The Breadmaster's Challenge: Part Four
Chaos; it was absolute chaos. As soon as the Scorchio had said the word "bake" there was a mad dash to the back of the room, where the fridges were located. Everyone wanted to be the first to reach them so that they could get their hands, or paws (or in Marshall's case neither) on the ingredients first, so that they could have first pick. Diana was proving just how low she'd go, by shoving everyone that crossed her path out of the way. Yes, this was a competition but there was no need for violence.
Aventia had an advantage over the others in that she had wings, so she could simply fly to the fridge, avoiding any obstacles and other Neopets that were in the way. She reached one of the fridges first and pulled it open.
It was filled with milk, eggs, cream, butter, an assortment of fruit and various bars of chocolate, amongst other things. She stood there for a moment, looking over everything and trying to come up with a unique idea for an old favourite. She was interrupted by a hard shove to the shoulder that sent her staggering sideways.
"Hey!" she protested, angrily, already knowing who it was before she'd even turned her head.
"Oops!" replied Diana, sarcastically. "Guess I didn't see you there... oh well," she mocked, not sounding apologetic in the slightest.
It turned out that each of the fridges contained the same ingredients, so there really hadn't been any need for the race to them, as Diana had just found out.
"What? They all hold the same things? What sort of competition is this?" she asked, outraged, dashing from fridge to fridge. Aventia couldn't hide the snort of laughter that escaped as she watched this. Diana had been all for a fair competition at the start, when it would benefit her, but now she was complaining that it was too fair.
Aventia was about to point this out, but it would only be wasting more of her precious time. Not wanting to waste any more, Aventia made a snap decision on what to bake and ignoring the Kyrii's ranting beside her, she grabbed several items from the fridge, before rushing back to her counter.
In the cabinets beneath the counter, Aventia found a couple of bags of the different types of flour and sugar she would need, along with all the baking equipment. She pulled out only the essentials that she would need now, not wanting to clutter her workstation, and mindful that time was ticking away, hurried to make a start on her pastry.
She quickly measured out the amount of flour that she would need, sifting it through a sieve into a pale blue bowl underneath. She added a pinch of salt, before chopping up a chunk of butter into smaller pieces and adding it to the flour. Aventia was on autopilot as she rubbed the butter into the flour with her paws, having made this type of pastry so often. When the mixture achieved a breadcrumb like consistency, Aventia sprinkled in a couple of spoonfuls of sugar, before adding a splash of water and the yolk of one egg, which she easily separated from its white. Again she mixed it with her paws until it became dough-like in texture. Finally, she wrapped the dough in cling-film and flew it over to the fridge to rest for thirty minutes.
Whilst she waited, she got out the ingredients and the equipment she would need for the next stage of her bake, greased a loose-bottomed tin and pre-heated the oven. Still she found herself with some time to kill, so she had a drink of water as she watched everyone else bake. Marshall, she found particularly interesting to watch. She couldn't get over the strangeness of seeing things move by themselves; flour tipping itself into a hovering bowl; a spoon stirring without anyone's help. It was quite fascinating. She would have watched all day if she could, but she soon realised that it was time to take her pastry out of the fridge and roll it out.
Once that was done, she gently eased her pastry into the tin, leaving the dough flop over the edges. She lined the pastry with paper and filled it with baking beans, cutting off the excess dough from the edges just before setting the pastry in the oven to blind bake. She set the timer for fifteen minutes and moved on to the filling.
So far, everything was going well. She had timed everything just right and she'd had no problems or mishaps – unlike Arnold at the workstation in front of her, who'd forgotten to add an important ingredient, and had had to start from scratch – Aventia couldn't help but think his old age was at fault for the memory lapse.
However, when it came to the filling for her pie, she had a moment's hesitation about her choice. She worried that it wouldn't be good enough or creative enough to see her through to the next round; not to mention the fact that she had never worked with snowberries before, so she had no idea where to start.
She glanced around the room doubtfully, watching everyone hastily beating eggs or rolling dough, fully aware that she was wasting more time the longer she doubted herself.
Realising that there wasn't much that she could do about it now – apart from starting over with something new, which would mean that she'd just wasted half an hour – Aventia looked down at the bowl of snowberries and decided to carry on with her original idea. She just hoped that the snowberries would be very similar to other types of berries that she'd worked with in the past.
She'd just got into her stride, crushing the berries into an icy blue puree that was starting to look quite appetising, when a camera swung around to focus on her. Startled, her eyes flicked up to find Kerry Gooseberry, Saul Shenkuu and the Breadmaster looking at her expectantly.
"That looks lovely," the fruit Chia sang, smiling fondly at her.
"Tell us what you're baking today," Saul said, looking questioningly at her icy blue paste.
Aventia stuttered a little as she answered, her paws starting to feel sweaty with nerves. It wasn't the cameras that made her nervous; not really. It was being in the presence of three master bakers, who Aventia admired and respected and she was, quite frankly, terrified that when she told them what she'd be baking, that they'd tell her what a terrible idea it was, or think badly of her as a baker.
"I'm m-making the traditional meringue pie, but instead of the usual lemon or rhubarb variety, I'll be making a snowberry and cinnamon one," she answered, with a nervous smile.
Saul raised his silver eyebrows in surprise. "Snowberry and cinnamon? That's an unusual combination. What made you decide on that? Is this something you've made before?"
"No," she replied, wishing the judges would move on to someone else and leave her alone to carry on with her baking. There wasn't a great deal of time and not having made the snowberry filling before, she wasn't sure how long it would take and she couldn't concentrate whilst the judges were here talking to her.
"Actually... this will be my first time making it," she continued with a shaky laugh. "Why not try something new on national Neovision, right?" she said, trying to make a joke, but it really didn't sound very funny to her. "It was a spur of the moment idea... I thought the flavours would work well together," she finished up, lamely.
"Well I'm sure it will be terrific!" Kerry said, encouragingly. "I can't wait to try it!"
The Scorchio didn't look quite as enthusiastic as his judging partner. In fact, he looked quite dubious about it, adding that he hoped the fruit wouldn't be too wet for the pie, as they didn't want any "soggy bottoms," referring to the base of the pie not being firm enough. Aventia hadn't put much thought into this and had a moment of panic as the judges walked away. Would the fruit be too wet for the pie? Was that why lemon and rhubarb were the traditional fruit used for these types of pie?
The Breadmaster, she realised, hadn't said anything to her. He probably agreed with Saul but didn't want to say anything that would make her worry and throw her off track; too late for that. On the other hand, maybe he couldn't say anything to them. The winner of this competition would be taking over his job as breadmaster and whoever that was wouldn't have anyone there to advise them or tell them when they were doing something wrong. Maybe he was trying to see who would cope on their own.
The shrill beep of the timer made her jump; it hadn't been fifteen minutes already had it? Sliding on some oven gloves to protect her paws, Aventia took her pie out of the oven, removed the paper and beans and put it back in for another five minutes, before quickly getting back to her filling.
Trying to put Saul's doubts about her bake out of her mind, she poured her puree into a saucepan whilst mixing a mound of cornflour and sugar together in a separate bowl – at this point she began to wish that she had extra arms like Mithras. She added a squirt of lemon juice to the mixture and a sprinkling of cinnamon, giving it a lovely reddish brown hue before adding a tablespoon of water.
As she stirred the mixture into her puree, she prayed to Fyora that her pie would turn out okay and she promised herself that if she got through to the next round, she would make something a little less risky; something that she had made before and had practised at home. It was a rookie mistake, baking something that she'd never made before; one that she hoped she wouldn't be paying for.
She put the saucepan on the hob, turning up the heat a little and cooked the filling for a few minutes, constantly stirring until her filling began to boil. Her filling had now thickened to the right amount and she took it off the heat, adding in more egg yolks and butter and beating with a whisk.
She allowed her mixture to cool slightly, before she decided to taste it. Not sure what to expect, she was pleasantly surprised to find out that the filling was actually pretty good. The lemon juice had been a good idea as it gave the mixture a little contrasting sharpness and the mix of flavours had worked really well together.
She let out a relieved sigh as she poured the filling into the pastry that she had taken out of the oven a few minutes earlier, and again set it into the fridge, for the filling to firm up, before rushing back to her table to make a start on the meringue.
Now this was something she was used to. She'd made meringue so often that she could do it in her sleep. Crack the eggs, separate the whites from the yolks, whisk the whites, and then gradually whisk in the sugar, a little at a time until you have stiff, glossy meringue peaks. Easy.
Thirty minutes later, she had taken the pastry case out of the fridge and was spreading the meringue over the top, using a palette knife to swirl the meringue into pretty patterns. Now all was left was to put the meringue pie into the oven until the meringue turned a pale golden in colour and was crisp on top.
"Okay, that's it. Time's up, everyone!" called Saul Shenkuu just as Aventia had slid her finished pie onto a plate and added two snowberries on top for decoration.
"We'll start our judging with Kriever. Please bring your plate up to the judging table."
Aventia watched the plump Skeith wobble his way up to the judges with a plate of cookies, but it appeared that some of them had been eaten, as the plate was only half full.
"These are white chocolate and flatfruit cookies?" Saul asked with a mouthful of cookie, to which the Skeith replied with a nod.
"Mmm," Kerry mumbled, munching on a cookie. "These are very good! I never would have thought of combining white chocolate and flatfruit. The combination's delicious though!"
"Yeah, they're a good bake as well. They have that crunch when you bite into them. They're a good sized cookie, my only problem is that there isn't enough. Why is the plate only half full?" Saul asked, looking up at the Skeith.
Kriever muttered something about getting hungry halfway through, which received a good-natured laugh from Kerry but a stern look from Saul. Clearly he didn't approve of him eating half of what he baked.
The next contestant up was Lilith who received high praise for her grey and blue cheesecake, a twist on the original grey cheesecake, with an addition of blue cheese crumbled into the topping.
Marshall had proved true to his word when he told Diana that he would include space food in his recipes, by baking some doughnuts with nova fruit jam inside and the judges complimented him on his inclusion of ingredients from his home.
Aventia had to stifle a laugh when it came to Diana's turn and Saul told her that her mint chocolate twists were a little under-baked and could have done with a few more minutes in the oven – time that Diana could have had if she hadn't spent it running from each fridge to see if there were different ingredients in each. Needless to say, the Kyrii did not look happy.
Arnold had made disco cupcakes which the judges felt were a little bland, Mithra's orange and lemon croissants were professed as "to die for," and Achmet's Tchea fruit profiteroles were, "just okay – nothing special."
Last up was Aventia, who had been fine when she'd been listening to everyone else's feedback but whose paws started shaking the moment her name was called. She was surprised that she was able to make it up to the judges table without dropping her plate.
"It looks very professional, dear," Kerry told her with a smile. "This wouldn't go amiss in a bakery would it, Saul?"
Saul nodded. "Yes, it does look good," he replied.
Aventia was a nervous wreck as they cut through the meringue and into the pie, hoping that everything was as it should be.
Saul tapped the bottom of the pie with a knife and complimented the bake of her pastry. "Nice and thin and baked just right; overall I'd say you've got a good pastry there! The meringue looks good too – nice and crisp on top. Now, let's see what it tastes like..." he said, eyeing the pie shrewdly.
This was the part Aventia dreaded the most: the tasting. 'Please let them like it,' she silently thought to herself as each judge put a forkful of pie to their mouths and chewed.
"Mmm, the filling is quite interesting," Saul said, turning to Kerry as though to get her opinion. "You get a cold bite from the snowberries, against the warmth of the pie but you also get that hot, slightly spicy hit from the cinnamon. It's definitely unusual, but I don't dislike it. It was quite a bold move, trying something you weren't sure on and I have to commend you for that. What do you think, Kerry?"
"That is very, very good. As you say, very unique but it's a great combination. I don't know about you, but I got a hint of lemon in there as well, giving a slight tang to the filling. I must say, I really like it. If I'm being picky, I would say that the filling could have been a little sweeter, but that really is the only thing I can say against it. A very good job, dear."
Aventia beamed, a wave of relief and happiness washing through her. All that was left was the Breadmaster's verdict on her pie and she waited in anticipation, as he chewed thoroughly and examined her pie more carefully than the other judges.
There was a muted tension in the room, as everyone waited for what he had to say, because everyone knew that it was his opinion that mattered the most.
"Youra pastry is very gooda and I likea the meringue, very much. The filling coulda be a little morea... tasty; maybe some morea lemon juice. But I likea the cinnamon! Very nice toucha."
Aventia let out a breath that she hadn't realised she'd been holding. She was thankful that she'd had good comments and not a lot of criticism. Hopefully that meant that she was safe this round, but you never knew which way the judges would vote.
The judges left the room shortly after Aventia had gone back to her table, to discuss amongst themselves who they thought should leave the competition. They were back within minutes, startling Aventia who was sure that they'd discuss it for much longer than that. They were about to cut someone's lifelong dream short; she would have thought it would have deserved a little more consideration, but she knew they had two more challenges to get to today, so they were probably short on time.
"We have made our decision," Saul declared loudly to the room, creating an absolute silence amongst the contestants. "First we'd like to announce our top baker for this challenge."
"You all did brilliantly today, but one of you stood out among the rest," Kerry told them pausing for suspense.
"Today's top baker is... Lilith and her grey and blue cheesecake! Congratulations Lilith, your cheesecake was superb!"
Applause rang out from the other contestants, except – Aventia noticed – from Diana, who looked furious. If she was a character in a comic book, steam would be rising from her ears.
Lilith on the other hand, almost looked like she might smile; almost.
"And nowa, I'm afraida it's time for the bada news," the Breadmaster told them.
"Yes, one of you will unfortunately, be leaving the competition," Kerry said, with a look of sadness. "We wish we could keep you all, but this is a competition. So without further adieu, our bottom two for this challenge is Arnold, and Kriever."
"Arnold, your cupcakes weren't the best. They looked great, but the taste wasn't there. It needed something to spice it up a bit, because like I said earlier the taste was very bland. And Kriever, your cookies were incredible, but it's just unacceptable to eat half of them before they've been judged," Saul said, sternly.
"So with that said, the person leaving the competition right now is... I'm sorry, Arnold, it's you."
The Ixi nodded in dismay, as though he'd expected it, but was still sad to be the first to go.
"It all came down to the taste in the end. Kriever's cookies were better, I'm afraid. But that doesn't let you off the hook Kriever," Saul added, turning to lecture the Skeith.
"We'll let you off with a warning this time, but if it happens again, you're out. We can't have a breadmaster eating all his products; it's extremely unprofessional. The rest of you, you're through to the next challenge. Well done!"
Aventia was over the moon that the judges had kept her – she hadn't even been in the bottom two, something that she'd been expecting all morning. She felt sorry for Arnold who looked very disheartened as he packed up his things and left the tent, but Aventia was too excited to dwell on it for long. She was finally beginning to think that if she pulled out all the stops for the next few challenges, she might be able to win.
An image of her in a chef's hat and apron, running the Bakery, popped into her head. She'd had these daydreams since she was a child but it was so much more than a daydream now; she was on her way to making it a reality.
To be continued...