Read The Bake-Off Online

Authors: Beth Kendrick

The Bake-Off (35 page)

“Yeah, I've been thinking about that, and I can always work weekends at the blackjack tables in Atlantic City.” Linnie suddenly sounded too casual, almost cagey. “I could make decent tip money if I act cheerful and friendly and, you know, pretend to be you. Plus, Kyle swears he's going to pay me back a hundred dollars a month for the next thirty-three years.”
“Uh-huh.” Amy could tell there was a
but
coming.
“But I was doing some research last night, and it turns out there's a gingerbread house competition in Virginia every Christmas, and the winner gets fifty grand.”
Amy backed away from the table. “No.”
“Then there's the annual chicken cook-off in Chicago every summer for a hundred thousand dollars, and a cookie challenge in Texas worth almost a quarter of a million.”
“Linnie. We're pie pariahs. We're the new Tai and Ty.”
“So what? We can't go back to Delicious Duet, but we're still legally eligible for other competitions. It's not like the Olympics; there's no International Baking Federation to ban us for life. Let everyone gossip. Let them judge us. You and I both know that our szarlotka was good enough to win. All we have to do is win one big competition a year. I could pay my tuition; you could buy Brandon a dental practice.”
Amy kept shaking her head, even though she felt her resolve weakening. “Didn't you learn anything from the fiasco we just went through?”
“Yes, I learned everything I need to know to make sure we win the next one.” Linnie's brown eyes sparkled. “Come on, Amy. We can do it. You know we can. Let's look right now—what kind of cookie recipes did Grammy have stashed away?”
“You're a bad influence.”
“A bad influence who's going to help you put your kids through college with chocolate-chip cookies.”
“Hang on; let me get the box.” Grammy had brought over her recipe box when they embarked on their multigenerational baking marathon a few weeks ago. “These are more valuable than any jewelry,” Grammy had told them, holding the battered tin box as if it were a gem-studded gold coffer. “All of these recipes have also been passed on from my grandmother and her grandmother.”
Amy flipped through the yellowed, dog-eared index cards. “We need to transcribe these and laminate the originals,” she said.
“They're going to disintegrate if we keep handling them.”
“Didn't she organize these at all?” Linnie peered over Amy's shoulder. “At least she should have alphabetized them, or grouped them by main course versus dessert.”
“Wait, we definitely need this one.” Amy located the card labeled
Swiateczny
. When she tried to extract it, the card remained lodged in the box. “It's stuck.”
“Well, don't rip it,” Linnie cautioned. “If we're careful, we can probably separate it from whatever card it's stuck to.”
At that moment, the card came loose, along with a small bundle of tissue paper.
“What the hell?” Amy and Linnie unwrapped the tissue to reveal the platinum-and-diamond brooch, along with the claim ticket from the pawnshop and a note in Grammy Syl's feminine script:
L—
 
Your hands are fast, but my eyes are faster. You can't fool a fooler, darling.
XX, Grammy
 
P.S. Add two teaspoons of vanilla to the szarlotka filling.
“She knew,” Linnie breathed. “She must have seen the claim ticket the morning we came back from the drunk tank.”
“She always did love to have the last word.” Amy picked up the brooch and held it up for inspection. The intricate grooves carved into the platinum were a bit grimy, but the cognac diamonds glittered with an inner fire. “But how'd she get this back?”
“Who knows? Maybe she wired the pawnbroker the money and had him send it to her. Maybe she had a crony in Vegas to do her bidding. The real question is, If she knew about all this the whole time, and she knew she was getting the brooch back, why did she let us fly to Vegas and then grovel for forgiveness in her kitchen? To torture us? To teach us a lesson?”
“To bring us together,” Amy said softly.
“See? I rest my case. She wanted us to keep baking as a team. Her recipes are our inheritance, and this Christmas cake is a masterpiece. It's just selfish not to share it with the world.” Linnie picked up the canister of raisins and rolled it between her palms. “Although I've been thinking. I know that Grammy used raisins soaked in hot water, but they might taste even better if we mix in a little bourbon.”
“I don't know.” Amy nibbled her lip. “Should we really be tampering with perfection?”
“Nothing's so perfect I can't improve it just a little bit.”
“Spoken like a future neurosurgeon.”
“Hey, people can say a lot of things about the pair of us, but they can no longer claim we can't bake. This cake is going to taste delicious, thanks to me; it's going to look exquisite, thanks to you; and it's going to keep Grammy right here with us while we figure out what comes next.” Linnie spooned raisins onto the food scale and did the mental conversion from cups to ounces in her head. “We're Bialek girls. We have a reputation to uphold.”
“A reputation for starting scandals, breaking rules, and making scenes.” Amy laughed. “At least we're not boring.”
“Exactly. We stick together and get things done. And if anyone else has a problem with that . . .”
Amy set the oven to three fifty, affixed Grammy's antique brooch to her apron, and finished Linnie's sentence for her. “Let them eat cake.”
Grammy Syl's Christmas Eve Cake
ANNOTATED BY LINNIE BIALEK
SUGGESTED SOUND TRACK: Tchaikovsky's
Nutcracker Suite,
Bing Crosby's
White Christmas
Ingredients:
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup dried cranberries
Boiling water
½ cup Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced
½ cup grated orange peel
¾ cup finely chopped walnuts
2 ½ cups flour (set aside 2 tablespoons of this)
2 tablespoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups powdered sugar
5 eggs
1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 tablespoons vodka, plus an extra splash for the hot water
Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
 
Butter and flour a glass baking pan, 9 x 13 inches.
 
Prep the fruit filling
 
Combine the golden raisins and dried cranberries in a bowl. Bring water to a boil and submerge the dried fruit. Spike the hot water with vodka or brandy as desired.
 
Peel and cut up the apple into quarter-inch cubes, then grate the orange and lemon peel. Better yet, convince your baking partner to do all this while you put on some festive holiday music.
 
Set aside 2 tablespoons of flour.
 
After the dried fruit plumps up, drain the mixture.
 
Combine the raisins, cranberries, chopped walnuts, apple pieces, and grated orange peel with the 2 tablespoons of flour. Set aside the lemon peel for the cake batter.
 
Make the cake batter
Sift together the remaining flour, salt, and baking powder.
 
Attempt to stop your baking partner from changing the music to Run-DMC's “Christmas in Hollis.”
 
Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat together the eggs and powdered sugar on high speed for 2 minutes.
 
Using a stand mixer, beat together the butter, lemon peel, and vanilla.
 
Add the vodka to the butter mixture and resume mixing.
 
Slow down the mixer to stirring speed and pour in the egg mixture.
 
Stop the mixer and add the flour mixture at three to four intervals, mixing thoroughly between additions. (Mix just enough to combine all ingredients—do not overmix. Or else.)
 
Using a silicone spatula or large spoon, fold in the fruit filling, again mixing just enough to combine.
 
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until sides and top are golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
 
Try to dissuade your niece and nephew from changing music to “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” Give up, give in, and sing along at the top of your lungs.
 
After removing the cake from the oven, allow it to cool in the pan for 10–12 minutes. Run a knife edge between the cake edge and the pan; then turn the cake onto a wire rack and allow to finish cooling.
 
Once cake has cooled completely, store in an airtight container for 24–48 hours before serving. This allows the flavors to “muddle and mellow” (Grammy Syl's words, not mine) into rich, buttery perfection.
 
Serve with whipped cream or ice cream. Happy holidays!
Acknowledgments
Thank you to . . .
Susan Miller, Confectionista extraordinaire, who generously shared tales from the trenches of cooking competitions.
Pastry goddess Carol Blonder, who introduced me to the “Zen sport” of rolling pastry dough and gave me the courage to attempt piecrust from scratch.
Tai Burkholder, who said, “I'd be thrilled if you named a character after me! It could even be a villain!” Um, thank you and I'm sorry. I owe you a Costco-size pallet of Crystal Light.
Police officer Eric Whittington and Superior Court Judge Joseph Heilman, who answered my endless questions about jail, bail, and what a nice suburban girl has to do to get arrested on a school night.
Marc Reid and Ori Brown of the Marc Reid Salon, who dished about what it's really like on a photo shoot. When
Vogue
asks me to pose for the cover, I'll be calling you both to act as my glam squad.
Danielle Perez, my wonderful editor and late-night e-mail buddy, who shares my love for baked goods and high-maintenance dogs.
Christina Hogrebe and Meg Ruley, my amazing agents, for keeping me sane and gainfully employed. Because of you, my corporate dress code is fuzzy slippers and my coworkers are canine. Who could ask for anything more?
Beth Kendrick
is still mastering the Zen art of making piecrust, but she can whip up a decadent chocolate-cranberry cheesecake, and her chocolate-chip cookies have been described as “utopian.” Her previous novels include
Second Time Around
,
The Pre-nup
, and
Nearlyweds.
She lives in Arizona with her family and a pair of unruly rescue dogs. Visit her Web site at
www.BethKendrick.com
.
ALSO BY BETH KENDRICK
Second Time Around
 
The Pre-nup
 
Nearlyweds
 
Fashionably Late
 
Exes and Ohs
 
My Favorite Mistake

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