The Adventures of Cake and Crumb: The Battle of Biscuit
"Oat flour, barley flour, buckwheat flour.... chickpea flour! What in world does she do with that? I just want some good, old-fashioned white flour. That's the only thing I ever use for cookies. Everything else tastes like sawdust, if you ask me." Crumb squeezed between two large bags of whole something-or-other flour.
Cake watched from the counter. "Are you sure we really need the flour?" he called. "Perhaps we can do with just sugar. They're called sugar cookies, after all!"
A large sniff issued from behind the flours. "Well you are a simple soul, aren't you? I suppose you've never even read a recipe. Haven't you ever baked anything before? Of course we need flour!" Crumb continued, not waiting for a reply. "Hmmm. This might be the stuff. There's not very much of it, and it's not labeled." She emerged again, pulling a small bag of white flour with her. "There was a bag of powdered sugar back there, too," she panted. "All covered in dust, but I've never known sugar to go bad. We'll just have to make do."
"Er, well, I did look over a few blogs I came across online, as they say, and they didn't make it seem quite as complicated as all this, " Cake ventured.
Crumb snorted. "Blogs! Nobody who ever had any intention of actually DOING something would waste her time reading a blog. All just pretty pictures and fluff. But you WOULD believe something you saw 'on-line!'" Crumb said, inflecting the internet in her most disdainful tones. Another sniff. "We can't all be dreamers. Some of us have to be Do-ers. Baking isn't magical; it's hard, messy work, and you have to be tough. You can't give up if you fail the first time or two."
Cake was beginning to have misgivings about their valentine for Miss Nellie. It was his suggestion they bake something. He had been in a buoyant mood on account of having his snags repaired and coat refreshed by the Lady, and he had giddily proposed "whipping up a little sweet something," inspired by what he had seen over the Lady's shoulder as she herself was searching for a Valentine's Day recipe. He was now eyeing all the various powders and ingredients warily, conscious of the fact that HE would be doing much of the work, while Crumb directed. And from the sounds of it, this was not so much a pleasant way to pass the afternoon as a battle waged between themselves and some less-than-cooperative ingredients. "Um, Crumb, my dear?" he said, "I'll just be a minute. I forgot something...." he hurried into the next room.
He returned a few minutes later, wearing a large, heavy apron showing signs of hard use. "What do you think you're doing?" Crumb asked, rather shrilly, when she saw him. "You can't come in my kitchen wearing that filthy old thing! It's covered in grease and ink from the typewriter. Do you want your cookies to taste like shoe blacking? Now take that off and help me find the eggs!"
"But Crumb, my dear, I've just been cleaned and my coat is looking so nice. I thought this might keep all these, er, sundries from spoiling it again. Couldn't I - "
"No, you could NOT. And anyway, I have an apron for you. A clean, kitchen apron. It's over there by the spice cabinet. Now stop wasting our time and help me FIND THE EGGS!"
Cake lifted the work apron off and picked up the dainty, mouse-sized apron he found by the cabinet. The strings barely stretched around his mid-section, but he was just able to tie them, thanks to the Lady's repairs. He was sure he had lost a centimeter or more from his middle. With this consolation to cheer him, as well as the knowledge that the apron did bring out the orange in his features, he trudged back to help Crumb.
"Ah! Doesn't that apron suit you?" asked Crumb, barely choking back a chuckle. "Yes, you DO look nice," she said smiling and turning away. "Now, where does the Lady keep her eggs? No one keeps them on the counter anymore. We did in my day. It's the best way for baking. You should always have your eggs room temperature. Everything goes in the icebox nowadays - "
Cake cleared his throat loudly and then broke in "Actually, I don't believe there are any eggs, my dear."
"What do you mean? You mean they're out of eggs?" Crumb asked anxiously.
"Well, in a manner. You see, I only know because I've heard the Lady and Man talking sometimes, and of course I didn't think anything of it because I'm not often in the kitchen and I don't particularly care for eggs, myself. But then of course when I was reading over the Lady's shoulder the other day I noticed too, but then I don't know so very much about it exactly, but I think that it's more and more these days and you know they say you can get all the protein you need from other things anyway and so I suppose what I mean to say is that they all seem to be healthy enough, don't you think, and so if they want to be, then why shouldn't they be?"
"Cake, I don't understand a mite of what you've just said! What are you getting at? WHAT shouldn't they be?" Crumb squeaked, her voice rising dangerously.
"Oh, didn't I say? I thought that was clear enough, but perhaps I didn't quite... hmmm. Well, Vee-gan, as it were. It means no animal products, you see? And eggs come from chickens, which are animals, though my goodness, they're dim enough. I've met broccoli that knew more than most chickens. Rabbits, as it so happens, have long been Vee-gan, or more to point, herbivores, and" Crumb sniffed loudly several times, tapping her toes on the counter, and Cake trailed off.
"So if I understand you," began Crumb, speaking in her slowest, most deliberate voice, "there are no eggs in this house because the Lady and the Man are Vee-gans. Which means they don't eat eggs. And I suppose they don't have butter? Because last I checked that ALSO comes from an animal. So how, my dear Cake, do you propose we make this delicious 'little something,' without any of the ingredients that 'sweet somethings' require?" she glared at him beadily.
"Yes! Well, that was on the blog, you see! It's called an egg alternator, which is something you use when your egg needs replaced. It's like mechanics for baking! It's quite simple. We could use something called a 'fax' egg or even a bit of pumpkin puree works. It's just a matter of swapping one thing for another, my dear Crumb! It's the new, 'kinder' way of baking."
"Hmmph!" sniffed Crumb. "Yes, well, how does this 'kind' baking taste? Like hearts and rainbows? Well, if you know so much about it, go on and show me how it's done. Let's see what you've learned from your blog!"
Cake swallowed hard and tried to imagine what the Great Man might do. He cast his mind back to the blog photos and yes, yes; it was coming back to him. He could do this. It would be his "Battle of Biscuit," and he would emerge triumphant. "Never has so much been owed by," he began in his most oratorical voice, "by, er, too, or is it so? hmm, many by, er, is it so again? Well, the point is," said Cake, collecting himself, we're going to bake a delicious, Vee-gan biscuit for dear Miss Nellie!"
"We'll just take some of this... and Crumb, dear, if you wouldn't mind too much at all, rolling that can of pumpkin over here? Yes, that's the one. And some of this coconut milk will do, and I suppose this will be rather a dark biscuit with the cane sugar, but the icing will cover that. Yes, here we are." Cake bustled around, scooping and measuring, and for once, Crumb didn't argue.
To tell the truth, Crumb's world view had been shaken slightly, and she would need some time to think it over. Not that she wasn't deeply skeptical. She couldn't see how this "biscuit" as Cake was now calling it, would possibly come together, but they were already elbow-deep in flour and egg "alternator," so it seemed they would have to see it through, or fail spectacularly in the attempt.
"How is it looking, Crumb dear?" came Cake's strained voice from below. "Easy does it now! You want to watch your specs!" he cried, as she leaned over the bowl, using all her strength to stir. Where were her specs? Oh dear. She squinted down into the bowl. Blasted things.
Crumbs spectacles were fished from the batter and the rest of the flour mixed in by Cake after Crumb's arms gave out. Now they stood on either side of a pile of sticky dough, eyeing it warily.
"It looks nothing like any sugar cookie dough I've ever come across!" Crumb couldn't stop herself saying.
"No. No, it wouldn't then, would it? Because you've never seen Cake's-World-Famous-Vee-gan Giant-Heart-Happy-Valentine's-Day-Miss-Nellie-Biscuit!" cried Cake gaily. He really could be hard to take sometimes. "Now help me press this out."
"Use some flour on your paws so the dough doesn't stick in your fur," Crumb offered, somewhat grudgingly.
"Oh, fine idea! Yes! I'll just..." Cake dipped his paws in a bit of spilled flour and began to pat gingerly at the dough.
Crumb watched him for a moment, her eyes narrowed, then said, "Oh for mercy's sake! Get out of the way! You and your precious paws! I'll do it!"
A few minutes later they stood back. "How does it look from your view?" Crumb asked Cake. "I can't see the whole thing from down here."
"Er, yes, well, hmmm. I would say a bit lumpy at this end and then in the middle a bit, well, lumpy, but towards the tip... still a bit lumpy there, too. But I'm sure that will even out in the baking." Cake patted Crumb reassuringly on the back. "Into the oven it goes!" Cake exclaimed excitedly. "Twenty minutes ought to do."
The sun was sinking low in the sky when Cake and Crumb put the final touches on Miss Nellie's valentine treat. Cake had been heavy-handed with the sanding sugar, as one might expect, but on the whole, it looked rather nice, Crumb thought.
Cake, of course was in raptures."And just SEE how the light catches the sugar! Pink! Miss Nellie's favorite! Oh, it really should be on a blog! Cake's-World-Famous-Vee-gan-Giant-Heart --"
"Shut up, you!" Crumb cut him off. "I hear them coming down the stairs! Little Nel must be up from her nap!" They hurried up onto the window sill to wait.
The Lady came into the kitchen, holding a rumpled little girl. "Look, Sweetpea!" cried the Lady, drawing in her breath. "Look at the valentine someone made you! Who do you think could have done this?" she asked the child. The girl looked at Cake and Crumb sitting in the window. "Someone must love you very much," said the Lady.
"Pink binkles!" said the little girl, pointing excitedly. And she thought she saw Cake twitch his ear.