. After living in Vermont for a while, she returns to Rodeo Drive with a gift certificate for a fancy-schmancy shop in hand. "The beautiful shopgirls weren't very nice the first time, and their replacements were exactly the bony prestige-handbag creatures I'd loathed when I lived there." (30) But then, once her friend introduced her as the one who made the macaroons he gave the shopgirls at Christmas, they were lovely and helpful.
I expected a recipe for macaroons. I love macaroons. Bullock-Prado strung me along about forty more pages and that's when I learned that the macaroons are her lifeblood. It is one recipe that she doesn't share. Once those macaroons were profiled in InStyle magazine, Bullock-Prado was inundated with orders. She hires legions of high school students to help with each order.
So the lack of macaroon recipe is the one glaring limitation of the book. But we all have to keep some secrets.