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Review: Confections of a Master Baker

Confections of a Master Baker

by Gesine Bullock-Prado
Broadway Books
copyright 2009
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
This book initially caught my eye when it was sitting on the “new release” table at the local bookstore. The summary quickly told me that this memoir was right up my ally: a financially successful Hollywood business woman, totally dissatisfied with her day job, finds solace at night by reading recipes, making grocery lists, and baking sugary confections. Eventually she decides to risk giving up the rat race of LA to become a pastry shop owner in small town Vermont. This story chronicles that transformation in honest detail.
Now, the fact that the author is also the younger sister of Sandra Bullock, A-list female actress extra-ordinaire, truly has nothing to do with the enjoyment of this real-life story. While Gesine mentions Sandy quite often, this is really the story of Gesine, her relationship with ALL the significant female relationships in her life – particularly her mother and grandmother – and the courage and determination it takes to discover one’s true place in life. Gesine was a trained lawyer and worked for her sister’s production company for several years. In terms of financial stability – she had made it! But she was miserable. First of all, Gesine is an introvert, not the typical Hollywood wheeler-dealer type:

I’d been forever struggling with my crossed wiring since childhood. On the one hand, I was born pathologically shy with severe misanthropic tendencies. From day one, I wanted nothing to do with humanity. (page 28)

Secondly, she constantly felt used, as if she did not exist but was solely “Sandy’s sister” and therefore good to help secure interviews with her more famous sibling.
It took nearly a decade, but eventually Gisene and her husband Ray moved to Vermont, found a small storefront, invested all their life savings into the renovation of the place, and opened up shop. Gisene not only prepares her famous macaroons in this shop, but she also bakes delicious whole wheat bread, decadent croissants, sugary pastries, and exotic German desserts. Each chapter includes a recipe from her shop, including one for her mom’s amazing pecan chocolate torte, otherwise known as Orgasm Cake.
The story is told in chronological order of a typical day at the bakery, starting with the chapter entitled, The Witching Hour – 3:00AM and ending with the chapter entitled Running Regrets – 6:00 PM. Intertwined between the day-to-day narrative of running a small town bakery with a large internet business, are flashback stories of visiting her grandmother in Germany and memories of European culinary traditions. While Gisene has found true contentment in this life’s vocation, she is very quick to point out that it is definitely a labor of love which mandates total commitment. Many home bakers, myself included, secretly harbor a desire to some day own a dessert company, and to us she offers these words of wisdom:
Don’t do it!…..If I could do it again, I’d get my ignorant self educated. Because someone at some point would have said to me, ‘You know, if you go out on your own and open a bakery, you’re not allowed to sleep.’ At the very least I would have learned how to manage such a place. So my first instinct is to tell that home baker with the big dream that they should hold fast to the joy they receive in baking for pleasure. And if they must pursue a career in it, go to school. Or work in a hard-core bakery, where the hours are abysmal and the production monumental. Don’t mortgage your life to bake unless you know what the hell you’re doing. (page 203-204)
While these are harsh words, she is also quick to add that she truly cannot imagine doing anything else. This work fulfills her life’s calling.
This book is a very easy book to read – I managed to finish it in about 3.5 hours during the fall read-athon event, and there are several recipes that I would like to try, most notably the Focaccia bread, Golden Eggs, and of course, the Orgasm Cake. It was an eye-opening experience to read all the nitty gritty details involved in being the proprietor of a bake shop. I think I will stick with my day job for now.

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