Gesine Bullock-Prado followed a dream and turned her passion for baking into a business. The story of how she made a big change in her life, going from heading up her sister Sandra’s production company in Hollywood to operating a baking and confectionery shop in Vermont, was told in her book My Life from Scratch previously titled Confections of a Closet Master Baker. Her latest book, Sugar Baby, is a recipe book for cooking with sugar. The stages of cooked sugar, going from thread stage to hard-crack and the stages in between, are explained with a chapter and delectable recipes for each. There’s rock candy, a few variations on fudge, fruit gummis, taffy, fleur de sel caramels, cotton candy, and several more ideas I can’t wait to try. And, at the end of the book, there’s a chapter for combining different techniques and components like topping the meringues in an ile flottant with heart-shaped pralines. A book full of sugar treats is naturally fun to peruse, but this one is also written in a way that entertainingly conveys the details and instructions for sugar work. You can catch Gesine on the Today show on June 28th when she’ll be demonstrating some patriotic treats in time for the fourth of July, and she’s already busy at work on her next book, Pie it Forward, which will be released next April. I had a few questions for Gesine about sugar work, treats in Austin, and books, and she was kind enough to answer:
I live in Austin, so I wanted to ask you about Walton's Fancy and Staple. Were you involved in developing the bakery menu?
I developed the pastry menu and shared many recipes that I developed for my pastry shop in Vermont, Gesine Confectionary, including the ginger cookies (which are in Sugar Baby), chocolate mousse towers (also in Sugar Baby) fruit mousses (also in Sugar Baby), golden eggs (in my first book) and parisian macarons, among other things.
Any plans to open a Gesine Confectionary shop in Austin?
I don't plan on opening my own shop in Austin. My pastry life is spent writing cookbooks, teaching, and operating my mail order business.
Speaking of Austin, I have a question about making taffy. You shared a story in Sugar Baby about your grandmother’s fun taffy pulling parties, and I’d really like to try to do this. Do I need to wait for an elusive non-humid day in Austin? Or, any tips for humidity and taffy?
It's the same for any sugar work, humidity plays a large part in success or failure. The book is divided into stages of "heat." As sugar gets hotter, it sloughs off moisture, and the more moisture that's sloughed off, the hotter it gets, the more concentrated the sugar becomes and the harder the solution becomes. Taffy falls in the firm/hard ball range. The issue with humidity is that once you get your sugar to temperature and you begin to work with it, the moisture in the air decides to settle in and wreak havoc. You've gone to all the trouble to get rid of moisture and there it is, in the air, just waiting to creep back into the sugar and make it all kinds of soft and soggy. I demo the taffies in the book at pretty much every signing, even in Austin. It's always spot on but I'm just waiting for summer to really hit its stride and mess up all sugar work entirely.
Making rock candy looks like such an interesting process. How did you learn to do it?
I made rock candy as a child in elementary school. Through the years, as I've actually studied sugar work, I was able to "troubleshoot" the process. I have even more tips on the sugarbabycookbook.com blog. For something so simple, it's alarming how much can go wonky. The process is right up there with poking an avocado seed with tooth pics and watching it sprout (in about a year!). In Europe, rock sugar is often presented in a bowl with a tea service instead of granulated sugar and is quite common to make.
And, one more question. I have to ask, what are you reading?
Strangely, Born to Run had an impact on me as far as my bread baking is concerned. I'm a marathon runner and am always looking for a way to incorporate baking into my training and there are ideas and foods mentioned in the book that I've brought into my baking world to help with carbo loading and long runs.
Tina Fey's Bossy Pants brought back my years at UVA and the fabulous crud we'd eat late night. It led to me making homemade donuts, grilling them and making an ice cream sandwich a la our corner diner, The Spot's "grillswith." It brought me back to my days of debauchery.
Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook and Ad Hoc at Home are perennial favorites and always good for inspiration.
In Late Winter We Ate Pears by Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber: It's beautifully done, this gem of a cookbook. But they're locals. They have a wonderful restaurant, Pane e Salute in Woodstock, VT that's unbelievable. They walk the walk.
Good Meat by Deborah Krasner. It's THE guide to sourcing sustainable meat AND it's gorgeous, respectful and informative.
Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman. I teach a few times a year at King Arthur Flour, I love their flour, I live just five minutes away from their headquarters and the DANGEROUS Baker's store, so I have a soft spot for everything associated with it. Jeffrey Hamelman is KAF's resident grand poobah of levain; the GURU of bread. We're so lucky to have the reigning king of bread in our hood. He won't steer you wrong.
Thank you for participating, Gesine. Check back to see who answers the question next time and what other books are recommended.
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