Baking With Flour, Butter, Sugar and Plenty of Heart
Gesine Bullock-Prado, left, arrives with her sister Sandra Bullock to an awards event held in Beverly Hills, Calif., in 2005. (Associated Press - Tammie Arroyo)
All bakers know that there are a few key ingredients they can’t do without — unsalted butter and room temperature eggs, to name two.
But according to pastry chef Gesine Bullock-Prado, who lives, bakes and writes in Hartford, of all the things that go into a well-made cake, cookie or torte, the most essential is heart. “Bake it like you mean it,” she urges bakers in the title of her most recent book.
“It’s my baking mantra,” Bullock-Prado, who’s first name is pronounced geh-seen-eh, explained in an email, “to remind myself to be patient, to pay attention to the details and to put my heart and soul into each pastry, from the inside out.”
Released in March, Bake It Like You Mean It (Abrams Books, $29.95) is Bullock-Prado’s third cookbook in as many years, the result of many hours of experimental baking in her Hartford kitchen.
Her baking philosophy crystallized after she left a career at sister Sandra Bullock’s Hollywood production company and headed to Vermont to open her eponymous Montpelier bakery. Gesine Confectionary developed a reputation for its macaroons and other sweets, but in running a retail operation, Bullock-Prado often found herself burning the candle at both ends. “Waking at 3 a.m. and locking up the shop at 7 p.m. leaves little room for life outside of baking,” Bullock-Prado wrote in her email.
After closing the shop at the end of 2008, Bullock-Prado set off on the next phase of her life as a master baker, devising recipes and putting her touch on established ones in her home kitchen, and sharing them with bakers both novice and established in a series of cookbooks.
“Working on a cookbook,” she said, “is a type of culinary/writing cross-training that keeps you from losing your mind and your tush from falling asleep and combines all the things I love the most in one neat package.” And she has shared her baking expertise as an instructor at King Arthur Flour’s Baking Education Center in Norwich.
In Bake It Like You Mean It , Bullock-Prado refers to herself as “The Sweet Talker,” writing in a conversational tone as she sprinkles the recipes with personal anecdotes and tips for improving individual recipes. Would-be bakers needn’t feel intimidated by Tina Rupp’s luscious photographs of such creations as the Wild Blueberry and Guanabana Bavarian Cream Layer Cake and Mini Berry Lady Finger Tarts. Each of the book’s five chapter begins with a basic recipe designed to ease new bakers into a new process.
“Start with something simple and learn the basic processes of a baking technique before moving on,” Bullock-Prado advised in her email. “Some techniques may look deceptively easy and some may look deceptively hard. But they’re all worth trying once you feel you’ve gotten the handle on the basics.”
Green Mountain Tiramisu
Apropos for a Vermont baker, Bullock-Prado’s take on this classic sweet replaces marsala with maple sugar. The recipe also calls for homemade ladyfingers. “You can create such a glorious cake when you make your very own,” she writes.
6 eggs, separated, room temperature
2 drops each, fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 cup bread flour
6 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup dark rum, divided
1 tsp powdered gelatin
3 egg yolks
6 tbsp maple syrup
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup mascarpone
1 cup strong coffee, at room temperature
1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
To make the ladyfingers, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper and spray with nonstick spray.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine the egg whites, lemon juice and salt and whisk until foamy. With the mixer on high speed, slowly add the granulated sugar and continue whisking until the egg whites form stiff peaks but aren’t dry. Transfer the mixture to a clean mixing bowl and set aside.
In the same bowl of the stand mixer, combine the egg yolks and maple syrup and whisk on high speed until pale and thick. Sift the flour and cornstarch over the mixture and use a large rubber spatula to gently fold them into the yolk mixture.
Add one-third of the egg whites to the yolk mixture and gently stir. Add the remaining whites and gently fold with the large spatula until no white streaks remain. Spread the batter in an even layer onto the prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside to cool completely.
To make the filling, pour half of the rum into microwave-safe bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it in an even layer to bloom, about three minutes, when it should look soggy throughout. Microwave the mixture at 50 percent power in 10-second intervals, swirling the bowl in between, until the gelatin has completely dissolved.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the egg yolks, maple syrup and remaining rum. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk constantly over medium-low heat until the mixture thickens to the point that it coats the back of a spoon. Transfer the mixture to a clean mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Meanwhile in the same bowl of the stand mixer, use the whisk attachment to combine the cream and mascarpone and whisk until stiff peaks form. Remove the egg yolk mixture from the refrigerator and add a spoonful of it to the bowl containing the gelatin; stir until they are completely combined. Pour the gelatin mixture back into the bowl with the yolk mixture and stir. Add one-third of the cream-mascarpone mixture to the egg yolk-gelatin mixture and gently stir to combine. Add the remaining cream mixture. Using the rubber spatula, gently fold the cream into the yolk-gelatin mixture until well combined.
To assemble, release the ladyfinger layer from the sheet pan with a sharp paring knife, gently cutting along the edges of the pan. Invert the sheet pan onto a cutting board the same size or slightly larger than the cake layer, so the cake now rests on the cutting board. Gently remove the parchment paper from the cake. Using a sharp, serrated knife, cut the cake into three strips, 3 1/2 by 16 inches. Place one ladyfinger strip on a serving platter and brush gently with the coffee so it is slightly moist on top. Spread one-third of the filling over this layer. Sift 1 tablespoon cocoa powder over the filling. Cover with a second ladyfinger strip; brush with coffee. Set the partially assembled cake in the freezer for 10 minutes, then remove and spread one-third of the filling over the layer and sift one tablespoon cocoa powder over the filling. Place the last ladyfinger strip over the filling and place the cake in the freezer for 10 minutes to set. Remove the cake from the freezer and brush the top layer with remaining coffee, then spread it with the remaining filling and smooth the top. Dust with an even layer of remaining cocoa powder and serve immediately.
Katie Beth Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3242.