For this edition of the event, we read Confections of A Closet Master-Baker, a memoir of sorts that is written by Gesine Bullock-Prado. The sister of, you guessed it, Sandra Bullock. I just have to note that I did NOT figure that one out for a while. My friend Andrew came over, saw the book on my bed, and immediately asked me if the two were related. Once he said that, everything fell into perspective since Gesine does mention that her sister is a famous actress in the book and I had been wondering for at least 100 pages who the sister was but didn't have the motivation to get off my bed and actually google her. Or look at the front cover and read her full name, apparently.
To give you a brief synopsis, the novel is broken down into chapters, each of which consists of a different anecdote or reflection with a recipe to match. Gesine ruminates on various topics such as her whirlwind life in Hollywood, how it spurred her decision to leave that world behind for good in favor of a small town in Vermont, her experience in the small town , the trials and tribulations that came with opening up her own bakery, and how her mother and grandmother have inspired her baking process.
The latter, I believe, are my favorite passages because they are infused with such a wealth of emotion and nostalgia. It never ceases to amaze me how certain smells and tastes can transport you to different times of your life and allow you to revisit memories that you thought were locked away for ever. Everyone remembers and craves the foods that their mom made for them when they were a kid or the dinner that they always had at grandma's house on Sundays. We have certain attachments to the meals from our first dates, what we ate right after our worst break-ups, and the new cuisines that we tried in the exotic lands that we have traveled to. This why the abuse and mass production of food that has occurred through the invention of McDonald's and Sara Lee is so tragic. It has taken the importance of savoring and truly enjoying food out of eating and replaced it with convenience and trans fats. As Gesine writes in her chapter on raspberry meringues, neither she nor anyone who works for her is fat. There are even customers who come by every day and have a treat, but who have lost weight in the process. Her theory on why this is? "They just buy and enjoy their treats thoughtfully...When [people] have the experience of choosing something from a pastry case and knowing that the little tart they're going to take home was baked today, just a few steps form where they're standing, they'll savor that small treat, instead of thoughtlessly devouring the entire contents of an economy-sized Acme brand bag of cookies." Small shops like hers add a personal aspect to eating that allows us to remember why it became a keystone of culture to begin with - not just as a form of nutrition but as a means of connecting with our fellow eaters through a shared act of indulgence.
As a corollary to this, Gesine also writes of the German tradition of having tea at 3 pm every day. This was the "sacred time for cake and coffee", a preplanned period of time in which the family could reconnect and regroup to discuss their hopes, dreams, and memories. A time to "[share] thoughts and stories" or even just "[sit] silently, enjoying each other's company and savoring small cakes, preferably something laced with almond, and a cup of strong coffee". Gesine takes pleasure in knowing that she "[makes] 3 pm happen" for the people who live in her town and now, she can also take pleasure in making in happen for me, my roommate Sophie, and my friend Anu.
Being inspired by the idea of this magical hour of the day in which time was actually set aside to not only enjoy a dessert but to experience it with those you care about, I chose a recipe to make (Gesine's scones), set about making it, and then invited two of my closest friends over for coffee and conversation. We talked, laughed, and reveled in each other's company for a good hour or so. We turned eating scones and sipping coffee into an experience and whenever I smell the buttery scent that lingered in the air that afternoon, I will be taken back to the tiny kitchen table in my tiny apartment on the upper east side and I will smile. Then I will head for the kitchen and turn on the oven because that is what I do when I'm happy or sad or just plain content.
I would include the recipe for these but since I used Gesine's recipe, I am strictly verboten from doing so. I will, however, include a recipe from the Food Network's website that is VERY similar. I would just substitute raisins for currants, since that is what I did with Gesine's recipe anyway.
Cream Scones with Raisins
1 3/4 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbsp butter
2 tsp orange zest
1/4 cup raisins
5 tbsp heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Add the butter and work it into the flour mixture with your fingers or a pastry blender, until it resembles a coarse meal. Stir in zest and currants.
In a small bowl, beat the egg and 4 tablespoons of the cream together with a fork. Add to the flour mixture and mix with your hands until the dough just comes together. (If the dough seems dry add the extra tablespoon of cream.) Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Pat the dough into a 6-inch round about 1-inch thick. Cut into 8 equal sized wedges. Space the scones evenly on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Serve warm.
Cook's Note: For a richer, darker crust, brush the tops of the scones with heavy cream and sprinkle with sugar before baking.
Check for the round-up and to see what other people made on A Blithe Palate on September 7th.