Title: The Art of Baking Blind
Author: Sarah Vaughan
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Year originally published: 2014
I was lucky enough to get my hands on a paperback proof of The Art of Baking Blind when I won a Goodreads giveaway back in May. Finally, exams and May Week behind me, I settled down to read it on a blisteringly hot morning in June, seated under the arches of bustling Borough Market. The aforementioned market is a notorious foodie destination that has rightfully gained worldwide fame thanks to the variety and quality of food on offer at its various stalls. One of these is Bread Ahead, which I’ve raved about countless times on my lifestyle blog. Its tables are laden with delectable pastries, nut-encrusted gooey brownies, sturdy-looking loaves and, most delightful of all, the doughnuts filled with light whipped crème pâtissière, crafted with a secret recipe that made Gellatly famous during his days at St. John Bread & Wine.
It was in this culinary setting that I ploughed through the first half of the book – the perfect place to read about a baking competition in the style of The Great British Bake Off. Vaughan introduces five competing amateur bakers to us, each with their own personal drama. Interwoven among these plotlines is the tale of Kathleen Eaden, a cookery writer from the 60s in the mould of Isabella Beeton of Mrs. Beeton’s Cookbook Fame, and whose success each competitor hopes to replicate; the cookery competition is entitled ‘The Search for the New Mrs. Eaden’. Although Mrs. Eaden’s writing presents an idealised view of domestic life, it turns out that her life was never plain sailing, with her repeated – and tragic – efforts to conceive reminding me of The Help. This revelation conveys a message to both the contestants and reader: ‘While perfection might be possible in baking, in life, well, it’s impossible.’ Amen to that.
My verdict: 3/5
Vaughan has created some truly intriguing characters in this novel, but the problem with having five main characters (six, if you count Kathleen) is that some have necessarily been given a great deal more focus than others. The result was that, like a child at an overpopulated birthday party, I was left feeling like I’d missed out on a slice of cake big enough to curb my appetite. Kathleen and Jenny’s stories were compelling enough, though, to have me reading avidly all the way to the end. Like the contestants’ lives, the story is not perfect, but it’s a commendable debut from Vaughan. The Art of Baking Blind will be published on July 3 – perfect for getting us into the spirit for the next season of The Great British Bakeoff in August!