Baking à la Disaster!
"E-excuse me? H-how many cakes did you say you needed?"
"Six hundred. One for every issue! And we need them by say, tomorrow. No problem for a master baker like yourself, surely?" The Zafara smiled.
He was the editor of the Neopian Times, and seated across from him was the "master baker" in question, a young Royal Korbat by the name of Graciaa. Her mother, Clariana, was a master baker and pastry chef, and was renowned for her skill in making all things sweet and delicious. Graciaa, on the other hand, was clumsy, forgetful and couldn't bake to save her life.
Last week, her mother had gone to bake in the kitchens of King Altador, leaving her in charge of her mother's bustling bakery in the heart of the ancient city of the same name. Thankfully, her mother had pre-prepared enough cakes for her to sell. All she had to do was cook them, and aside from the occasional burnt biscuit or charred cupcake, she had done alright. Alright, that is, until the editor of the Neopian Times had come to her asking for a whopping 600 cakes, pies and pastries to celebrate the 600th anniversary issue.
"T-tomorrow? I don't think I can manage that, honestly. I think you've made a mistake -" she began, barely able to get out a few words before being interrupted.
"Nonsense! With your skills, I should think this will be a walk in the park! I'll leave this list here with you - it's a list of all the cakes we'll need for tomorrow. Don't miss a single one - not that I need to worry, of course!" the Zafara laughed, dismissing her with a wave of his hand. Leaving the rather hefty scroll he had with him on her desk, he was out the room before she had time to stop him.
With a sigh, she slumped in her chair, and looked up at the clock. It had just turned 9 o'clock in the morning, and her day was already ruined. Pulling open the curtains to let in some sunlight, she reached for the scroll the Zafara had given her. Unfortunately, her grip wasn't quite tight enough and she dropped it onto the floor, where it promptly unravelled itself, rolling across the varnished floorboards and out of her office. The list was tremendously long! She groaned, leaning down to pick it up and see just how much trouble she was in.
"White Weewoo Truffle Cheesecake... Mynci Banana Cupcake Surprise... Tchea Fruit Soufflé... Coco Juppie Trifle Supreme... I've never even heard of these before!" She whimpered, suddenly regretting taking care of the restaurant. There was only one thing for it; she would have to go see her mother.
A quick snack and a cup of Borovan later, she pulled on her coat, turned the sign on the door to "closed" and headed out to Exquisite Ambrosia. The town was bustling with activity, and she had to fight her way through crowds of excited Neopians. Her mother's cooking appeared to have attracted quite the crowd! She made her way to the entrance, but was stopped by a rather portly Elephante. "Back of the line lady!" he snorted, pushing her away from the door.
"But I have to get in! It's of vital importance!"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm sure. I've been waiting for 6 hours to taste Clariana's cooking, and I ain't about to let some nobody cut in front of me. BACK OF THE LINE!" he trumpeted, sending her flying. Brushing herself off with a "Well, I never!", she took a step back to see just how far back the line went, and immediately regretted it. The line snaked down the street, round the corner and out of sight.
"Looks like I have no choice... I'm going to have to actually try and cook!"
After pushing her way back through the crowds, including a particularly disappointed looking group of alien Aishas, she slammed the door of her mother's bakery behind her and slumped onto the floor, exhausted. "Ugh... I don't even know where to start..." She sighed. Picking up the scroll, she scanned through the list of cakes. "Let's see... there's a hundred and fifty recipes here... that means... four of each" She muttered, leafing through various recipe books and scrolls and setting aside everything she needed. By the time Graciaa was done, she was surrounded by stacks of books, all of them crammed with bookmarks and loose scraps of paper. "This is going to take forever... may as well get started!" She huffed, rolling up her sleeves and feeling strangely confident. "I can do this!"
Four hours later, at 9pm NST, she was sitting on the floor, covered in flour, eggshells, vanilla beans and goodness knows what, crying her eyes out over the latest tray of burnt soufflés. The kitchen reeked of burnt sugar and pastry, and smoke was billowing out the window. "I can't do this. I just can't!" She sniffed, wiping the tears out of her eyes. She'd made a mess of everything. Her mother's reputation would be ruined! She was sure the Neopian Times would write a rather scathing article about her failure, and that would be that!
Just as she considered running away to Mystery Island, she heard a knock at the door. "We're closed!" She coughed, waving away the smoke in the kitchen. Whoever it was hadn't heard her, as she heard the familiar tinkle of the shop's door. "Hell-o?" piped a small voice. Spluttering, she stumbled out of the kitchen, yelling; "I said we're closed! Go away!" She gagged, silently cursing herself for not locking the door.
It was the alien Aishas from earlier, and they looked rather excited. "Sorry! But, that smell! Oh, that smell! It's delicious! It's superb! Magnificent!" they drooled. "Whatever that smell is, we have to have it!" they gurgled, and before she could stop them, the group rushed past her, and began feasting on her rather suspect cooking. All except one, that is. A rather forlorn Aisha stood by the door, holding a tray of what looked like cheesecake slices. "What's wrong with you?" Graciaa asked, approaching the miserable little fellow.
"I entered the annual Alien Aisha Bake Off... I came last, my food was terrible..." he murmured, eyes watering slightly.
"Can... can I try some?" she asked, feeling bad for the little chef. She knew exactly how it felt to be a miserable failure in the kitchen.
"If you really want to... I warn you, it's terrible!"
Wiping the flour from her hands and trying to ignore the crashing sounds coming from the kitchen, she carefully took a bite of the cheesecake-like dessert. Her eyes opened wide, and her mouth felt like it was going to EXPLODE! It was delicious! Possibly even the nicest thing she'd ever tasted.
"Oh.. oh WOW!" she squealed excitedly. "That's incredible!"
Suddenly, it all made sense... the way the aliens loved her burnt food, and the fact the little chef's amazing cheesecake had come last... Aisha's LOVED gross food, so of course his incredible cakes would come last! And as she realised this, a sneaky idea came into her head.
"Hey! Aliens!" She smiled, trying her best to look angry as she stormed into the kitchen. "I hope you intend to pay for all that gourmet food you ate!"
The aliens panicked, muttering to each other, patting pockets and gesturing madly to each other.
"We er... we don't... have any money," one of them coughed shyly, as they tried to avoid eye contact.
"In that case, your friend here will have to stay tonight and cook for me to make up for it!" She grinned.
They shared a few looks, before smirking and nodding. "Alright! He's all yours!" they chorused. Filing out of the kitchen, they waved goodbye to their friend and slammed the door behind them. "So... what's your name?"
"Oula! Why did you want me to stay and cook? I'm a terrible cook!"
"Nice to meet you Oula, I'm Graciaa. And you might think your cooking is terrible, but I need your help..."
She sat down and explained to him what was wrong, about the insane amount of desserts she needed, about her own cooking failures and the terrible risk her mother's reputation and bakery. Oula sat, mulling it over. "You really think my desserts will be good enough? That I can cook?"
"Yes, yes absolutely! Please, I need your help. I can't do this without you, Oula!"
He sat, humming and thinking to himself, his antennae twitching. After what seemed like an age, he finally nodded.
"Alright. I'll help. Show me what you need me to cook!"
The next day...
Covered in burns, and very nearly late for the party, Graciaa and Oula delivered the cakes. They had stayed up all night, and spent 3 hours cleaning, but she had done it. Her mother's reputation was secured and the Neopian Times 600th anniversary bash was a success!
"Well done dear girl!" roared the editor, the jolly Zafara giving her a bone crushing hug. "You did fantastically - just as expected!"
Graciaa blushed, smiling at Oula, who was standing and absolutely glowing with pride as the guests consumed his delicious cooking with vigour and delight. She winked at him, and he smiled. She might get the credit for his incredible cooking, but that didn't bother him. He was too happy that someone actually appreciated his food.
"Now..." coughed the Zafara, his tone becoming more business-like, "I'd like to take some pre-orders for our 1200th anniversary..."