The Breadmaster's Challenge: Part Six
There was a buzz of excitement and joy in the air as Aventia bounded out of the kitchen, a wide grin stretched across her face. "Mum!" she shouted over the din of excited families and friends, who were eagerly rushing forward to congratulate the other winning contestants, or commiserate with the ones who hadn't made it. Lilith was looking even more glum than usual, and Kriever was consoling himself with a handful of chocolates.
She scanned the overcrowded area for any sign of her mother, having to fly over the heads of dozens of Neopets to finally spot her. As soon as her mother saw her, she pulled her into a tight bear hug.
"I knew you could do it!" she exclaimed, ecstatically. "I'm so proud of you!"
Aventia pulled back slightly, the tight hold her mother had her in, beginning to cut off her circulation. "I haven't made it yet, Mum. There's still one challenge to go and the Breadmaster said it would be the toughest one yet. And the other finalists will be hard to beat; they both have a lot more experience than me. Marshall's an excellent baker and I hate to admit it, but even most of Diana's bakes are hard to find fault with," she said, making a face as though disgusted at herself for even thinking it.
Her mother shook her head nonchalantly.
"You've had plenty of experience too, you know. Believe me, you've taken over my kitchen almost every day since you were a child – if that's not experience, I don't know what is. And you've known how to make everything they've asked of you so far, haven't you? There's a reason that you made it to the final, darling. That's a feat in itself. Out of hundreds of applicants, you made it into the competition, and then out of the eight contestants, you made it to the final three, and you didn't even believe that you'd make it into the competition in the first place! Whether you become the next Breadmaster or not, you should be very proud of your achievements; I know I am," she told her, with a doting smile.
"Thanks, Mum," she replied, appreciatively. "I am proud of myself. I just can't quite get my head around it yet. I have a one in three chance of becoming the next Breadmaster... it's crazy!"
Florence put an arm around her daughter and led her away from the cheering crowds, back towards the village where they were staying. "Crazier things have happened," she replied, as they walked through the door of their hut.
The hut they were staying in for the duration of their visit, didn't have a large kitchen. In fact, the hut itself was just roomy enough for two people to live in without bumping into each other constantly. The kitchen was very narrow with only enough counter space for chopping, or kneading; not both. The oven was very small and squeezed in beside the fridge and there was very little space to move around in, but that didn't stop Aventia from baking up a storm.
Freshly motivated from making it to the final, Aventia wanted to get in as much practice as she could, not wanting to get caught off guard by something she had never made before. So, armed with several of Kerry Gooseberry's recipe books, she took to baking everything that she was a little unsure on, just to make sure she got it right if they were asked to bake it in the final. Despite her friendship with Marshall, she desperately wanted to win – especially if it meant beating that stuck-up Kyrii.
The final challenge was to be held in the Island Arena, recently renamed Pango Paladium. All battling was put on hold for the day and the arena was filled with rows and rows of chairs, in which paying Neopians could sit and watch. Her mother, who'd given her a swift hug and wished her the best of luck earlier that morning, was sat in the front row next to a purple spotted Grundo who looked like he could be Marshall's dad and a sneering Royalboy Poogle who could only be related to Diana.
Despite her new found confidence in herself, Aventia still found herself anxious at the thought of all of those Neopians in the audience. It was one thing baking with only ten other people in the room, but another thing entirely when baking in front of hundreds.
The arena was huge; much bigger than Aventia had imagined, never having battled in any of the Battledome arenas before. It had been set out very much like the marquee in Brightvale, with three workstations instead of eight. The same faerie fridges stood next to each workspace and the same blue table sat at the northern most part of the room.
A huge roar of applause went up from the audience as the judges appeared, with several loud whoops coming from a group of fruit Chia's in the audience. Kerry waved enthusiastically and blew kisses to the audience, whilst the other judges took their seats.
Saul took out a Shenkuu team megaphone and spoke into it, addressing not just the contestants, but the abundant audience as well.
"Welcome to the Breadmaster bake-off final! Today a new Breadmaster will be announced and the current Breadmaster will pass on his hat and his recipes to one of these young bakers. This will be the most difficult challenge these contestants will face as we'll be asking them to bake three different things, in a short space of time. Sometimes the Breadmaster will only have a short amount of time before the next restock and we need to know if these new bakers will be able to handle the pressure. Contestants, today we will be asking you to bake a batch of cupcakes, petit-fours and Madeleines. The type and flavouring will be completely up to you; just remember you only have three and a half hours. On your marks, get set, bake!"
Three and a half hours! Aventia wasn't sure she'd be able to make everything in that space of time but she would have a jolly good try. She started with her petit-fours because she knew that they would take the longest to bake.
She didn't bother with sifting her flour; she didn't have enough time for the small things like that, she just quickly weighed it out and added baking soda, baking powder and a pinch of salt to a large bowl. She whisked in a cup of sugar and some almond paste to give the cake a hint of flavour, (she didn't want Saul Shenkuu telling her that her bake was bland again) before adding butter, whisking consistently until the mixture turned pale and fluffy. She whisked in egg yolks and a splash of vanilla extract and set the bowl to one side, whilst she whisked up some egg whites with sugar, making a soft meringue-like mixture. She folded the egg-white mixture into the bowl, (the mixture would make her cake extremely light and fluffy) before spreading the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. She slid it into the oven, making sure her timer was set, before she moved on to the cupcake batter.
As she worked, Aventia barely had time to glance up at the other contestants, so she had no idea how they were doing. The room was full of gorgeous smells of melting chocolate, warm cake and Aventia's cherry jam that she had just made to spread on her petit-fours, while her cupcakes were rising in the oven. There was a lot of background noise from the audience who were talking amongst themselves and murmuring their thoughts on the contestants. Aventia was surprised to find out that the noise didn't bother her; she could tune it out, as long as she kept herself busy.
After cutting the cake for her petit-four in half, she glazed one half with the cherry jam and set the other half on top, before setting it in the fridge for an hour. As she made a start on her Madeleines, she vaguely heard the Scorchio call out that they had an hour and a half left. Her stomach in knots and unsure whether she'd be able to finish her bakes in time, she rushed to make the mixture for the scalloped shaped cakes. Her arm was aching from all the whisking she'd been doing today, but she still had more to do. She whisked the eggs and sugar together until the mixture was frothy, before adding in the flour, baking powder and butter, and whisking again.
She left the mixture to stand for twenty minutes, whilst she whipped up some icing for her Techo cupcakes. When the madeleines were ready to go into the oven, her cupcakes were ready to come out, the timing having worked out perfectly. She iced her cupcakes, before placing them in the fridge as well, to let the icing harden.
With ten minutes left, Aventia melted some milk chocolate, which she dipped her Madeleines briefly into; cut her layered cherry cake into small squares, and covered with the rest of the chocolate, and put the finishing touches onto the cupcakes.
When the judges told them to stop baking, Aventia sank down onto her stool, flushed and exhausted. She was too tired to worry about winning now, and she could see the difficult challenge had affected the others too, even though Diana seemed reluctant to show it.
After a minute's rest, Aventia took her plates up to the judges table, where they would be judged first.
The judges looked down at her bakes appreciatively, nodding in approval and mumbling to one another.
"This all looks very good, Aventia. If I didn't know better, I would never have thought that this was all done in three and a half hours," she told her, to which she received a wide grin of thanks from the Cybunny.
As they cut into each bake, putting a forkful of cake to their lips, Aventia's eyes grew wide, her anxiety coming back tenfold.
"These petit-fours are really good!" Saul told her, his fork going back to the cake for another bite. "I love all the flavours. The cherry jam works really well with the almond and vanilla," he said, talking with his mouth full.
"I feel that the Madeleines are a little under-baked, which is understandable considering the amount of time you were given. If you'd left them in for a few more minutes they'd be perfect," Kerry added, kindly.
"The cupacakes also could have had a little more timea... the icing hasn't seta properly, so they area a little runny. Gooda flavours, though!" the Breadmaster, chipped in.
Aventia knew she hadn't had enough time, but there wasn't anything she could do about that. Thanking the judges, she flew back to her stool and watched the judging of the other two contestants.
Both Marshall and Diana had good comments, with a few small criticisms here and there, but nothing that would set them apart as the winner.
It really was anybody's game. The judges had liked all three contestants' cakes today, and all three had had minor flaws that the judges had pointed out. Aventia couldn't call it. She had absolutely no idea, who the judges might pick as the next Breadmaster.
Their deliberation was the longest one ever. The judges took almost two hours discussing who they thought should be crowned Breadmaster, and this wasn't a decision they wanted to make lightly. Every challenge they had participated in, along with their original application would be taken into account and eventually, they all agreed upon a winner.
Aventia was sitting with her mother when the judges entered the arena again. She immediately stood up, and ran back to her workspace.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we're sorry for the delay, but it has been a very hard decision to make. However, we have all come to an agreement about who the next Breadmaster shall be."
The Scorchio paused here for effect, holding the suspense until the last second.
"We are very pleased to announce, that the winner and your next Breadmaster, is..."
Diana's eye lit up excitedly as she stepped forward, ready, no doubt, to accept her victory.
The crowd erupted into loud cheers, as pink confetti burst from the ceiling, showering them all in little pieces of paper.
Diana's eyes instantly hardened into a ferocious glare of outrage and defiance. Aventia could see what she was thinking; it was written all over her face. 'How dare they not choose me!'
Aventia was momentarily upset that she hadn't won, but she was very happy for Marshall, and even happier that Diana wasn't going to be the next Breadmaster.
She went over to the little Grundo, who was blinking back tears of joy, and put her arms around him.
"Congratulations, Marshall. You deserved it!"
He smiled and stuttered a thank you, but he generally seemed at a loss for words. Soon the Grundo was engulfed in a crowd of well-wishers, his family by his side and Aventia shuffled away.
Downhearted, Aventia and her mother left the arena. Florence kept trying to cheer her up, but despite the pride she felt from competing in the final, she still felt as though her dream had just slipped through her grasp.
"Aventia!" called a squeaky voice from behind her.
She turned to see Marshall racing towards her, trying to catch up.
"What is it, Marshall?"
"I've just come from a discussion with the Breadmaster... I mean, the old Breadmaster, and he told me that they could do with another assistant there. I was thinking... that maybe, if you'd like to... I'd really like you to work with me," he said, hesitantly. "I know you wanted the top job, and this is only an assistant, but I thought..."
"I'd love to work with you, Marshall... I mean, Breadmaster," she cut in. "I'll take it!" she said with a grin.
Marshall's face lit up. "I'm so glad! It will be nice having someone there that I already know. Well, I guess I'll see you Monday morning then. 6 AM sharp."
Aventia nodded, watching her new boss run off. Her mother had been right all along; something good had come from this.