In the title of her book, author Jenny Burgesse likens baking to sorcery in a way made difficult to dispute by her skills at both writing and baking. Geek Sweets: An Adventurer’s Guide to Baking Wizardry renders futile any attempt to separate the baker from the wizard. By the time one reaches the final page of Burgesse’s book, the parallels between producing homemade sweets and the craft of magic feels so obvious that it is mildly perplexing to not have made the association sooner.
This book of nearly 70 recipes places at the reader’s fingertips the blueprints to a collection of sweet treats that, if rendered correctly, any observer would swear were professionally-made. Appetite-whetting color photography illustrates a guide to cookies, cupcakes, cake pops, and more dessert offerings than one can shake an Elder Wand at. The lion’s share of recipe entries is inspired by well-known pop culture properties in fiction genres that include fantasy and science fiction, running the gamut from the printed page to cinema, from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic to The Walking Dead.
Burgesse winks at gamers throughout her book, employing familiar in-context references like “Leveling Up” and “Side Quests” as section headers. In the case of the former term, “leveling up” relates to the collection’s division into three parts that begin with recipes for the baking novice, and grow in complexity with each progressive section. The latter phrase describes portions of the book that provide ideas and tips for creative geek-themed entertaining complete with cocktails (though you are both free and encouraged to think of them as potions) and edible treats to complement them.
Because bakers cannot live by whimsy alone, the book makes sure to devote ample time to necessary basics and technical elements one must consider in order to have their projects turn out well. That’s not to say, however, that the author does not manage to imbue this portion with generous amounts of cheek. If this is not evidenced by the designation of “Essential Baking Spells” to the bit that details several basic cupcake and frosting recipes that get referenced throughout the book, then for certain it is expressed in the alphabetized “Adventurer’s Inventory” of requisite kitchen tools, which is fashioned after the list of equipment and resources that might be available to a video game hero embarking on a new quest. Anyone who has ever wondered how to make fondant glue, despaired over the proper way to fill a piping bag, or needed guidance with particulars like when to use gel food coloring vs. liquid, will find much to appreciate in this book.
Burgesse has created a fun recipe book that speaks loudly to a vast universe of fandoms. Her attention to the broad strokes of compiling all the necessary elements of a recipe book is matched by her affinity for smaller details. This aspect of the author comes into focus early on, when she shares the weblink to downloadable templates one can use to cut out specific shapes of cookies or fondant, and resurfaces toward the end of the book, when she provides readers with a list of merchants and online resources to acquire the tools utilized to craft her recipes. If pressed to find any quibbles with this collection of baking how-tos, I can only cite that its opening recipe, an Essential Baking Spell for “Foolproof Vanilla Cupcakes,” calls for boxed cake mix (not a staple in this reviewer’s household, thereby making necessary a trip to the market for any recipe predicated on a vanilla cupcake base). While hardly a true sin, this has potential to add a time-consuming step to a process that a home baker might otherwise be ready to dive into straightaway. The author lampshades its inclusion with humor and with reasoning that, once digested, sounds feasible enough for one to overlook a single pre-packaged ingredient. It is worth noting too that many readers (I’m looking now at those of you who do buy and use boxed mixes on the regular) are likely to regard this solitary issue as less of a potential wrinkle in the program than I did.
Jen Yates, Author of Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong, lends her writing talents to crafting a foreword to this book. I defy any person to read her contribution without smiling, if not laughing out loud. If this book was half as much fun to write as it was to read, then none can dispute that Jenny Burgesse is an author who is doing what she loves. How fortunate we are that she is bringing all of us geeks along for the ride.