I don’t review a lot of books here, mainly because my recreational reading leans toward historical fiction. If it’s about a doomed queen, clever courtesan or woman in ancient China, I’m in. Unfortunately, those characters don’t do much baking. But today I do have a book recommendation which happens to be on topic! It’s called Confections of a Closet Master Baker, by Gesine Bullock Prado.
The book takes place in Montpelier, Vermont, where Gesine who describes herself as a socially retarded misanthrope, spends the dark, quiet hours of the morning baking and reflecting on her life. Interlaced with vignettes from day-to-day life at the bakery — stories about her eccentric employees, relationships with clientele, are memories of situations past.
One constant presence in the book is Gesine’s mother, a svelte, glamorous German opera singer named Helga who brought her small children on tour with nannies while their father stayed back home in Virginia working at the Pentagon. Life with mom, an organic eating, marathon runner who kept her girls on “a dietary lockdown of whole grain, tofu, sucrose-free hell” wasn’t always easy, and Gesine’s early sugar cravings usually ended badly. A scene in which Gesine’s mother visits the school lunchroom just in time to catch her cookie-loving daughter tossing a homemade macrobiotic sandwich in the trash is particularly sad. But strangely, as Gesine reflects on this and reveals more about her mother, we come to understand both of them – and why Gesine bakes.
There are other funny scenes that had resonance. As a former latchkey kid who fell into a few unsavory scenarios thanks to loose change on my dad’s dresser, Gesine’s stolen-Oreo-fueled vandalism spree in her Arlington, VA neighborhood struck a chord. Her later years as a Hollywood executive were also easy to identify with. I never had a job developing films, or staving off would-be-stalkers from my sister or running a production company, but I’ve worked at other jobs and felt that same void as Gesine, whose remedy was to bake for the crew, directors, friends, and the people in her life.
Baking was something Gesine loved and that connected her with people, but it wasn’t until her mother’s illness and subsequent death from cancer that Gesine came out of her own “terminal unhappiness” and stepped into her new life as proprietress of a quirky bakery in Vermont. Gesine writes of her mother Helga’s final days, her sudden transformation to consummate “foodie”, eating bratwurst, passing on her best recipes, throwing cocktail parties and focusing on the good in life. In this, she gives her daughter permission to be happy.
Well, there you go. If I keep writing I’ll give away too many details, so this is the point where I say head over to Amazon and pre-order book. It’s a good read and frankly, I wish Gesine would write another one. Luckily, this is one I’ll be reading and re-reading thanks to the recipes. I’ll touch on those later.