Exercising the craft—April 7, 2014

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: Kitchen conflict—A baker discovers a secret ingredient for cupcakes, but the recipe has unexpected consequences. What is in the cupcakes? How does the recipe affect the baker’s customers? How does the discovery change the baker’s future? Use secondary characters to create conflict in the kitchen.



Shannon grunted as she lifted the cardboard box onto the counter.  Before she reached for the box cutter in the drawer to her right, she took a moment to read the label again.

Product of Corsica.  I hope this does the trick.  I don’t want to lose the store.

She inhaled slowly and let it out just as slowly.  Her bakery’s sales hadn’t reached the red—yet—and she would do anything to help that graph start tracking upward again.  Things had gone so well when she’d opened Sweets, Now! three years earlier.  And then the large chain grocery store had started offering some treats suspiciously similar to hers.

She felt torn.  Should she consider it a compliment?  She could have, except that people found the prices more palatable at the grocery store.  It helped that they could pick up dessert and boxed dinners all in the same place.

This has got to do it.  Who cares if it’s gimmicky?

Shannon pulled out the box cutter and sliced open the tape.  She read through the invoice twice and then reached into the box and pulled out the jar closest to her.  After examining its contents under the fluorescent light of the bakery, she walked to the window and held up the jar in the light of the sun.  The honey glowed golden.

All right, honey from Corsica.  Let’s see what kind of magic we can pull off.

She pulled out the ingredients for her coconut cupcakes and started sorting and then sifting the dry ingredients.  Lost in thought, her hand drifted toward the sugar when she suddenly realized she’d decided to substitute.  Normally Shannon played the ingredient purist to the hilt, but she knew she had to change that.  She mixed all of the ingredients and put the tester batch into the oven.  While she waited she checked her email for the tenth time in the last two hours, hoping desperately for some online orders.  None had come.

The timer pinged, and Shannon grabbed a toothpick and a potholder.  She opened the oven, stepped back a second to let the heat out, and then gently took hold of the tray.  She tested a couple of cupcakes and, satisfied they had baked all the way through, put the tray on the counter.

She eased a cupcake out of the tray.  When she took a few bites, Shannon felt taken aback.  She hadn’t expected the overall flavor to change so much by including the honey, and she didn’t taste it, per se, but somehow it enhanced every other ingredient.  Suddenly Shannon felt an overwhelming urge to sit down and just indulge every single bite.  With the store due to open after a half hour, she knew she could take a few minutes to eat.  But something inside made her want to forget about those thirty minutes and even the time after that.

Shannon finished the cupcake and licked her fingers.  She stared at the liner on the table and began picking out the crumbs.  When she’d managed to extract even the smallest one, she stared hard at the paper and wished she could just spend the rest of the day sitting in the chair at the small round table.

A knock roused her from her thoughts, and she turned to the front door.  A woman smiled and waved from the other side.  Shannon got up to unlock the door, but she didn’t sprint as she normally would.  She took her time and felt each footstep connect with the floor.

“Hi!” the woman said.  “Are you open yet for the day?”

Shannon smiled.  “Yes.  I was just taking a minute to enjoy my latest baked treat.  Would you like a sample?  It’s free.”

“Great.  And could I have a dozen of those éclairs in the case to go?”

“Sure,” Shannon said.  She continued with her measured pace around the counter and picked out another cupcake.  “Here, try this while I box up the éclairs.”

The woman glanced at her watch and reached for the cupcake.  “Thanks.  If you don’t mind, I’m in a little bit of a hurry.  I’m supposed to bring the éclairs in to a meeting, and—”

She paused for a bite, and her demeanor changed.  Shannon watched her carefully and realized that the customer felt the same slowdown of time.  The woman’s chewing got slower and slower with every bite, and she began smiling contentedly between each one.

“I’ll have those éclairs right out for you,” Shannon reassured her, preparing one of her bakery boxes.

“Oh…well, there’s really no rush.  I’ve got a few minutes.”

Shannon took her time making sure she picked up each éclair as carefully as possible with the tongs and then positioning it in the box.  When she put down the first layer of six, Shannon took out a cardboard base to divide the half dozen from the second set of six.  She prided herself on the small choices she’d made in offering her products to her customers.  Most bakeries just put down wax paper between layers of pastries.  Shannon made sure her customers got pastries that didn’t get squished.

She took a few moments to examine her handiwork and then put in the rest of the éclairs.  The woman had finished the cupcake several minutes earlier, but she watched Shannon.  When Shannon looked at her, the woman smiled.

“Thank you so much for taking your time with this,” she said.  “I really appreciate it.”

“My pleasure,” Shannon said.  She took her time standing up and then handing the woman the box.  She strolled to the cash register and punched in the order, taking a moment to press each button.  She told the woman the total and then waited for her to take out a credit card—she took a few moments to select the one she really wanted to use—and then processed the order.

“There you go,” Shannon said, beaming.  She handed over the receipt and the box.

“Thank you,” the woman said.  “And thank you for the cupcakes.  Are they going to be on sale soon?”

Shannon looked at the tray and thought about it.

What could I call them?  ‘Savor the cake’ cupcakes?  ‘In the moment’ cupcakes?

“Yes,” Shannon finally responded.  “But it might be a few days.  Would that be okay?”

“Perfectly fine,” the woman said right away.  “They’re worth waiting for.”

Shannon nodded.  She knew she had found the key to saving the bakery.  All she needed to do was take her time with it.

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