Having never heard of this book or the author, I came to it with a totally open mind, attracted mainly by the cheerful orangey-red cover and the mention of macaroons ! When I read the blurb on the back of the book, I inwardly groaned. Gesine Bullock-Prado is sister to mega-famous Hollywood actress Sandra Bullock, so was this going to turn out to be another veiled kiss-and-tell from a celeb sibling (or - to coin a new word -celebling!).
Well, to be perfectly honest, no. Sandra Bullock, or Sandy as her sister endearingly calls her, does make a cameo performance, helping out on the tills and doing the washing up (yes, really !) on the coffee shop's opening day, but that's it. There are a few vague mentions of her but only because the story calls for them, rather than the namedropping being a means to an end.
The book is an interesting mix of two parts memoir, one part recipe book. Gesine started off with the Hollywood lifestyle, working as a film developer in her sister's entourage, but she felt that this life was unfulfilling and unrewarding and decided to follow her passion : cake ! Not just eating it (although there is lots of that too ! She reminds me of a Stateside Nigella Lawson with her enthusiasm, indulgent recipes and devil-may-care attitude to carbs !) but also baking. We may not all have a celeb in the family but I'm sure we can all empathise with her and mentally cheer her on, wishing we had the guts to quit our own job to do something we really love too.
It's not all plainsailing though. With each chapter moving an hour further into her day at the coffeeshop/patisserie, Gesine reveals the highs and lows of running your own business. The stress of wanting it all to be perfect, whether "it" be an intricate multi-tiered wedding cake (that always looks like it's leaning to one side !) or a simple plum pie that someone is going to enjoy in the shop, but also the heartwarming sense of contentment when it all goes right. Gesine is very down-to-earth with a self-deprecating sense of humour that makes her into a very appealing narrative voice.
The book is studded with indulgent recipes, many of them handed down through the generations on her German mother's side of the family. They all sound decadent and absolutely delicious but pretty much all use just store cupboard basics. I can't wait to try some of them out. Gesine also uses these recipes to show the power of food, when just a bite of a certain dessert can mentally transport you back to a time and place with people who may not be around any more.
Gesine carefully constructs her narrative in just the same way she tweaks her recipes to get the perfect result. A touch more sugar here, a quick sprinkle of lighthearted tales about the eccentric customers there, and the finishing touch, some poignant tales of loved-ones lost.
It's a frequently amusing tale of one woman's journey to self-contentment which is an inspiration to all of us. It's full of timely reminders to follow our dreams, appreciate our family ... and eat loads of delicious desserts !
star rating : 4/5
RRP : £12.99
Hardcover: 226 pages
Publisher: Allison & Busby (21 Mar 2011)
Other reviews you may be interested in :
Children's Book Review : The Enchanted Cookie Tree (Flossie Crums : A Baking Adventure) - Helen Nathan