Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Book Spotlight: Confections of a Closet Master Baker

A love letter to her mom. That’s what my friend over at A Blithe Palate told me about this book. My immediate reaction? “Is it going to be sad?” But it’s not. It truly is a love story, from Gesine to her mom, but also a love story between Gesine and her passion.

The book is a touching memoir of Hollywood agent/producer turned baker, Gesine Bullock-Prado. It got me thinking a lot about my own mom. The foods that I grew up eating. The foods that make me think of my own mom. And the foods that comfort me.

And sadly, my mom didn’t love sweets. So as much as I love to bake she never really did. She did however, make us incredible home cooked meals virtually every night as we were growing up, and the older we got, the more and more special the meals became to me. My love for food had increased, and I’d often go to mom with special requests. In the mood for this or that, and wanting her to make this specialty or that. And as I got older and tried to learn how to make these different dishes, the ones I began to crave became the ones that were harder for me to recreate.

As I read “Confections of a Closet Master Baker”, I got to thinking about these dishes that I wish I could eat once again. It made me wish I could pick up the phone, call mom, and tell her about my latest craving so that she could whip it up for me. One of the things that she use to make was steamed whole fish. And while it’s not too difficult, the best part about this dish was that it was a whole fish. And while I’m totally ok butchering meat and handling a whole chicken, a whole fish is different. Some how, it scares me a little bit. So, after reading this book, I was inspired. Why not make this dish—wish just a fillet instead of a whole fish? I realize this isn’t exactly the same, but it was worth a try. My first attempt turned out pretty good. You can barely even see the fish under the sea of mushrooms and green onions. A few tweaks next time, and I’ll be on my way to attacking a whole fish soon.
Unlike my mom, while I enjoy cooking savory food, I equally enjoy baking. I don’t have a sweet tooth myself, but there is something relaxing and comforting about baking. Cupcakes relax me. I loved hearing about Gesine getting up bright and early to head down to the bakery. Here are some red, white and blue cupcakes I recently made for a friend who was officially becoming a U.S. citizen. In the midst of a crazy week for me, this actually was a very comforting thing for me to do.

I’m going to leave you with a fun little Q&A with Gesine—enjoy!
Q: What are five things you always has in her refrigerator/pantry?
A: Butter, Sugar, Eggs, Flour and Yeast (and Salt!) That’s six, but I never bake without salt

Q: What are your favorite things to bake/make?
A: It changes with the season and my lady cycle. But I find some of the most satisfying things are yeasted. Croissant I adore because of the complexity of the rise, between the lamination and the yeast, it’s magnificent. Hence it’s uber tasty!

Q: What is your favorite (sweet) thing to eat?
A: This also changes all the time. But there’s something to the textural mix of crunchy/flaky with chewy. Macaroon for example. Or Mandelhoernchen, or a nut infused meringue.

Q: What is a dish that makes you think about your mom?
A: Mandelhoernchen. Hands down. I spent a good 2 hours one summer sitting with my grandmother in Germany ‘vacuum’ packing mandelhoernchen to take back to the states for my mom. WE sat there with ziplco bags, zipped them almost all the way up and sucked out the rest of the air to make an airtight seal. I was loopy and dizzy at the end of it. But I knew, since she’d missed her annual trip to her homeland, that she’d be thrilled to have this one luscious thing from home.

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