Just after my son was born several years ago, frustrated by my body’s lack of return to pre-partum conditions, I decided I challenge myself by training for a half-marathon with some friends. I saw myself rising to the challenge, making a plan and sticking to it, just the way I had succeeded in other past personal challenges (racing a friend in reading all 7 volumes of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, or traveling internationally all by myself). I worked really hard, and proudly managed to walk ¾ of that ½ marathon (what is that anyway, 3/8 of a marathon?) pushing my son in his stroller before me through a heat wave. I learned that sometimes you can fully succeed at your challenges, and sometimes you have to be proud of the work you’ve done, even if you don’t quite make your goal.
This fall, I mentioned to a friend (who is a professional pastry chef) that I was thinking of reviewing Bake It Like You Mean It by Gesine Bullock-Prado. Her eyes widened, and she laid her hand on my arm gently, as if to steady me. Leaning in, she whispered, “Oh, Sarah, that book is so beautiful and the recipes are great, but it’s going to be so hard.” Right then and there, I knew that I had to do it. I had to cook through ¼ of the book and then and review it for the fall/winter. And I did it, almost.
This book is truly beautiful. Photographs of glorious cakes pop from the pages, and I marked which of these gorgeous recipes I wanted to try. The 70 recipes in the book are divided up into 5 parts, Sponge Cakes, Cheesecakes & Mousse Cakes, Meringues, Butter & Pound Cakes and Yeasties. Some of the recipes appeared to be more complicated than others, but I wanted to have a good range of recipes to try, running the gamut from comfortingly simple to architecturally complex.
On the easier end of the scale was the Marble Pound Cake. It was simple to assemble, but far and away one of the best cakes I’ve ever baked. I served it at a noisy kid dinner party that silenced nearly completely as the cake was eaten. Even the adults were stunned into quietly savoring each bite. Simple, yes, but so gratifying.
The Very Best Almond Pear Bee Stings were in what I would call the middle of effort, but so delicious to eat. Little, sweet and redolent of fragrant almond and pears, the perfect companion for tea. They were in good company with The Pain Perdu with Rummed Up Apples, which could have been served as a sophisticated sweet at a formal brunch, but we lapped them up after dinner in the falling dark of autumn. The charmingly named, The Lovers, The Dreamers and You Cake, with all 6 colors of the rainbow making each layer framed with white cream cheese frosting was so appealing, both to our spirits and our appetites as the ice locked us in for a few days. The Krapfen, petite jam filled fried doughnuts, sparkled on our plates before vanishing.
The hardest recipe I tried by far was the Pumpkin Pullman Surprise, which I made for Thanksgiving. A long slim, striped mousse cake with a spiral of chocolate and almond in the center of pumpkin mousse, it incorporates 6 separate components for assembly: tuile stripes for the outside, an almond joconde sponge cake, a dark chocolate cake bottom to hold it all together, the chocolate almond roulade for the inside and of course, the pumpkin mousse. Whew. So much work, but quite worth the effort – our guests were fascinated at how the spiral appears when the cake is sliced. A true showstopper.
At year’s end, I fell short of making all ¼ of the recipes in the book, that’s the did-it-almost part. But, I had such a good time trying that I don’t mind at all, and I’m looking forward to going back and making the ones that I missed, with great pleasure.