Authors: A. Gardner
With great force, Destin cuts our baguette with a plastic knife. He then proceeds to spread a dollop of the creamy looking cheese in a plastic container onto his bread. It looks like goat cheese mixed with herbs. He slices a tiny tomato in half and takes a bite of his concoction. He looks up at the blossoming tree above us as he does, slowing falling back onto his elbows.
Dandre grabs two pieces of baguette and sandwiches two pieces of harder cheese in between. His first bite is followed by a giant crunch. He chews quickly, then pops a whole vine tomato in his mouth like it's a jumbo grape. I look down at my choices, grab a baguette, a random sample of cheese, and take a bite. The bread tastes sweeter than I expected, and it's a nice contrast from the tanginess of the cheese. I grab the plastic knife and stab a tomato, cutting it in half. I place it on my baguette and take another bite. It's simple. It's homegrown.
Though I still want to try a cassoulet. I don't care what Destin says.
"You guys do this every day?" I ask. Destin pulls himself out of deep thought to look at me. He rubs his eyes, taking a deep breath and looking down at his baguette.
"When it doesn't rain," he answers.
"I like it," I comment. "I feel like I can think here." I take another bite and so does Destin. Dandre moves on to his third slice of baguette. Destin watches him and can't help but smirk.
"He's in love with it," Destin jokes, pointing at the way Dandre is eyeing the cheese on his sandwich. Dandre shrugs.
"There's nothing wrong with that." I study what's left of our spread and decide which cheese to try next. "What about you, Destin? Why did you want to work for Chef Gautier?"
"Jean Pierre?" He shakes his head. "No. No." His tattooed knuckles brush against his chin. "I work for
. My father worked there."
"He was a pastry chef?"
"Front counter," he corrects me. "He would come home and talk about the food like it was his first born son. So, I decided to remind him that
am number one. That's when I decided to go to pastry school."
Dandre chuckles, taking another bite of his gummy candies.
"Number one," Dandre repeats lowly.
"So, what's Dandre's story?" I ask, watching him shake his bag of sweets. He frowns as he looks in the bag, which now seems significantly lighter. "Besides his obvious obsession with sweets."
"He did not go to pastry school," Destin says. Dandre looks up at him, puzzled. "When we were young, he was called the pastry thief of the seventh arrondissement." He chuckles so hard he lets out a hoarse cough. "
Dandre hangs his head jokingly and laughs along with his cousin. He nods and nudges me.
"Jean Pierre catches me," Dandre says, his English lacking the finesse of Destin's. He laughs even louder, his face turning cherry red. "He was so mad."
Dandre can barely force the words out of his mouth. He covers his face and takes a deep breath. The thought of Jean Pierre throwing a fit in front of a chubby little boy is enough to make anyone chuckle. Dandre attempts to calm himself down, but the two of them start laughing again as soon as their eyes connect.
"Okay, you two are definitely related." I crack a smile. My brother Mark and I used to laugh that way together. "I can
After changing my clothes, I walk back into the kitchen at Le Croissant. Michel looks up at me and nods when I pass his office. Marta must not have said anything about my outburst at the inn. I'm shocked to see that Marta, who hasn't had much sleep either, is busy arranging strawberry pistachio tarts to put on display. She works quickly, and there is flour all over her uniform as if she's been here since early this morning.
She watches me enter the kitchen out of the corner of her eye. Marta wipes her hands and walks toward me hardly making eye contact. I can't tell if she's about to kick me out or give me a welcoming hug. I never know with her. As she gets closer I see the bags under her eyes, and the freckles on her fair cheeks seem to stand out more than usual today.
"There you are," she says. "Come with me. We're running low on
. I need you to shape some for me."
I press my lips together to keep my jaw from hanging open.
No croissant duty?
Marta pulls a heavy roll of puff pastry from the fridge and sets it on my counter. Luckily, I've made
before but not to the scale that they are made here. Back in Georgia, the
I made were small and fat. They looked like more of a rounded cookie with a dash of cinnamon than the traditional heart-shaped ones. The
at Le Croissant are flat, crisp, and as big as my hand. Sometimes larger.
"Sugar and a pinch of salt on both sides. Roll. Sugar again. And bring the pan to Dandre to press them and bake them." Marta instructs me plainly and simply. She keeps her arms loosely at her sides and waits for me to acknowledge that I understand.
"Got it," I respond.
"If you have questions," she continues. She points to her station where an assortment of glazed strawberries are waiting to be plated.
No shaking her head in disappointment.
Maybe what I said back in England resonated with her?
I remember the first
I ever saw. It was at our local grocery store back in Oregon. They weren't the fresh-baked bakery kind, but I saw them in a sealed box next to the doughnuts. It took some begging to get my mom to let me try one. She was always strict about my diet, especially in middle school when ballet started taking over my life. I was drawn to the heart shape and the sugary glaze that made that pastry shine. I wasn't expecting the crunch I got when I bit into it—like a crisp cookie. It was one of my few indulgences from childhood, I guess you could say. Besides Grandma's
But I looked at them differently when I had to make them. Suddenly, the rounded tops and swirls of pastry in the center seemed too intimidating to try. When I finally did try, I realized it was simpler than I thought.
I roll my pastry dough into a square large enough to cut fatter than normal
. In a bowl, I mix together sugar with a pinch of salt. Making sure the puff pastry dough is sugared on both sides, I roll both edges of the dough until they meet at the center. I place one of the halves on top of the other to make it a French heart, then I stick my pastry roll in the fridge to firm up a bit. Bree did that back at Calle Pastry Academy, and it made cutting her
I do the same thing to all the puff pastry dough Marta gave to me, then I take out my first
roll and begin cutting the cookie-like pastries. I sprinkle each individual
with sugar one last time to make sure there's enough to caramelize in the oven. When I've arranged an entire baking tray, I take my
to the oven to be baked.
Dandre has an oven ready for me. He observes my handiwork and gives me a wink of approval before he puts the first batch in the oven. Marta stretches at her station before walking to mine. I quickly wipe my counter, knowing that Jean Pierre likes us to clean thoroughly as we go.
"Not bad," Marta admits. She gently touches a raw
and forces a half smile. "Of course, I can't fully approve them to be put out front until I've tasted one, but why don't you move on to éclairs."
My chest pounds like I've downed too many espressos. This is want I wanted. The chance to make and try everything. The opportunity to cook with the best kitchen brigade in Europe. Marta doesn't even blink as she pulls out the ingredients for the bakery's classic chocolate éclairs. Le Croissant has many other flavors including raspberry vanilla bean, and even salted-caramel.
"I'll have you make a test batch," Marta explains. "If all goes well, you can make our éclairs tomorrow morning."
She proceeds to show me the ingredients for the custard and the pastry dough. She hands me the recipe, and I study it, starting with the vanilla custard. I stir together the eggs and cream, startled when the sound of the back door opening breaks my steady concentration. I look up, my stomach churning. Chef Gautier enters the room after his quick coffee break in the garden.
I continue with my custard. The creaminess of it reminds me of my lemon tart filling. I haven't heard anything from Detective Casey, and I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing. I can't help but dig through memories of my time spent in the kitchen with Mary's catering staff. The look on Cira's face before I left was one that I should've taken more seriously. I wonder what happened after I left Dovington Manor.
Custard aside, I quickly mix up my pastry dough. I heat milk, butter, and salt together in a saucepan and mix in my flour with a wooden spoon. The dough is soft enough to pipe onto a baking tray. I grab a lined one and pipe my pastry dough into even rectangles. Marta looks over my shoulder, tasting a bit of my dough and nodding.
"A dozen?" I ask her.
"That's fine," she agrees. "You'll be taking the leftovers home anyway, or you can give them to Dandre."
Dandre looks in our direction when he hears his name, as if he fully understood what Marta said. He eyes the éclairs with no shame and comes to retrieve my baking tray to go in the oven. The smell of baking pastry is overwhelming. Destin opens the back door to let the enticing scent escape onto the street and collect more customers before closing.
Dandre pulls out my first round of
and immediately Marta inspects them. She picks one up and blows on it before taking a tiny bite.
"Destin," she instructs. "Put these out front for the afternoon coffee crowd."
Destin flashes me a private smile as he does what he's told, grabbing an empty serving tray and neatly arranging my first batch of
. Marta hands me the rest of the
. My stomach growls as I observe the levels of caramelization on the front. With a crunch, I take a bite. The crispy sweetness takes me back to my middle school days when I used to stare at these with sugar envy.
"Thanks," I say quietly. Marta nods, and says nothing more.
* * *
My feet are aching, and my back is sore when I reach my tiny apartment. Starting week two of my internship, I feel like things are going to be much different than they were in week one. I change my clothes and hear my neighbor above me stumble through her doorway. The sound of her heels bang on the ceiling above me. The sun is going down, and my two options are to go and explore Paris some more or sleep. I'm leaning toward sleep.
After we cleared the kitchen and prepped for the morning, Marta tasted my cooled éclairs and approved them. That means that I'll be making the first batch in the morning, and I'll be expected to whip up all their flavors of the day, not just the classic chocolate éclair. I brought a few home with me, and the rest I was happy to let Dandre sample. He may be more to love, but he's tasted his share of sweets. He tasted an éclair in front of me and was able to guess the exact chocolate I used for the ganache. The pantry had six options.
I grab a leftover éclair and collapse onto my pillow, staring up at the ceiling. As my neighbor trots across her apartment, I can't help but grin. I love wearing heels, but as soon as I get home I throw those things off and let my feet take a vacation. This isn't true for the French woman who lives upstairs. She wears her heels when she goes out and when she's home for the evening. Her feet must have blisters the size of cinnamon buns. I take a bite of my éclair and let the sweet chocolate and smooth vanilla custard take over.
It's a good éclair. Even Marta couldn't deny it.
My eyes wander to my cell phone. I promised Bree I would fill her in on the England assignment. I also promised that I would take pictures for her, but I was too distracted to accomplish that task. She won't be happy. I take another bite of my chocolaty creation and dial Bree's number. She may or may not answer.
I sit as the phone rings, taking a couple of deep breaths.
"Hello?" a voice answers.
"Hey, am I disturbing one of your baking projects?" I ask, knowing perfectly well that the answer to my question is yes.
"If you're calling me with one of Chef Gautier's wedding cake recipes then don't worry about it." She yawns, clearing her throat. "You actually woke me from a nap. I have the day off."
"Sugar crash?" I joke.
"It's too early for that over here, Poppy," she responds. "Skip to the good stuff. Like has Mr. British called you yet? What was England like?"
"England was…windy." I bite the corner of my lip. "You'll never guess what happened to me there."
"Um…" I pause. Marta hasn't said a word about Dovington Manor since we got back to Paris. Neither has Jean Pierre. It's like the whole incident never happened. "Well, the wedding kind of didn't happen."
"Oh, a scandal." Bree suddenly sounds fully awake. "Come on, you can't keep the gossip all to yourself. Wait, let me guess. The groom slept with one of the bridesmaids."
bridesmaids?" she gasps.
"It's possible, but no."
"Then what happened?" she eagerly asks.
"You know how you're into sleuthing and all that? Help me out with this one. The groom was found dead on the beach with a diamond pendant shoved in his mouth. I guess he fell off the cliff somehow behind the back garden."
Last year when I first told Bree about what Cole and I saw in the student kitchens on campus, I wasn't sure how she would take it. I assumed, Bree being the perfectionist that she is, that death would make her uncomfortable. Maybe even too depressed to talk about it. She was the opposite.
Death, along with every other mystery of the universe, sends sunshine through her veins.
"The groom was murdered?" she asks.
"You said it, not me."
"Well, obviously he was if he had jewelry shoved in his mouth." She chuckles. "I mean no one swallows something like that on purpose. Did they figure out who did it?"
"Not yet," I inform her. "It's still under investigation. The family even hired a private detective to speed things up. Some retired inspector guy."
"Thank heavens you didn't have anything to do with it this time." I hear a thump that reminds me of the sound a fridge makes when it's slammed shut. "You didn't have anything to do with it, right?" She slowly exhales into the phone. "Your silence worries me."
"I found the body," I admit.
"Yes way," I correct her. "
the groom turned out to be Mr. British. I think he was leaving Le Croissant as I was going in on my first day. Am I cursed or something?"
"Maybe? You could always ask a psychic or a traveling gypsy women."
"You've been to a psychic?" I ask, surprised. Bree doesn't seem like the kind of woman to dabble in the supernatural just to find herself a man, but I guess you never really know a person sometimes.
"No," she firmly states. "Are you kidding? My aunt Shelly would kill me. She says that psychics are the doorway to Lucifer."
"That's a bit harsh." Her comment makes me smile.
"Welcome to family gatherings at my place."
"Mine aren't any better. You should come to our next Christmas party. Sorry,
party. That is, if my stunt last year didn't scare everyone away."
"Maybe I will, especially if I'm still single." I hear a subtle crunching noise. "And let's face it, I will be single. Todd is tying the knot this summer. They set a date."
"What are you eating?" I ask.
"Stop interrogating me," she snaps. "I'm not eating anything."
"You're talking about Todd. You're eating something."
"It's just a rice cake, if you must know."
"Sorry." I shake my head. "I'm starting to sound like my mother. Eat whatever the hell you want, and don't take dieting advice from me."
"Have I ever?" Bree asks. "But you're right. I'm not doing my hips any favors. I spread a little Nutella on top. Again, don't judge. I'm on a creamy cocoa kick."