This is another entry in the popular fiction category of Different People Who Come Together Cooking and End Up Wiser, Happier (and eventually, Probably Heavier). A réchauffé, one might even say (i.e., a “warmed over” dish eaten of previously). Is this yet-another-one worth reading? Yes, I think it is.
Five amateur bakers enter a “cook-off” contest to become “the New Mrs. Eaden,” named for the fictional woman who was the late author of the classic cookbook The Art of Baking and wife of the founder of a large chain of gourmet food shops. The winner will not only receive a large amount of money, but will contribute a monthly magazine column on cooking and be the face of Eaden’s new advertising campaign.
The stories of the five finalists are interwoven with flashback chapters from Kathleen Eadon while she was writing her cookbook in the Sixties. The book is divided into categories as a cookbook might be, with each division focusing on the competition over that particular food group (e.g., breads, biscuits [cookies to Americans], etc.)
All but one of the contestants (who happens to be the only male in the group) are obsessed with perfection, and all seem to be into baking to fill the voids in their lives. As we accompany them on their quest, we learn about their struggles with their home lives, their secrets, their dreams, and the way in which their search for perfection in baking accelerates in proportion to their perceptions of failure in their personal lives.
Evaluation: The writing is quite well done, and what foodie could resist reading about all the delicious concoctions the characters make? The issues besetting the contestants and the original Mrs. Eaden are interesting; I thought it was daring of the author to combine a book about the love of cooking with fixations about weight and perfection (mirroring the “rules” in the cookbook) and the conflict in women so common still, between fulfilling your own dreams versus meeting the needs of your family.
The dénouement was also quite satisfying, and was cause for the use of much kleenex.
Published in the U.S. by St. Martin’s Press, 2015