Saturday, December 22, 2012

Master Baker: A delicious story for Christmas

To all readers of A la mode frangourou, joyeux Noël and a happy New Year! And hope you enjoy this story of food, friendship, and French villages..

a story by Sophie Masson

In the tiny French village of Lézac, there once lived a baker called Madame Gabrielle. Out of her ovens came tiny tarts as bright as jewels, cream puffs soft as pillows, croissants like golden moons, pastry horns full of cream. Every morning, the street outside her little shop smelt of heaven! And every morning, the bell above her shop door tinkled on the minute, as the whole village of Lézac came to buy her bread and cakes.
First came Monsieur Malou, and his poodle Cachou, with red ribbon tied all round her ears. He always bowed, and smiled, and said weren't the days splendid--and, oh--Madame. . could he have a cream puff? For Cachou, of course, who had such a sweet tooth!
Then came Madame Touffu, who was dressed all in blue, with her broom and her mop and her scarf. "Oh, madame, madame, it's courage I need--for the floors are so hard and so worn! What do you suggest? Will you get me your best?" And Madame knew just what she meant. Into a bag went two large golden horns, filled and filled to the top with sweet cream. . .
Mademoiselle Celie, who taught at the school, came in blushing and smiling with joy. "Oh, Madame Gabrielle! Your shop smells so good! Can I have a croissant and a tart?"
There was Monsieur Mizette, who farmed pigs and geese; and Pere Robert, the priest, who made goat cheese as a hobby; there was Madame Lebrun, who played on the flute, and Monsieur Barru, who played all-day bowls. There were old ones and young ones and sour ones and bold ones. And children! Children! It was more than heaven, for children, that shop!
So Madame Gabrielle was happy as could be, with her cakes, her shop, her customers, and her cat, Titi. Until the day--oh, sad to say! when all her happiness went away.

One day she woke to the song of birds--and the thump of hammers, the whine of saws. And what should she see in the street straight across--but a signmaker, busily working on a new shopfront, at something which read, bold as you please: "Monsieur Henri's. . . Cakes ". That was all he had done, so far, but it was enough for madame Gabrielle. She dressed in haste and went outside all askew. Who was Monsieur Henri? What did he want here? The village could not have two bakers! She came in at the door, and this is what she saw:
A tall brown man in a bright red suit, balancing plates and pots in his hands. Such elegance, such style! He was all long legs and well-polished shoes, his suit was smart, his hair black and bright. Madame Gabrielle looked down for a moment at herself. Her feet, well-planted in heavy black shoes; her floury overall, her short strong legs. She touched her wild curly hair, and her insides all curled. She looked all around her, and she wanted to cry.
"You are madame Gabrielle?" the tall man said. "I am monsieur Henri. I am so pleased to meet you!"
"But not me, but not me!" said madame Gabrielle, and she turned on her heel out the door and went back to her shop.
All that day and that night, she looked in all kinds of books, and cooked and cooked and cooked. "I will not be beaten by a city baker!" she thought. "He will see, he will see, that monsieur wih his city ways!" Her customers said, when they came in the shop, "Have you seen, madame, what is happening, across the road?"
But Madame Gabrielle just pursed her lips and her face was all sour and all sad. She thought of monsieur Henri and his smart suits, and her insides burned. She would not look, she would not smile.

The next day, the people gasped as they came by madame Gabrielle's windows. Such a sight had never been seen before! Tiers of towering cakes, gigantic pies stuffed with plump fruit and marzipan monsters of all kinds of colours. And a huge chocolate cake, with a sugar-spun king in the centre.
The bell rang all day in the shop, but madame Gabrielle kept the door shut. She'd had no time to make tarts and croissants and cream puffs. She'd just made all those gigantic cakes, and she couldn't bring herself to sell them. Tired as she was, she could not help being glad that across the road, the tall brown man stood with his arms crossed, looking and looking. "There, that'll show him!" she thought, and went to bed happy.
The next day, madame Gabrielle could hardly drag herself out of bed, because she'd spent the night cooking still more. She rushed downstairs in her old plaid nightie, and looked across the street. Ah--it was all still shuttered and quiet! But there was a huge sign saying, "Grand Opening Tomorrow! Be There!"
Madame Gabrielle gritted her teeth. She gathered up the things she'd cooked, and put them in her window. Huge lacquered choux, glistening with caramel; eclairs as bright as lightning; and a wonderful piece indeed, a pastry drummer, drumming ceaselessly on a caramel drum. Crowds gathered, people pointed, looked, exclaimed. Not only were there people from the village, but people, too, from the neighbouring town. They milled, and swilled, but madame Gabrielle did not open her door. She stood, resolute, steely-eyed, staring across the street where not a movement was to be seen. Maybe, she thought hopefully, the city baker would realise it was no good, he would never beat her. . But an uneasy feeling crept in her, still--for perhaps he was simply biding his time, waiting, and he would have a fabulous, a wonderful window, and all the people would flock there! She turned and ran back to her kitchen, to think and plot and dream. Tomorrow she'd have a show to outstrip all shows, something so grand no-one would ever think to look in monsieur Henri's windows!
The next morning, there were huge crowds all gathered, and a buzz of talking and laughing. Reporters were there, and photographers with cameras. Both shops were silent and still--but across madame Gabrielle's windows, a great curtain was drawn across. WAIT AND SEE! said a sign on the curtain.
At precisely 9 o'clock, the curtain was drawn--and oh, how the crowd gasped!For there in the window was something so bold, so grand, that all they could do was look and look, their eyes as round as doughnuts. There, fair and square in the centre of the window, stood a fortress of pastry baked hard as brick, with gleaming caramel windows! And from the windows of the fortress peered a hundred soldiers, all sugar, with bows made of caramel and arrows made of ice.
"What a marvellous thing!" said the reporters and the photographers.
"A most stupendous thing!" said the people of the neighbouring town.
"A most exciting thing, " sighed Monsieur Malou, and madame Touffu, and mademoiselle Celie, and all the village, as they watched the baked-hard fortress, and the sickly-sweet soldiers, and their stomachs rumbled as loud as thunder.
Only the children stood and stared, and stared and stood, and finally one of them said, "Yes, it's marvellous, it's stupendous, but can you eat it?"
"Eat it?" said the reporters, the photographers, the townspeople and the villagers.
"Eat it?" said Madame Gabrielle, and on her face a frown grew and grew and grew. "Eat it? Why, child, that's a work of art, that is! Eat it, indeed!"
"But do you have a tart to sell?" said the child. "Oh, madame Gabrielle, one of your tarts!"
"Or a cream puff?" said Monsieur Malou, counting on his fingers. "It makes five days since I have eaten one of your cream puffs--I mean Cachou has not. And it makes her miserable!"
"A croissant, " sighed Mademoiselle Celie.
"A pastry horn, " moaned madame Touffu.
Madame Gabrielle looked at them for a while. "I have no time, " she said coldly. "No time for ordinary things. " She pointed across to monsieur Henri, who had come out from his silent, shuttered shop. "It is his fault, his alone! Why did he have to come here, and spoil everything?"
But Monsieur Henri smiled. His suit was vanilla today, a soft vanilla like icecream. "I, too, have an opening, today, " he said. With a quick, graceful movement, he drew away the curtain from across his shop window.
"Oh, " said the crowd. "Oh, ah, oh, " said the crowd.
Madame Gabrielle's mouth fell open, like a marzipan frog's. She stared at monsieur Henri's shop, at its glass shelves edged with gold, its rows of plates, its pure white curtains--and especially at its sign, written boldly in gold-leaf paint. She blinked.
"I tried to tell you, " said monsieur Henri. "I am not a baker. I do not like baking. I hate baking! I came here to open a teashop, because I had heard of your wonderful baking, and I thought you could make cakes for me. But then you wouldn't talk to me, and I was worried my dream would never happen!"
Madame Gabrielle looked at monsieur Henri. She looked at monsieur Henri's shop, where the new sign now flashed, in all its glory. Then she turned and looked at the fortress of pastry.
Everyone held their breath--the reporters, the photographers, the townspeople, the villagers. And especially the children!
"It is a marvellous thing, " madame Gabrielle said, nodding. "Oh, yes. But. . " and then she paused, and a slow smile came to her face. "But you'd crack your teeth on it!" She spread out her hands. "Well, monsieur Henri, a teashop must have cakes, if a teashop is to have customers! " She wiped her hands on her floury overall. "Cakes and tarts in two hours, everyone! At monsieur Henri's, of course!"
Well, the hubbub there was, the laughter, the shouting! People disgraced themselves, that day, never had Lézac seen the likes of it! And if you had peered through the windows of monsieur Henri's teashop, later that day, you'd have seen such a sight. Such a sight as was to set tongues wagging for a year and a day! Trays of cakes, of tarts, of cream puffs and croissants, rows of people, singing and smiling--and in the middle of it all, singing loudest of all--madame Gabrielle and monsieur Henri!
And if you'd been watching carefully, you'd have seen madame Gabrielle's glance going back time and time again to the sign that trailed its boldness across the front of the teashop:
Monsieur Henri's Teashop: Cakes and Tarts of Style, all made by Madame Gabrielle, Master Baker of Lézac!