The doorbell sang the arrival of another customer. Preston looked up from the cupcake he was icing.
“Good morning, Mrs. Linton! In early today, come on over.”
“Morning dearie! Yes I am, lots to do today!” The middle aged woman strolled in wearing her neon-green t-shirt that read ‘Mommies of Vista Middle’ and Preston sighed inwardly. This outfit only meant one thing. She would need-
“I need two dozen vanilla and chocolate cupcakes with the raspberry icing, a lemon bread with white chocolate glaze, and as many Death-by-Chocolate cookies as you can spare.”
“Can do!” He smiled back at her, but she was already making eyes with the pastry display.
At the end of every month, Karen Linton came in the day of her PTA meeting for a large order to feed the other Mommies of Vista Middle. She never made the order beforehand, and though Preston had tried to prepare for her before, she always switched the order up just enough that he couldn’t guess it. Today it was the lemon cake. He thought she’d go for his new Orange Cream loaf. Luckily, he’d put a few lemons in the oven as well when he got in that morning. He rushed into the back kitchen.
“Maddie, man the front. I need to check these.”
Maddie, his sweet junior assistant, was elbow deep in a basin of cream cheese frosting. He noticed she had a little in her blond bangs. “The front? It’s barely 8am, no one’s coming in yet.”
“It’s PTA day.” He mumbled with his head halfway into the oven.
Maddie grimaced, “Linton. Alright fine, I’ll go make chit chat. And stop that. The oven has a window for a reason.”
Preston smiled at his lemon loafs as he heard Maddie’s voice jump a few pitches to greet Mrs. Linton. He pressed down slightly on the crusts, a slight bounce back and just the hint of crisp on the very top. Perfect, as usual.
With Mrs. Linton served and back out, Preston and Maddie could return to their biggest task of the day: Three wedding cakes sat waiting for icing and fondant and fruit-flowers and sugar sculptures and maybe some glitter if there was any left. He did not know how they could get them all done by the times they were to be picked up. And they absolutely had to be, not only so he wouldn’t have angry brides mobbing his shop, but also because they had to start on two more for the next day.
Not that he didn’t appreciate the business. When he’d first started Preston’s Pastries, there had not been very many orders at all. He survived on his local regulars, who upon discovering his red velvet crinkle cookies were to die for, had sworn allegiance to his bakery alone.
But then he’d applied to The Big Bad Bakeoff Show and made it. The show’s concept was a little unclear when he’d been flown out to California, so he was a bit surprised that he and the 12 other contestants had to be able to complete athletic challenges along with the baking. He’d raced through egg-covered mazes, dodged large beach balls colored like donut holes, and balanced on a beam shaped like a breadstick over a pool of “cannoli filling” that he was pretty sure had actually been shaving cream. But between his long legs and his fantastic buttercream, he’d made it to 6th place before a chocolate ganache didn’t set and he was sent home to Virginia.
When his wife Tammy met him at the airport, she kissed him and asked, “Should I tell you how proud I am first, or how many orders there are?”
And there had been many orders indeed. It seemed like all of the East Coast was driving into Fredericksburg to get a cake made by someone “famous”, and of course a dozen of the Death-by-Chocolate cookies, which had saved him from elimination during the show’s third week. He’d quickly hired Maddie, a recent college graduate who had a talent for icing, and begged Tammy to come in on the weekends. But as the weeks went on, and the orders didn’t slow, Tammy had graciously left her job at the high school and joined Preston in the kitchen permanently. Sometimes he felt terribly guilty about this, but when he saw her smiling at her improving sugary sculptures or planting a kiss of whipped cream on his cheek, he knew she couldn’t be too upset.
“Alright, so lime jam is ready for the margarita cake. What’s the chocolate cake need?”
Preston checked the order sheet and called back to Maddie, “Umm caramel cream on the bottom layer, raspberry on the second, caramel again on the top.”
“On it. The crumb coating is done on the black forest- I’m going to stick it in the fridge then it just needs piping.”
“And the roses.”
“Nope, lilies, they called this morning and changed.”
“Damn, alright, check that we have any lili-”
“Tammy’s picking some up on her way in.”
“Great, great, thank you.”
The doorbell sang again.
“Preston, we’ve gotta lock that thing until noon.”
He wiped uselessly at the colored-sugar stains on his fingers, “Not a bad idea.”
January’s especially cold temperatures were not slowing the customers even a bit. If anything, it drove them inside for seconds and thirds of his gingerbread macaroons and pomegranate short bread. There were so many customers today, Preston could have sworn someone had accidentally attached the doorbell to the second-hand of the clock. Tammy and her tray of dipped stroopwafels dodged him as he tried to escape back to the prep room to continue on the wedding cakes.
“Sorry love!” He called behind him.
“It’s alright, but you might have some ganache on your shirt now!” She called, then continued to refill the display case. Preston realized they’d been so busy, he had not seen when she’d come in. But there was evidence she had been there a while, as the Black Forrest cake Maddie had been working on stood completed with the fresh lilies speckled with gold sugar dust.
He made a mental note to treat his helpful wife to something special soon, and then returned to the quiet mind space required to ice a delicate lace across the waiting fondant.
“Yes thank you! Next week we’re rolling out the new season’s cookie flavor so be sure to stop by!” He heard Tammy call out and firmly lock the front door behind their last customer.
They had passed another daily test. With cookies and cannoli marching out the door constantly, they’d also managed to get the three wedding cakes handed off to event planners and Mother of the Brides without complaint. Preston had sent Maddie home just a minute ago to rest up and was finishing a crumb coat on a what would be a carrot cake covered in coconut snowflakes.
“Prezzi?” Tammy leaned against the door separating the front of house from the prep room and freezers.
“Mmm?” He wanted this layer perfect; it was the governor’s daughter getting married tomorrow and so a lot of eyes would be on this cake.
“Almost finished up? I locked the front, did the finance stuff.”
“Wow, that was fast.”
Tammy laughed, “Not really, love. We’ve been closed an hour.”
Preston lifted his gaze from the cake, “What? It’s been like 5 minutes…” but his watch said Tammy was right. He’d lost himself in the sugars again.
“Tammy, I’m so sorry. I was just thinking today that I need to do something big to make this all up to you.”
She wrapped her arms around him, nuzzled her face into his flour-covered apron, “Make what up to me?
“All this,” he gestured around the room, “it wasn’t your idea to open a bakery, to be covered in egg whites for the foreseeable future.”
“No,” she tilted her head and a sweep of her auburn hair fell across her face, “but it was my idea to marry you. And that was a good idea. So this must be too.”
“What did I do to deserve you?”
“Probs gave one of your marble loafs to either Cupid or Aphrodite in disguise.”
“Probably. And I know you love the store but something for just you, and I-”
“Preston.” She pulled away to look into his face. “You’ve already given me something.”
“Come on, Preston.” He saw her eyes shimmering with something unfamiliar, a little glow he hadn’t noticed running back and forth all day.
He stepped back, held her at arms length, “Don’t tease me, love. Are you? Are we?!”
She winked at him, “Looks like one more bun in the oven, Mr. Baker.”
“We’re PREGNANT?!” He picked her up, squeezed her, put her down, checked it was okay to squeeze her with a baby, picked her up, and squeezed her again.
“We have to celebrate!” He rubbed the back of his head, getting more icing in his hair, “I’ll make an angel food cake. No, a tiramisu! Wait, no more coffee for you- a sachertorte!”
Tammy laughed and tried to contain the whirlwind that was her husband, “No Prezzi, no, we don’t need any of that.” She turned him around and pressed her forehead against his. “Nothing special, just us.”
“I think we’re pretty special.”
“Yes, so we don’t need you to slave away at something fancy.”
He kissed her forehead, “Then what can I make you? This is amazing. I need to make something. Just tell me what I can make for you.”
She untied his apron, hung it on its hook. “How about we stop at the grocery on the way home, pick up some break-and-bake chocolate chip cookies, and some sparkling grape juice?”
“That… that sounds perfect.”
Simplicity (noun): 1. The quality or condition of being easy to understand or do. 2. The quality or condition of being plain or natural. 3. A thing that is plain, natural, or easy to understand.
Simple is sometimes best, don’t you think? I had this thought this morning. I was sitting on a couch, eating an egg and sausage burrito with my boyfriend, while we watched David In The Kitchen on QVC (which started out as a joke but now we love him and watch him every Sunday we’re together). We had been worried that we’d be bored all weekend because it was simply too cold to do anything, but we’d had a really good couple of days cooking and catching up on our movie list. He and I are always talking about the next adventure we’ll take- but a quiet weekend was absolutely lovely.
Simple is something I’m trying to focus on more in life. It’s so easy to let everything become complicated, whether it’s tasks at work or DIY projects at home, or even Preston’s 7 layer caramel chai Opera cake. And complicated is certainly good in some cases! Complications make things interesting and challenging. But simple is where the calm lies, and so I’m trying to seek out more spaces of that. Tammy wants to seek that space out for her and Preston, because although the beautiful complication that is now their very popular bakery is a success, all they really need for themselves is something simple to celebrate. I mean, don’t get me wrong- I like tiramisu as much as the next person (perhaps more. mmmmm espresso cream) but break-and-bakes will always have a special place in my heart.
Anyway, happy Sunday! I hope you all have an easy, simple week ahead of you!
If you aren’t obsessed with The Great British Bake Off, here are some bakery definitions from the story:
Sachertorte – A specific type of chocolate cake, or torte, invented by Austrian Franz Sacher in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich in Vienna, Austria. It is a chocolate sponge cake, with apricot jam, and dark chocolate icing. It is one of the most famous Viennese culinary specialties.
Stroopwafel – A waffle made from two thin layers of baked dough with a caramel syrup filling in the middle. Stroopwafels are popular in the Netherlands, and were first made in the city of Gouda.