My daughters have watched me write, seen me stare into space searching for the right word, seen me struggle with writer’s block, but have never actually read anything I have written. This is because, all my stories have had themes or language that is a little too “adult” for their consumption.
Well, I remedied that with this particular story. The theme was chocolate, and knowing how fond they are of chocolate and baking, I combined the two and came up with this. Not my best effort, but they were fantastically happy to read one of “Mummy’s stories”! 😉
“Ah…this boy will be the death of me! How many times do I have to show you how to temper chocolate?”
Wolfgang grabbed the bowl from Lukas and started to stir the heated chocolate with a reverence he rarely showed anything else.
Lukas barely suppressed a yawn. He had been coerced into another apprenticeship by his overbearing father, when all he wanted to do was join the military and travel around Europe.
“Now, make sure this cools at exactly the right temperature. I want the gloss on it preserved, do you understand?”
“Yes master”, he replied hastily. It wouldn’t do to lose this position as well.
With a last glower, Wolfgang walked out to serve his customers at the front.
Lukas set about cooling the chocolate with minimal concentration. His mind was on the stories Thomas had regaled him with the last time he’d been home. Stories of the wine and the women and the beautiful landscapes of Provence. He’d felt so envious, so useless, so tied down, it made him angry even to think of it.
“Working hard again Lukas?”, Lena giggled behind him.
He blushed furiously in response. Lena made most men nervous, but on him her effect was even more exaggerated. He knew she enjoyed teasing him in that flirtatious slant eyed way of hers. Her bosom seemed to spill out of her corseted top as she leaned over to look at his handiwork. He felt a sudden stirring as her hand brushed his as she gently took the bowl out of his hands.
“Not like this, you silly boy! Treat the chocolate as you would a lover. Pamper it, cajole it, make it do your bidding.”
He watched her in mild surprise. He had no idea she knew so much about chocolate. Her father certainly hadn’t taught her. In fact, if Wolfgang saw her here, he would have a fit.
“Lena, I think you should leave. Your father won’t approve.”
She looked at him and scowled. “When has he ever approved of anything I do? No matter. You carry on ruining good chocolate.”
With a flounce of her skirts, she was gone. Just in time as well. Wolfgang returned with barely suppressed excitement emanating off his normally grouchy person.
“I have news. Big news! The Prince has several important guests visiting next fortnight. All the chefs in town have been assigned the task of creating the most delectable dessert. The winner will not just pocket a 1000 gulden, but might also oust the head chef off his lofty perch. Can you imagine, boy? The glory…the wealth…”, he sighed in happiness.
Then he looked at Lukas, and immediately frowned.
“No more fooling around, do you hear? This is serious business. We need to get started straight away. I must create a Torte so exquisite, so divinely delicious that it will leave all competitors trailing. Lukas, I could be famous, and rich, if I win. No, no, wipe that look off your face. If you help me create this cake, I will reward you handsomely. I may even give you your freedom…”
At this, Lukas’ ears perked up. He peered at Wolfgang uncertainly.
“Yes, you heard me. A nice little sum of money, and you can go on your travels. I will intercede with your father. But only,” he raised his hand, “if you work hard, and put your heart and soul into this.”
Lukas nodded vigorously, too overcome to say anything.
The next few days went by in a flurry of activity. Wolfgang was forever weighing or measuring or putting down notes in his little black book. Business carried on as usual, but both Lukas and Wolfgang toiled well above their normal hours of work.
A week away from the event though, Wolfgang did not appear in the kitchen. Lukas found him sitting by the fireplace shivering violently.
” I am sick, boy”, he announced despondently. The blanket slipped off his shoulders and he doubled up in pain. Lena came in with a hot broth, and spooned it into her father’s mouth.
“Lukas, shut the Konditorei today. Father is in no condition.”
“No”, he shouted, between spasms. “No…..you must carry on as normal. No one must know I am sick. We have to compete…I cannot fail now…”, he fell back into the chair exhausted.
Lukas and Lena exchanged looks.
“Yes, father. You rest. Lukas can work on the recipe, and I can assist him.”
At this Wolfgang scowled with such an intensity, he seemed almost well.
“I will not have my daughter parading around the kitchen, and flaunting herself before the customers….You….you stay out of his way….The boy will do it….he has my notes….”
Lukas backed out slowly, wondering what on earth he was going to do. Wolfgang was patently too unwell, and Lukas had neither the expertise nor the experience to create this decadent dessert.
The answer came soon enough. Lena entered the kitchen with her apron on, a determined look on her face.
“Before you say anything Lukas, you and I both know that you are incapable of realising my father’s ambition. Whereas I am.” She smiled slowly, “He need never know. You can take all the credit. I don’t mind.”
“Why do it then Lena? Your father will be livid if he finds out.”
“I’m doing it for love”, she quipped enigmatically. “Right then, where are father’s notes?”
She perused them quickly. Lukas couldn’t help but note how lovely she looked. She looked up at him, and laughed, ” No funny business Lukas. I am the boss’ daughter after all.”
Wolfgang had nothing on Lena though. She was a slave driver. Lukas had never felt quite as wrung out as he did at the end of the day. They had sifted the flour, they had melted the chocolate, they had separated the egg whites from the yolks, they had stirred, they had mixed, they had ground. On and on and on they’d gone. All this while he dealt with the customers at the shop front too.
At last they were ready to bake the torte.
“Can I ask you something Lena?”
“There were no ground almonds in your father’s recipe?”
“I know”, she said quietly, turning her back on him, ” Come in early tomorrow to help me ice the torte”.
Finally it was done and it was exquisite. A three tiered torte beyond compare. The ganache glistened on the surfaces like polished mirror. Chocolate curlicues formed an arabesque pattern, swirling gently around the torte, seeming almost to embrace this otherworldly confection.
Lukas stood back, awed at what he’d helped create. Never in his life had he seen something quite so seductively tantalising.
“You are a genius!”, he exclaimed.
“No, you are the genius. Don’t forget. I have done nothing to help you.”
Wolfgang had been improving steadily, and starting to notice Lena’s absences. On the day before the public unveiling of the competitors’ creations, he hobbled into the kitchen.
“Well? Where is it? What are you putting out in front of the Prince, in my name? I tell you now boy, if it is not good enough, we are not entering the competition. I do not want to lose the few loyal customers I have.”
Lukas led him to the torte. It stood in a cool corner of the kitchen, serenely magnificent. Wolfgang stopped in his tracks. He seemed to be lost for words. He circled the creation, leaned forward to sniff it, and then stood back quickly almost hitting his head on the low ceiling.
“ You did this….from my recipe?”
“I see”, Wolfgang looked at him. “Well then, it seems I have underestimated your talents. I will be happy for this to be entered in my name.”
The square was buzzing with excitement the next day. The Prince was due to arrive any moment. Fanciful creations jostled with plainer counterparts while the chefs stood by, eying each other’s handiwork with envy or disdain. Wolfgang and Lukas stood quietly by their own torte. It didn’t scream or shout out in garish colours. It reached out in a muted whisper: to entice, to beguile.
The Prince stood quite enchanted. “May I?”, he asked, reaching for a fork. A look of pure ecstasy passed over his face as he tasted the first mouthful. A murmur ran through the crowd. Quite clearly, a winner had declared itself.
Lena lingered by the window, and as she saw a lone familiar figure making its way home, she rushed downstairs.
“Father?”, Lena ran up to Wolfgang concerned.”Where is Lukas? What happened? Why are you alone?”
“Lukas is gone”, he sat down heavily.
“Why? What…what happened?”
“Well, we won, of course.”
A bemused look came over his face and he beckoned her over. He held her hands in his own, turning them over, examining her long delicate fingers.
“Well, my beautiful talented girl. Are you ready to do it all over again?”
Lena smiled with pure happiness, and buried her face in her father’s chest.