April's Kitchen Reader selection is My Life from Scratch: A Sweet Journey of Starting Over, One Cake at a Time by Gesine Bullock-Prado, chosen by Shelley of My Little Chickadees. Although I ordered this book in the first few days of the month, delays meant that it arrived on the 28th. Fortunately, it's a slip of a book, and very easy and enjoyable reading. A few epic bus journeys later and it was finished off. My Life from Scratch is a memoir by the sister of Sandra Bullock, who found herself hating her Hollywood job in the Bullock sisters' production company. She finally decided (with her sister's blessing) to leave the glitz for small town Vermont, where she set up a pastry shop. This fascinating book had some magical portions, but also left me unsettled.
Gesine's (pronouced with a hard G as Geh-sine-eh's) pastry shop has proven to be a big success, and also a huge time and energy commitment for Bullock-Prado. The memoir tells of the grueling hours she must work as owner and cook to keep it running. But she also asserts how contented she is to be working in "the flour arts" every day. Bullock-Prado's love of baking shines through every page, illuminating the hard life she now thoroughly enjoys. And she pays homage to her regular customers, for whom she enjoys baking, and catering for their "emotional pastry needs".
My Life from Scratch describes how sugary treats have made Bullock-Prado happy over the years, from her childish self stealing an entire family size box of Oreos and scarfing them down, to more recently baking her mother's favourite treats after her death. The book also contains recipes for many of the baked goods: maple pecan sticky buns, raspberry meringues ("crunchy clouds" for children), opera cake, and several German specialities from her youth such as mandelhoernchen. I found the descriptions of the Bullock girls' childhood touching. The Hollywood episodes were comical, and also sad. Many parts of the book are funny, poignant, or both, which makes this a very engaging read.
As a proponent of healthy eating, though, I felt uncomfortable with the idea of sugary pastry as the cure for all ills. Bullock-Prado exalts cakes to the level of panacea, which I find distinctly troubling. Late in the book, she does broach the subject of moderation, but by this point I was already bristled enough to find it more patronising than satisfying. Bullock-Prado's mother was a strict vegetarian and didn't allow her girls to eat sugar except on special occasions. Gesine says that her mother "wasn't completely withholding in the desserts department; she just thought they had a time and a place, and they had to be beautifully made and with patience." I wish that Bullock-Prado more closely reflected her mother. She says that her bakery is an expression of love through sugar and butter, but I think much of the message of "occasional" sugar has been lost by peddling it for every day eating.
Neat the conclusion of the book came the part that resonated the most with me.
"Dessert for my mother was sacred. It wasn't an afterthought, a procrastination ploy, or a craving but the pinnacle of great celebration and a pure expression of love. For her, the sweets I wanted every day ruined my appreciation for the weighty and potentially dangerous magic of sugar."I am a recovering sugar addict, and as such I try to revere and enjoy sugar for special occasions. (I could definitely not be one of Gesine's regular customers, much as I might like to eat pastries every day.) The delicious recipes that Bullock-Prado include in her memoir will doubtless make outstanding special occasion desserts. And they will remain as "treats" for me by avoiding daily consumption.
You may not be surprised to learn that my version of Gesine's Confectionary's cream scones is adapted to make it healthier! I replaced some of the cream with milk, and switched to whole wheat flour. Using 100% whole wheat flour in baked goods is easy as long as the liquid is also increased by 1/4 c (75 ml) per cup (250 ml) of liquid in the original recipe. The scones are delicious with lemon zest and dried cranberries or raisins.
Whole Wheat Cream Scones
adapted from My Life from Scratch by Gesine Bullock-Prado
makes 30 skimpy scones or fewer big ones
I think it's clear from the pictures that I rolled out the dough too thinly. But that meant I made a lot of scones. I think I would suggest rolling out to 2 cm for more normal sized scones.
1/2 c (125 ml) milk
1 c (250 ml) cream
2 t lemon zest
6 T (90 g) sugar
4 1/2 c (510 g) whole wheat flour
1 t salt
2 T baking powder
12 T (165 g) cold butter, cut into cubes
1 c (150 g) dried cranberries, raisins, or a mixture of both
Whisk together the milk, cream, eggs, lemon zest, and sugar in a large bowl.
In a medium bowl, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder.
Add the butter to the flour and use your hands to rub it in until the mixture resembles cornmeal and there are no large lumps of butter left.
Add the flour and dried cranberries or raisins to the wet ingredients and mix well until thoroughly moistened.
Roll out on a floured surface to a thickness of 1 cm (for skimpy scones) or 2 cm (for normal scones). Use a round cutter or an upturned glass to cut out the scones. Place these on ungreased baking trays.
Combine and reroll the scraps, cutting more scones, until you have used all the dough.
Bake the scones at 205 C (400 F) for 15-18 minutes.
Cool on a rack.
I am keen to see what the other Kitchen Readers thought of this delightfully sweet memoir. Visit our group's blog for a roundup tomorrow.