onfections of a Closet Master Baker" is a sweet memoir that will have you devouring every savory morsel like the macaroons that put author Gesine Bullock-Prado on the foodies' map of the world.
The food fun starts on the first page, with a delectable scene from Bullock-Prado's childhood in Germany: "I saw the devil at age three and he gave me chocolate. It changed my life forever."
Yet it took the boardrooms of Hollywood, where she was an overworked and underappreciated executive with her sister's film company (by now most Vermonters know her sister is romantic-comedy darling Sandra Bullock, right?) to convince her that her heart belonged to baking.
"Back then in Hollywood, I was … becoming so emotionally guarded that I didn't trust the sincerity of anyone's motives, so I baked in search of balance and hope," she wrote. "And when I baked, the gentle sweetness and soft sponge of a well-made sticky bun soothed my growing bitterness at God and humanity."
Finally, Bullock-Prado ends up in her own delightful little bakery – Gesine Confectionary – on Montpelier's Elm Street, with an interesting cast of customers (not all of them pleasant) who stop in daily for delicacies like vanilla tea cakes and Starry Starry Night truffle cookies.
"Little gifts, in the way of kindness, come our way daily. Some of them are life-changing reminders of the intimacy and goodness of our trade," she wrote. "We nourish our neighbors with sweets and caffeine and they reciprocate with graciousness and thanks."
The story provides a light look at
her hectic days in the Montpelier confectionary, but bounces back to usually delightful – occasionally bittersweet — moments in her life that taught her the value of preparing and sharing carefully made confections with friends, family and strangers alike.
Bullock-Prado's daily routine included awakening before sunrise and navigating Worcester's snow-covered winter roads to open the shop in the early-morning darkness; whipping up the scones, croissants, Danish and sticky buns to satisfy the morning crowd; "churning out sandwiches" for the lunchers; and sharing a late, after-closing glass of wine with staff before cleanup and divvying up the day's leftovers.
But the daily tasks spark memories of the moments that led to this New England life.
Rich, buttery confections were among the strong links that bound Bullock-Prado to her mother, an elegant world-traveling opera singer whose idea of a "vacation" is to whip up and devour luscious plum tarts topped with hand-whipped cream with her daughter.
One funny chapter recounts 5-year-old Bullock-Prado's mini crime spree fueled by the sugar rush from an entire bag of stolen Oreo cookies and ended with a Nutella gorge.
The occasional sneak-peak into "Sandy" Bullock's life – one chapter deals with the movie star's wedding cake that was prepared by her sister in 100 degree heat and threatened to wilt like an orchid – is especially fun and confirms what fans hope, that Sandra Bullock is a genuinely nice lady and devoted to her sister.
Each chapter ends with a recipe for rich treats that include Golden Eggs (what she describes as a magical vanilla cake), Espresso Cheesecake, Cream Scones and more. Don't look for the secret to her macaroons, however. They're the money-makers.
The Elm Street confectionary owned by Bullock-Prado was sold to new owners (Jenn Toce and John Belding, who continue to sell sweet treats at the now-named Birchgrove Baking) last year, and Gesine and her husband Ray Prado are refurbishing a historic tavern in Quechee and adding a commercial site to produce her macaroons for commercial sale.
There's not much to dislike with this quick, fun foodie read. It did seem, however, that Bullock-Prado's portrayal of Montpelier's quirkiness was exaggerated, giving a sort of Northern Exposure-wacky feel to the Capital City.
And as a reader, it's perplexing to read her loving accounts of Montpelier knowing she packed up shop and moved before the book was even released.
But "Confections of a Closet Master Baker" is overall a light, fun read for those who might enjoy a peek into the passions that drive others professionally, and Montpelierites who might recognize the customers and staff mentioned. Foodies will also appreciate Bullock-Prado's obvious love for shared family recipes made of the richest ingredients, and the memories they provoke.
And stay tuned. Word is she's already at work on another book for lovers of fine food.MORE IN Movies
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