Review: Baking With Bruno by Bruno Feldeisen

My Quick Take: This was a great cookbook from the co-host of the Great Canadian Baking Show. I felt very accomplished!


I love how my reading life can take me down completely unexpected paths, where I can learn and discover things about people that I would never have known. The path starts with something innocuous, just a notion to pick up a book because–who knows?–something nudged me to choose it, and then I’m off on a bookish odyssey. It helps that I enjoy reading around my subject, picking up tidbits along the trail as I go and collecting them in my figurative knapsack. The destination can be unexpected, and lovely.

Such was my experience with Baking with Bruno: A French Baker’s North American Love Story (2020, Whitecap Books) by chef Bruno Feldeisen. The journey starts with television. I’ve watched all six seasons of the Great Canadian Baking Show. My spouse Alan and I love it, and I enjoy the hosts, Feldeisen included. But when the current season is done and the winner selected, it gets switched off without another thought until next year.

Then I attended the Vancouver Fall Home Show in 2022, and saw that Feldeisen was doing a cooking demo: he made cheesecake with a savoury topping. I was front row centre. He was personable, warm and friendly with the audience, and afterwards my friend and I chatted with him about a baking question. He took ample time with us and it was a fun experience. So, when I was looking for an interesting local cookbook to review, I spied his book on the front page of the Whitecap Books website, and I knew I had my next cookbook read.

I flipped through the book, chose the recipes that called out to me, and proceeded to messily cook up a storm. More on that below. But fast forward to today, as I sat down to write this review. The book's Forward, written by restaurant critic and food writer Mia Stainsby, was a wonderful summary of the author's life story and journey to become a celebrated chef. She mentioned that he is a spokesperson for Anxiety BC. This prompted some research on my part, and I learned Feldeisen’s story of adversity as a child and teen, and his struggles with anxiety, including periods of debilitating panic attacks and PTSD. He has collaborated with Anxiety BC/Anxiety Canada. This is a video he made with that organization. He penned an article for Here To Help BC about how fatherhood was a turning point in his own emotional growth as a person.

So that was the interesting, unexpected path I took with this book. Now, shall we get to the cooking experience? It was super fun! There are introductory sections on Chef Bruno’s Pantry, and Tools of the Trade, but I confess I skipped pretty quickly to the recipes. He says in his introduction that one of his passions is, “creating anything sweet,” and this book is an ode to sweet bakes.  It was hard to choose, but I settled on three recipes. 

Lemon Poppy Seed Butter Cookies

Hands down the favourite recipe that I made. The ingredients are simple and I had a huge bag of poppy seeds from some long-forgotten baking project just begging to be used up. Feldeisen says he’s always been a huge fan of lemon poppy seed muffins, and wanted to recreate that in a cookie. He succeeded, and so did I. They really do evoke that exact flavour in a cookie. They’re easy to make, and bake up crisp and actually not too sweet. I took these to a get-together with friends, and everyone raved. My entire family thought they were awesome, and they didn’t last long.

Maple Syrup Pound Cake

I’m always on the lookout for a tasty, easy loaf cake, and this one has a Canadian twist: using maple syrup in place of a more neutral liquid sweetener. This came together easily, and smelled heavenly while baking. That said, to get it baked through I had to leave it in the oven for much longer than the listed baking time. I topped it with the lemon glaze and the cake was dense and delicious; my spouse gobbled it up so quickly that I froze half the cake so he wouldn’t eat it all in one day. I think it’d go beautifully with Feldeisen’s Rhubarb Compote…but I’ll have to wait until the rhubarb in my garden is ready this year to try out the combination.

Honey Buttermilk Panna Cotta

Me, make panna cotta? I’d never considered it. I’m not the kind of person who makes things like panna cotta. I confess to never having used gelatine in my entire life. Oh, except for making Jello, of course. Does that count? Panna cotta is an eggless Italian custard. I’m going to Italy in the spring, so in the spirit of my impending trip, and because I always like to make at least one thing that takes me out of my comfort zone in a cookbook review, I armed myself with gelatine and whipped cream.

There are only six ingredients, three of which are forms of milk. It was so easy! I don’t know what consistency it’s supposed to be, but the amount of gelatine seemed like a lot. Contestants on cooking competitions always fret about whether or not their custards will set, constantly opening the fridge door, jiggling their creations, and catastrophizing about a failed dessert. So I declared aloud to Alan, “I’m worried my custard won’t set!” I wasn't really worried, but it made me feel solidarity with those hapless contestants. I could pretend I was on the Great Canadian Baking Show. Not to fear, the panna cotta was super firm. I think I’d try it with about half the gelatine next time as an experiment. But the flavour! So sumptuous, which is what you’d expect when the main ingredient is whipping cream. We loved it and I’ll make it again. It’ll make me seem fancy when I have company for dinner.

So here’s to unexpected discoveries! Feldeisen’s story is interesting and inspiring above and beyond the recipes in his book, but that fact that he takes the time to speak out about his anxiety and spends time to help fight stigmatization is the topper.

He is apparently working on his next cookbook: The Bacon, Butter, Bourbon & Chocolate Cookbook. I can’t wait, even though I’m vegetarian and don’t eat bacon! Its launch was delayed due to the pandemic, and this is a really interesting, short article that he wrote about adapting his expectations to the pandemic realities.

There are many intriguing recipes that I’d like to try in Baking with Bruno, so I’m not done with this one yet. I’m certainly going to make the Rhubarb Compote in the spring, and there’s a Maple Sugar Crème Brûlée that’s way out of my wheelhouse and calling my name. I’d highly recommend exploring these recipes!