Six years ago I sent away for a cook book straight out of my childhood.

My very first job was in a neighborhood bakery out in the Sunset District of San Francisco – The Donut Center and European Bakery.  On the other side of the park in Laurel Village was Fantasia Confections.  We made donuts, Danish pastries, fantastic coffee cakes, cookies, and a few cakes.  Fantasia made the high-end stuff.  Fancy-looking, over-the-top decorated cakes, tortes, tarts, tea cakes… The owner, Ernest Weil, worked at Blum’s downtown and created the famous Blum’s Coffee Crunch Cake before opening Fantasia in 1948.  I also worked at Blum’s circa 1967 and it holds the distinction of being the very first job I was ever fired from.  (I was a mouthy smart-ass even back then…)

But I digress…

The cook book was everything I hoped it would be – and more.  Recipes written by a baker – not a cook book author.  The layout could be a bit disconcerting at first for someone who has not worked in a production bakery before.  The “instructions” for creating something are a collection of “recipes” for the different components.  But once you see the logic, it’s extremely easy to navigate.  Another nice thing is you may create several different recipes to assemble the finished product.  You actually get to focus on each recipe independently.  It’s much less intimidating!

In a bakery, you don’t make pastry cream for cream puffs.  You make pastry cream, and pull it out of the refrigerator when you’re going to fill cream puffs – or make a Boston Cream Pie, fill Maple Bars, or whatever.  One item is used in many different concoctions.  The cook book is set up that way and it’s a pleasure for me to recall those days of yesteryear when that’s the way I worked.  It’s also great for people who aren’t master chefs.  As Ernest Weil states, “Not everyone is born to be a perfect pastry chef, so just relax and enjoy the learning experience.”

So…  the reason for this walk down Memory Lane?!?  We have friends coming over next weekend for our annual Christmas Get-together and we decided to do a Brunch.  And I thought homemade Danish pastries would be fun to make.  Homemade Danish means the recipe from Fantasia – since I don’t have the one from The Donut Center.  It’s extremely versatile and is used for everything from classic Danish to butterhorns, bear claws, and coffee rings – a breakfast cake I haven’t seen in years. It is a classic recipe requiring lots of butter, folding, rolling, and refrigeration – and it has to be made the day before.

I have several ideas running around the ol’ brain right now – including coffee rings for Christmas…

The possibilities are endless…

The cook book is currently out of print, but you can download a full 248-page .pdf version of the book for making a $25.00 donation to one of several non-profit chlidren’s organizations in the bay area and beyond.  Details are on their website:

It could be a great Christmas gift for your favorite baker and a worthwhile donation at the same time!