Remember how I said that I was in the mood for some fall baking? Well, I managed to get some of those pumpkin and cinnamon cravings out of my system this last weekend. On Saturday morning, my fiancé and I whipped up a batch of pumpkin pie crepes. I can’t think of a better way to start an autumn day than with pumpkin pie. I imagine we’ll try the recipe again, and when we do, I’d like to doctor up the filling with a bit more sugar for an extra touch of sweetness. Of course, we added whipped cream to ours, because that’s just the proper way of doing things.
And since I’ve been on a baking kick, I thought I would go ahead and share a short story I wrote a year ago. It’s not overly polished or anything, but I’ve been told by readers that it makes them hungry. I’m all about sensory detail.
The Center of Maple View
The bakery on the corner of Arlington Ave. and Maple View was simply called Brielle’s, because it was. It belonged to Brielle, and so it was called.
A block away, on the corner of Maple View and Main, was another bakery. This bakery was called Divinity, because it was divine, and the original owner, Mira Fadely, had been as well. Currently, it was Chet Fadely who ran Divinity in his late wife’s stead.
Brielle unlocked the alleyway door to her bakery at precisely 4:00 am. A block away, Chet Fadely did the same. The woody smell of bread crust, like newly barked landscaping, vented from the laboring ovens and met somewhere in the center of Maple View to beckon traffic to one end of the street or the other.
The graveyard shift dismissed themselves as soon as Brielle arrived. She took over where they had left off coaxing the eggy dough into tight, cinnamon-stuffed spirals. Brielle and her staff baked dozens of mammoth cinnamon rolls every morning. They were consistently gone by 9:30 am. Cinnamon roll enthusiasts regularly rapped their knuckles on the glass door ten minutes before opening time and looked incredulous when Brielle pointed to her watch.
This morning, Brielle frowned at the glass door. “Elly, did you wash the window?”
Elly, who helped open shop every morning, replied, “I did last night.”
“Not this morning?”
Elly’s quirky hair looked like it had been cut with pinking shears. “No.”
Brielle approached for closer inspection. “No nose prints.”
“No one’s been by yet.”
Elly shook her head.
Brielle rolled her shoulders and canted her chin up. It was a cloudy morning with a cool-ish breeze. Brielle stood on the sidewalk beneath the shop’s awning and tested the air.
From her bakery, there were aromatic hints of brown sugar crystals, mildly cloying cream cheese, and an underlying wheat binder that tied all the scents together. Chet’s bakery also claimed some fine cinnamon rolls. The two businesses had been rivals for years. Although they both sold the same product, Brielle could locate by the delicate tip of her nose just where the rich, homemade smells of her rolls met the edgier, cinnamony-er vibes of his in the center of Maple View.
Presently, however, her nose was alarmed with an unexpected tang. Brielle turned circles, accusing the brash autumn trees with her eyes. When they refused to surrender their secrets, she removed her apron, told Elly she would be back, and walked the block to Divinity.
As she drew closer, she became claustrophobic with the crowds, noise, and smell. She could hear the cash register like a chipper, percussive heartbeat from within. A multitude of elbows and shoulders fit together like cogs, with customers rotating around the tables, chairs, and display cases. Brielle looked in the window and sniffed again.
Orange rolls. A woman in a pencil skirt was unwinding hers as she stepped onto the sidewalk. That was the way Brielle liked to eat them too: layer by layer.
The orange rolls were glazed with an orange zest syrup. The cinnamon was omitted in favor of tarter, more startling ingredients. Brielle’s sold nothing like that.
Brielle noticed Chet Fadely staring at her from within the bakery. She took a step back from the window, dusted herself, and walked the block back to her own, emptier, shop.
“He’s done it,” Brielle told Elly. “He’s found one of Mira’s old recipes and he’s resurrected it. We’re going to have to do something; that place is a madhouse.”
It had been a while since Divinity had presented any kind of a threat to Brielle’s. Since Mira’s death, the business had been fairly stagnant. Brielle and Elly both agreed that there was certainly nothing wrong with a little healthy competition.
The next day, drivers unrolled their windows mid-block on Maple View. To the west, bright, citrusy fingers beckoned like a lady with manicured nails: sharp and glossy. Next, the drivers extended their heads out their windows, sampling the scents from the east. Although they expected the nostalgic cloud of cinnamon rolls rising, they were met with surprise. Intrigued, they pulled over and hurried to the Brielle’s storefront.
Brielle called them “Good Morning Tarts.” Essentially, they were personally-sized key lime pies with a buttery biscuit crust. Sugar granules about the edges added sparkle. Customers slickened the display cases with their open palms. Around 9:30, when the last of the tarts were leaving with a soccer mom, Brielle spotted Chet Fadely eyeing her through the front door.
Chet came in. “What are you all making in here?”
“A lot of money,” said Elly.
Brielle asked her to go check the crescents. She cleared her throat. “How are the orange rolls?”
“Very popular. Yesterday.” Chet straightened a canted table centerpiece.
“Can I get you anything?”
“I had an orange roll this morning.”
“Well . . . can I do something for you?”
He eyed the light fixture. “It smells like lime.”
Brielle tightened her ponytail. “It is. But sorry. We’re out.”
“We made enough orange rolls to last until noon yesterday.” Chet was pacing about the empty bakery, picking up sugar packets and putting them back. “We made just as many today.”
Brielle started wiping down the counter. She was pleased that they had sold the Good Morning Tarts so quickly. She was equally pleased that Divinity had not seen the same success it had the day before.
“I saw you yesterday,” said Chet.
“Yeah. I just wanted to see what the fuss was about,” said Brielle. “Is it one of Mira’s?”
“The recipe. Is it one of Mira’s?”
Chet stepped aside as a flustered intern breezed by him with a list of confectionary demands from his coworkers. Brielle tended to the young man, filling paper bags with apple and cherry streusels. As soon as he had paid, Chet said, “No, actually. It was one of mine.”
Brielle tried not to look surprised, but failed. “Oh. I didn’t know that you . . . baked.”
It was common knowledge that all the treats Divinity produced were culinary inventions of their previous owner. Since Mira’s passing, it was up to the employees to keep the traditions alive, although no one had ventured into expanding the repertoire of baked goods. Unlike the situation at Divinity, Brielle considered herself to be fairly confident in the kitchen. She frequently created delicious prototypes and sold them as limited edition treats to her customers until they had gained a large enough fan base to become regular stock. Brielle’s menu was constantly evolving.
“I’ve been working on it for weeks now,” said Chet. “I finally got to the point that I thought I could sell them. People liked them.”
“Those tarts,” said Chet, motioning toward the “Daily Special” written on the whiteboard. “You just made those up.”
“Yeah. Last night. Elly helped.”
Chet had his hands in his pockets. He was chewing on his tongue. He looked tired. “Back to the drawing board, I guess.” He nodded to himself, and turned to the door.
After Chet left, Brielle took a pencil and a napkin to the counter. She began jotting down some ideas for an orange roll recipe. She could create a bestseller in one night. Mira could have done the same. Suddenly unhappy with herself, she crumbled the napkin.
The next day, Brielle only stocked enough of the Good Morning Tarts to last them until 7:45. They went quickly. Then, Brielle asked Elly to man the desk.
She followed her nose to Divinity. The crowds were moderate. It took just over five minutes for Brielle to reach the front of the line. Chet blinked twice.
“I’d like to try one of your orange rolls,” said Brielle.
Chet watched her as she took a seat at a booth by the window. Brielle began unwinding the roll, sampling the crispier edges first and saving the gooey center for last.
“What do you think?” asked Chet, wiping his hands abashedly.
Brielle considered the contribution of nutmeg to the filling and vanilla bean paste to the glaze. They were tantalizing prospects. The roll was so close to being divine, and Brielle knew that if she were allowed to tinker with it, she could get it all the way there. But the way Chet was standing, with the weight on the balls of his feet, Brielle guessed that Chet neither wanted nor needed any suggestions.
“It’s good. I wish we made something like this at Brielle’s.”
Chet smiled, and Brielle knew that they were both thinking that there really was nothing wrong with a little healthy competition.