Battle of the Confections

How often do you have two books you’ve placed on hold come in at the same time AND they both have a slightly unique word in the title?

Last week The Confectioner’s Tale (by Laura Madeleine) and Confections of a Closet Master Baker (by Gesine Bullock Prado) came in for me at the library. One fiction, the other non-fic. One new, one oldish. Both I’d looked forward to reading. Both had engaging covers…not that we ever judge a book by that!

After a very technical decision process (eenymeenyminymoe) I started with the novel, The Confectioner’s Tale. The book bounces between Paris in 1910 and Cambridge (England, not Ontario) in 1988. A reluctant student, Petra, discovers a mysterious photo of her beloved grandfather. Setting aside her studies, Petra sets out on a quest to learn the truth behind the old black and white.

The back story follows a young man, Gui, who is struggling to survive in Paris in the early days of the 20th century. He works long days, labouring for the railway, sending the majority of his pay home, while dreaming of a better life. This “better life” would be in the kitchen of one of the top patisseries in Paris, learning on the job to become a top if not master baker. A chance encounter with the owner’s daughter and a dramatic rescue during the devastating Paris floods, sets Gui on the path to the career (and the woman) of his dreams. But, as we all know, “be careful what you wish for” are words to heed.

While I found the story, particularly that focusing on Petra’s journey through her grandfather’s past, interesting, the book really didn’t hold my attention completely. I could put it down BUT I was curious enough to read it cover to cover and crave a freshly made raspberry macaron. Onto Confections of a Closet Master Baker.

I learned about Gesine Bullock-Prado through a friend. Yes, the author is Sandra Bullock’s sister but this book isn’t about stars, Hollywood or the movie industry. Those topics are touched upon lightly as Bullock-Prado previously worked as head of her famous sister’s production company. While she and her sister are very close, the Hollywood lifestyle was not for Bullock-Prado. Basically, she hated it.

Bullock-Prado and her husband, Ray, who is also in the movie industry, made the leap. They quit their jobs, moved to Montpelier, Vermont and open a small bakery/coffee shop. Throughout the book, family recipes are shared as are memories, the majority focusing on Bullock-Prado’s mother, a former opera singer.

The stories she shares are in turns humourous and touching. The recipes sound wonderful although some are most definitely not for beginners. I flew through the book, enjoyed each shared memory and made note of a fair number of recipes I definitely want to try.

So, the winner of the Battle of the Confections? Confections of a Closet Master Baker. I’m looking forward to reading her other biography/memoir, “My Life From Scratch.” which I have already placed an interlibrary loan request for as it is not part of the WPL collection. For a list of Bullock-Prado’s cookbooks, visit http://www.gbakes.com/p/books.html

In honour of Bullock-Prado generously sharing family recipes for her favourite baked goods, I will do the same, sharing my great-grandmother’s recipe for devil’s food cake. She first made it in the late 1930s/early 1940s and it has been THE birthday cake recipe in our family every since. Enjoy.

— Sandi H.

Devil’s Food Cake

½ c Fry’s cocoa
2 tsp baking soda
½ c. warm water
¾ c butter, softened
1 ¾ c. white sugar
¾ c sour milk*
2 eggs, room temperature
2 ½ c all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 375F.

Grease 2 – 8” round baking tins. Set aside.

In medium bowl whisk together cocoa, soda, and warm water. Set aside.

In mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Stir in sour milk and eggs. Blend in flour and then the chocolate-soda mixture.

Divide batter evenly between the two pans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cakes pass the tooth pick test. Let cool slightly in tins before removing the cakes to cool on racks. When completely cool, ice with your favourite frosting.

* for the sour milk, we measure out the ¾ c milk, add a little lemon juice, and letting stand for a few minutes

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