Really, April is the ideal time to Bake it Like You Mean it, as we could probably all use a little post-Spring Break malakofftorte à la raymo (chocolate ladyfinger cake, here filled with Kahlua cream) kitchen therapy.
This is the third in a recent series of pastry books from Gesine Bullock-Prado (among her previous titles is the fantastic candy book, Sugar Baby). She again gets brownie points for not referencing her celebrity sister, Sandra Bullock, on the book jacket, press release or elswhere, as so many cookbook authors with pedigreed genes seem to blare through loudspeakers today. Nor does Bullock-Prado need to, as she has more than enough talent of her own. So much, that we will forgive her/the publisher for the self help book-worthy subtitle: Gorgeous Cakes From Inside Out.
Bake It Like you Mean It is filled with the sort of entertaining-worthy cakes and pastries that will have you wishing for a rainy spring weekend. Two words: Creamsicle cheesecake.
Cakes like “the Vermonter,” a stunner with both a green gooseberry and a violet-hued black currant mousse piled on a chocolate-coffee cake base. The cake is in turn sitting on a shortbread crust, and it's all topped off with a black currant glaze. “Vermont is known as the green mountain state,” explains Bullock-Prado, “but when I think of my adopted home, I think in shades of aubergine, not moss. Without fail, if you drive through an average town in Vermont, you'll see a cavalcade of violets and deep purples. From t-shirts to winter puffers, the royal hue is queen in our parts.”
Such beauties clearly are not constructed while getting a weeknight family supper on the table, as Bullock-Prado notes in the Introduction. “It is my firm belief that a cake isn't worth making if it isn't going to be beautiful in every way: from the exterior décor, to inside the slice, to the glory of scrumptious flavors and perfect textural balance in your mouth,” she says. And she does both that beauty — and more importantly, modern flavor combo — side extremely well.
When sliced, a dulce de leche-nutella cream torte is patchwork of hazelnut cake, dulce de leche and nutella-cream cheese fillings with a shimmering chocolate glaze and crushed hazelnuts on top. A caramel macadamia “carousel” cake starts with an almond meringue base, gets both a whipped caramel crème and chocolate ganache filling that are layered in an intricate pattern between bits of chocolate sponge cake. To finish, the cake is topped with Dobos torte-like slices of chocolate-glazed, macadamia Florentine cookies sliced in triangular wedges. There are also plenty of easier recipes for those harried weekends, like a citrus-flecked angel food cake with orange marmalade.
As in her past books, Bullock-Prado liberally defines her given pastry obsession (not that we're complaining). Here, “cakes” include a maple syrup-filled “green mountain tiramisu” with homemade ladyfingers, raspberry-white chocolate ganache macarons and several soufflés. Among them: a Grand Marnier soufflé with bittersweet crème anglaise and an Austrian soufflé of crêpes, lingonberry preserves and “nockerl” (an almond paste meringue). Several of the most intriguing recipes have German and Austrian roots, a bonus in our ever-dominant French pastry era.
Other recipes are “cakes” only in the layered sense, like those gorgeous “Fourth of July Berry Mousse” parfaits with a shortbread cookie base, layers of frozen berry and white chocolate mousse and blackberry glaze. Here, baking tips include removing the bottom and top from empty tomato sauce, tuna or cat food cans (well-cleaned!) and using them as stack-able ring molds rather than shelling out for professional cake rings.
Despite recipes for yeasted cakes like King's Cake (p. 217) and Bienenstich (German bee-sting cake), the final chapter (“Springy & Yummy Yeasties”) reads more like a (good) excuse for Bullock-Prado to include her croissant recipe. “It took ten years of trial and error, but at long last I discovered my all-time favorite croissant recipe,” she says in the recipe introduction. The recipe serves as the masthead for almond or chocolate croissants, cinnamon swirls and “scrap tartlets” to use up any leftover dough.
Are these technically breakfast cakes, or breakfast pastries? When the subject at hand is a krapfen tower — jam-filled German doughnuts stacked like a croquembouche — we're happy either way.
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