The Breadmaster's Challenge: Part One
"Aventia, I'm home!" her mother called out from the hallway, as she hung up her coat.
Loaded down with shopping bags from the shops in Neopia Central, the Woodland Cybunny shuffled to the kitchen where she had previously left her daughter, a Faerie Cybunny, baking.
Her daughter Aventia had always loved to bake, ever since she was a little girl. She'd constantly make cookies and cupcakes for her friends and family and over the years, she'd improved more and more; moving on from simple cupcakes to pies, tarts, bread, doughnuts, cheesecake... anything she could think of.
It was not surprising to find Aventia in the kitchen at the crack of dawn, contently whisking a bowl of egg whites into stiff peaks of meringue, or leisurely kneading sour dough for baguettes.
But today, Aventia was looking a little harried. It was her Elderly grandmother's birthday tomorrow and Aventia had agreed to do the catering for it. She had set herself a lot to do and she was now running a little behind.
She'd made the Cybunny cookies and decorated them with chocolate chips; white chocolate; hundreds and thousands; and even strawberry flavoured icing, she'd made a wonderful variety of cheesecakes (some even Cybunny shaped), she'd lost count of how many sandwiches she'd made and filled, and she was just taking the last batch of cupcakes out of the oven, which she needed to allow to cool before icing them.
However, there was still a lot to do. Her grandmother had some peculiar tastes and Aventia had sent her brother to Mystery Island to pick up some of the ingredients that she was missing for some of the slightly more eccentric recipes that her grandmother had suggested, (Acnefruit and Harffel fruit scones and Honeyplume pie, to name a few. Luckily her grandmother was footing the bill for those, as Acnefruit didn't come cheap).
Needless to say her brother wasn't back yet – he was probably still haggling with the shopkeeper for the best price and she still had the three tiered birthday cake left to make, and naturally, she had just run out of flour.
Her mother Florence had seen the panicked look on her daughter's face and had quickly volunteered to go shopping for more.
Upon returning and entering the kitchen, Florence's eyes grew wide at the sight of it.
"I hope you're planning on cleaning this up afterwards, young lady!" she remarked sternly, as her eyes roamed over the room. In the brief time that she was out, the kitchen had gone from slightly messy, to a complete state.
Every available space was hidden by chocolate covered utensils, bowls of butter-cream and plates piled high with exquisitely decorated cupcakes; steam rose from pans of caramel and spun sugar that were bubbling on the hob; and flour spatters and slowly drying blobs of icing covered the counters of her work space.
Aventia looked up at her mother briefly, a white dot of flour on her nose that had gone unnoticed, as she stood distracted, piping white chocolate onto the last remaining cupcakes, in a checkerboard design.
"Of course," she mumbled, vaguely, her mind completely focused on the plate of cakes in front of her.
"Here's the flour!" her mother said, trying to find an empty space in their kitchen to put it. "I also bought some more eggs, butter and milk for you. Fyora knows you go though them so quickly and I didn't want to have to go out again today if you ran out of them," she added.
Finishing off her cupcake decoration, Aventia took the milk from the shopping bag and slid it into the fridge, before snipping off the top of the flour bag and tipping a heap of it into the large ceramic bowl she'd been using earlier.
"Thanks, Mum," she said with a grateful smile, as she cracked an egg against the side of the bowl and emptied it into the mixture.
As she went about stirring and whisking, adding a sprinkling of sugar here and a vanilla pod there, her mother took a copy of the Neopian Times out of her shopping bag and sat down to read it.
She hadn't been reading long before she let out a gasp of surprise.
Aventia, slightly annoyed by the interruption, looked up. Her mother was looking over at her expectantly.
"You'll never guess what it says in the paper!" she exclaimed in surprise.
The Faerie Cybunny put down her whisk and sighed. "What is it?" she asked, irritably. She still had a lot of work to do and she didn't need anything distracting her from finishing her grandmother's birthday baked goods.
"The Breadmaster's retiring!" her mother announced, unexpectedly.
"What? How can he be retiring?" she asked, astounded at the news. "He's still so young isn't he? I mean, he's nowhere near Gran's age..."
"Well, he has been doing it for a long time, darling. He probably deserves a rest," her mother answered, a little envious. She too, desired a well deserved rest.
"Does it say who will be taking his place at the Bakery?" Aventia asked, bewilderment and curiosity now taking over and the cake mixture long forgotten about.
"No... apparently they haven't found anyone to replace him yet. His retirement must have come as a bit of a surprise. Oh! But it says here that they'll be holding a bake-off to find the next 'breadmaster' and applicants are to apply in writing, with a sample of their work enclosed. 'Only the best eight candidates will make it through to the bake-off,'" she quoted. "Well, isn't that something..."
There was a brief pause, before her mother spoke again.
"You know dear, your baking is good enough to enter!" she proposed, thoughtfully.
"Don't be ridiculous, Mum! They want trained bakers, with loads of experience – not some amateur! And you said it yourself, only the best eight candidates will make it through. There's no way one of them would be me!"
"Don't put yourself down, Aventia. You're more than just 'some amateur'. Look at all you've done for Gran's birthday! I think you'd make a brilliant 'Breadmaster.'"
Aventia scoffed, "Yes, well that's because you're my mother. I doubt the judges would have the same opinion. It's not worth entering, when I know I won't get through, so can we just leave it? I'm far too busy to think about this now, anyway!"
"Alright dear, whatever you say," her mother replied, letting the subject drop.
Aventia's brother arrived home shortly after, with all the tropical ingredients her Gran had asked for, and the dedicated Cybunny continued working through the day and well into the night to finish off the birthday treats.
The birthday cake, once finished, was truly a work of art – if she did say so herself. It stood proudly on display in the centre of the room; topped with Italian meringue and swirled with a brilliant yellow, lemon curd. It was Aventia's finest work.
That night she went to bed thoroughly exhausted, but extremely proud of herself, the Breadmaster bake-off long forgotten about.
The party went off without a hitch. Everyone loved Aventia's baked goods – even the Acnefruit scones turned out to be pretty tasty, though they were somewhat of an acquired taste.
A few weeks after the party, Aventia was sitting in the kitchen, waiting for her famous chocolate fudge brownies to finish baking, when her mother walked in with the neomail.
"There's one for you, dear," she remarked, innocently, sliding it across the counter. There was a strange look on her face, one that Aventia couldn't quite decipher.
Thinking it was just another letter from one of her grandmother's friends, thanking her for the outstanding party treats and asking for the recipe she used for the Honeyplume pie, she opened it without much thought.
The first thing that she noticed was the writing. It wasn't loopy and womanly, or unsteady like so many of her ancient grandmother's friends'; it was sturdy and professional. Only then did she look at the title.
Re: Bake-Off Applicant
Aventia looked up, her mouth hanging open in shock.
"But... I didn't apply," she stammered.
Her mother looked down sheepishly. "I might have applied on your behalf," she admitted, guiltily.
"I wrote your application and sent in a piece of that marvellous birthday cake you created for Gran... I just couldn't let your talent go to waste! You're an excellent baker, darling and it's always been your dream to own a bakery someday. So I didn't see any harm in simply applying for you," she told her.
"What does it say, anyway?" she added, eagerly, rocking forward on her toes to peek at the letter.
Aventia hadn't even looked at the rest of the letter. The title had shocked her enough... and if it was a rejection letter, she wasn't sure she wanted to read any more.
"I don't know," she breathed, shakily. "I haven't read it... I can't read it..."
She tossed the letter at her mother. "If it's bad news, I'd rather hear it from you, than read it myself."
Her mother picked it up from the counter and raised it to eye level. Her eyes skimmed over the words quickly, as though, Aventia assumed, to get it over with as quick as possible.
Aventia watched her mother's face carefully for any indication of the contents of her letter, her wings fluttering anxiously, but Florence let no emotions betray her.
Her mother's stoic face assured Aventia that this was most definitely a rejection letter and her ears flopped dejectedly.
This was why she hadn't wanted to apply in the first place. The letter had allowed her to hope and now that hope was dashed.
Her mother finished reading and put the letter back down on the counter. She looked up with defeated eyes, before her face broke out into a wide grin.
"You made it through!" she exclaimed, excitedly. "They said they loved your cake... one of the best they've ever tasted! And they're looking forward to seeing what else you can do... You're in the bake-off, Aventia! You're one of the eight candidates to become the next breadmaster!"
Aventia almost fell off her stool. She sat at the counter, utterly flabbergasted; unable to say or do anything. She'd made it? Could it be possible? Breaking out of her shocked trance, she grabbed the letter from the counter and read through it once, twice, three times just to make sure. She even double checked that they had the right name. But they did; it was her name they had addressed it to. They wanted her to compete in the bake-off.
Finally, she looked up at her mother's ecstatic face.
"I can't believe it!" she cried, her eyes wide with disbelief. "They actually chose me! They want me in Brightvale next week for the first round of the competition!" she exclaimed, forgetting that her mother had already read the letter.
"Well," her mother replied with a smile. "We'll have to start packing then."
To be continued...