I'm a cake, pastry and general sweet fiend, so I couldn't resist giving this book a go, but I was braced to set it down very quickly after skimming through for recipes. I assumed (stupidly - not the first time) that it would be rather luvvy-ish and peppered with gratuitous Hollywood name-dropping and sickly anecdotes.
I was totally wrong. And very glad to be! Gesine B-P (the double surname is the only jarring thing about her, seriously) writes immediately engaging prose, the secret of which is her absolute honesty. She hides nothing - her self-confessed freakiness, 'misanthropy,' and neuroses, her unhappiness working an empty job in movie production, right through to her greatly enthusiastic and infectious raptures about the joy that a simple little cake, lovingly prepared, can bring to someone's day. I think it'd be impossible not to warm to her, she comes across as so sincere and so human. She freely confesses her many cock-ups, is honest about not wanting to share her bread-and-butter best recipe, but generously provides recipes for just about everything else, comprehensively detailed with plenty of tips and useful pointers. As usual, there's the slightly sticky wicket of the American 'cups' issue, which will drive you mad very quickly, but Gesine often uses European measurements, too, and she also includes conversion tables at the back of the book which help take some of the hair-tugging frustration out of it.
It's tempting to skim through and focus on the recipes, but if you start reading each chapter in earnest, it's very hard not to be drawn into the world of her Vermont bakery and taken up with all the daily trials and dramas and triumphs she shares, not to mention many very funny stories - look out for the heavy-breathing phone pest with a fetish for pastries anecdote! It's also very interesting, and moving, to hear about the impact her mother and her grandmother have had on her relationship with food, and the recipes that were passed from generation to generation. Patisserie is quite clearly a vocation for her, a real passion and far more than just a job. If you share a little of that sweet-toothed fanaticism, then it's lovely to read the thoughts of a kindred spirit.
It's hard to pick a favourite recipe from the book, but I've tried several now and been very impressed with most - there's a number that I would love to try but they're real 'statement' gateaux and would take an amateur like me probably a couple of days to finish, so they'll require advanced planning just to attempt! But if I had to recommend one recipe that's given me a lot of pleasure, it'd be the simplest one - Raspberry Meringues. I don't know why, but I'd just never have thought of adding raspberries to meringue mixture before cooking. Probably would've been scared. But I've made so many of them now, and they're maybe the most popular treat I have on stand-by in the pantry, for kids and adults alike. Everyone demands a raspberry meringue. So, many thanks to Gesine for sharing that recipe in particular, and I have to heartily recommend it to everyone else!