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The Art of Baking Blind


The Art of Baking Blind

You can keep your “Top Chefs,” your “Cutthroat Kitchens,” your “MasterChefs.” I'm not too proud to admit that my favorite cooking competition show is “The Great British Bake-Off” (known as “The Great British Baking Show” in the U.S.). Besides the fact that the contestants are refreshingly down-to-earth amateur bakers competing more for the pride of a job well done than for any monetary prize, besides the fact that each episode is stuffed full of delectable-looking baked goods, there's just the fact that the show seems --- with its pastel hues, its meadow setting, its relatively amiable contestants --- just so…civilized.

Perhaps it's my affection for this British baking show that led me to want to pick up the similarly pastel-hued first novel by British author Sarah Vaughan. THE ART OF BAKING BLIND is indeed set amid a baking competition, but not one destined for television. The competition in Vaughan's book is one sponsored by the upscale Eaden's grocery store chain, a search to find the "Next Mrs. Eaden," referring to Kathleen Eaden, the founder's wife, spokesperson for Eaden's baking products, and author of a classic tome called The Art of Baking. Mrs. Eaden has recently passed away, and now the grocery store chain is in search of a new spokesperson --- and some publicity.

"THE ART OF BAKING BLIND is rich, satisfying, and the perfect combination of dark and sweet."

Among the five accomplished amateur home bakers summoned to the Eadens' country estate to compete for the top prize is Claire, an Eaden's grocery store clerk and single mother who has had to put her culinary school dreams aside to care for her young daughter. There's Mike, still grieving the wife he lost two years ago and trying to convince himself he's doing all right as a single dad. There's Jenny, a matronly middle-aged baker whose husband's midlife crisis takes the form of extreme dieting, marathon training --- and belittling his wife about her weight. There's Vicki, a stay-at-home mom of a preschooler, who misses the teaching job she left when she had a child. And there's Karen, the beautiful, superbly fit, impeccably dressed and groomed baker everyone loves to hate.

As the five bakers are put through their paces in pies, cakes, breads, biscuits and more, their stories and struggles are interspersed with the writings and personal story of the original Mrs. Eaden. Vaughan opens each chapter with a brief thematically appropriate excerpt from The Art of Baking and offers glimpses into the real-life struggles of a woman who, for decades, has been held up as the model of impeccable domesticity and happy home life.

This, of course, is as much of a façade as the fancifully decorated gingerbread houses Mrs. Eaden loved to construct --- and that's kind of the point of the novel, as the reader gradually learns the stories behind each contestant's love of baking, the emotional complexities and contradictions that lead them to the place where measuring, stirring, kneading and folding can result in far more consistent and dependable results than real life can. Despite its pastel-hued cover, THE ART OF BAKING BLIND can be surprisingly dark at times, but the descriptions of delicious baked goods and occasional glimpses of humor help keep things from getting too heavy.

Vaughan does not spend an equal amount of time on each of her primary characters --- Mike, in particular, is a character many readers may wish they had a chance to know in more depth. As a debut, however, THE ART OF BAKING BLIND is rich, satisfying, and the perfect combination of dark and sweet. Like a slice of Sachertorte, perhaps?

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 8, 2015

The Art of Baking Blind
by Sarah Vaughan

  • Publication Date: May 5, 2015
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 1250059402
  • ISBN-13: 9781250059406