As a recent participant in the Edible Word, a foodie book club (hosted by Cath of A Blithe Palate and Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness), I was able to obtain an advance copy of Confections of a Closet Master Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado. Plus, Edible Word is pairing with Cook the Books this month....ah, a melding of the minds, a pairing of the passions...wink wink. Bullock-Prado once lived life in the Hollywood sun...shmoozing...daily interaction with the "beautiful" people...head of a production company (along with her sister...famous sister...recognize the last name?)...constantly having to appear perfect and put up with a*#holes. But in the midst of it all, she made shopping shopping lists...baked goodies for friends and loved ones...and dreamed of a more fulfilling lifestyle.
So, she finally did something about it. It's not something we can all do...but it's definitely the subject of many a fantasy. She left Tinsel Town and moved to a quirky little town in Vermont where she opened a bakery. In a timely interview with her sister by InStyle magazine where Gesine's macaroons were mentioned, her shop gained instant success (ie...overwhelming amount of orders that you are unprepared to handle). My favorite moments in her book were the memories and recipes inspired by thoughts of her mother and grandmother. Did I mention the book includes recipes! In one chapter, she reminisced about Zwetschgendatschi, a German tart she had eaten with her mother every summer. It was her mother's comfort food...and one that Gesine could not bake or even bare to think of after she lost her mother.
Until one day. A day when "an older gentleman came into the shop and asked whether (she) could make a dessert he'd had in Germany during the Second World War. He described a sweet, almost shortbready crust lined with elegant, oval plums that he'd never seen outside of Europe. His wife had recently passed away, he was newly retired, and he was now prone to reminiscing. He wanted to treat himself to a past pleasure and bathe himself in memories through that little plum tart."
Try as she might to disconnect herself from this tart...to simply make it a process. Do it in a machine, instead of lovingly by hand. Bing...bam...boom. Into the oven. Bake. Done. NOPE! As the smell hit her, so did a wave of emotion. So she made another one...putting the all of the emotion (and probably a few tears and runny nose drips) that she had into baking that tart. Isn't amazing how smell, taste, sound...food!...can invoke such deep emotion. That is one of the reasons I love it.
Another memory was of spending time with her grandmother in Germany. Like many places (aside from here...in the U.S.), people in Germany take a late afternoon break. Sit and enjoy tea, coffee, a bite to eat. I don't want to go on...because I could keep writing, but I should probably let you read the book, but the Apfelkuchen that Gesine's grandma whips up so efficiently reminded me of my own German grandma and I wanted to combine these two parts of the book to make a something that I'd love to sit down and take some time and share with my mom and my grandma.
Sugar Plum Cake
yield: 1 (9-inch) cake
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
couple pinches fine sea salt
4 Blue Sugar plums (or any kind you like)
1 1/2 tablespoons raw (turbinado) sugar
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
Preheat oven to 350° F. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat until combined. Sift together dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt) and add to bowl. Beat until just combined.
Grease and flour a 9" spring form pan.
Pour batter into prepared pan.
Next, take your plums and find the "seam". Run a sharp knife down the seam and around the other side to cut in half. Separate the halves and pop out the pit.
Now your plums are ready to add to your batter.
Arrange your plums, cut side down, on top of your cake batter.
Sprinkle with raw sugar and then grate your nutmeg over the top. I used ~1/4 of a nutmeg...do it to your taste.Place into preheated oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until top is golden and you see edges beginning to pull away from the pan.
Place on a rack to cool. Once pan is cool enough to handle comfortably, run a paring knife around the edge (between pan & cake) and then release the ring on the spring form pan. With a long spatula...or other long, flat utensil...transfer cake to cake plate. Dust with powdered sugar if you wish.
Cut a slice and enjoy in the middle of the afternoon with your loved ones. Serve with some fresh whipped cream.
And although I was not able to share this with my mom and grandma this time, I know that I will make it again for the next time we are able to get together...and my sisters, too. Or maybe I'll make grandma's apple cake...which I imagine is pretty close to Gesine's (grandma's) Apfelkuchen.
If you want to take a sneak peak into the life of a closet master baker before the book is released on September 8 (2009), head on over to Gesine's blog, G Bakes (formerly Confections of a Closet Master Baker)!
*Update: The title of this book has since been changed to My Life from Scratch.