“Detective, I have to warn you before you go in. This looks like a bake gone horribly wrong.”
“Those brioche. They are so innocent. Like a irritatingly perky school girl: sweet, light, full of smiles. They don’t deserve to be tortured this way.” Lead investigator Pierre Culinaire looked over the top of his glasses at the pile of nearly black and yellow remnants. It was a travesty.
These are dry, hard, tasteless brioche, some just this side of burnt, Detective Coquere wrote in her notebook. Some looked pretty good on the inside—yellow and springy, but nearly black on the outside. At least 7 or 8 roll-shaped ones were getting ready to be blitzed in the food processor. They will make decent breadcrumbs, she thought.
What happened here? she repeatedly muttered.
The Baker turned to page 400 of Advanced Bread and Pastry. Earlier in the day, she’d had a phone call from an even more quarantined friend: her buddy had a headache and fever. The baker thought she’d make her friend some brioche. After all, no one could feel too bad with a light, sweet, eggy brioche in her bread box.
Besides, the Baker needed a project. Since the general quarantine she’d been alternating between boredom and rage; baking gave her a sense that at least she’d accomplished something, even if it only involved following someone else’s formula in a book. She’s wanted to create her own baking formulas, but the relentless quarantine kept quelling her motivation. Besides, giving her baked goods away to good friends was most satisfying. She wanted reliable recipes. For now.
This was the second time in a month she’d made brioche. The first time they’d been sublime, although they had stuck to the muffin tin she’d used (lacking a “brioche tin”—possibly the one kitchen item she didn’t yet own in a house swamped with such gadgets). Her family couldn’t stop eating them, so the delicious brioche never made it to her friend. This time she’d repeat the same process.
The baker had clearly been crying.
Her eyes were puffy and irritated, and the light patina of flour on her face had two long streaks down each side of her cheek. She wiped her hands on her apron.
“I don’t know what happened,” she wailed in a rush to the detective. “It could have been the heat in the kitchen. It got hot this week, you know. It could have been that the dough didn’t really develop enough. Maybe I rushed the process. It felt, I don’t know—sticky, more like cookie dough than bread dough, like the gluten hadn’t really formed. Then the dog jumped up on the counter and ate some of the dough balls. The shaping—I just didn’t know what to do. First I made three little balls like I did last time, and was pushing them into the muffin tin, but then I second guessed that decision, mashed the dough together again, and made a braid, but I maybe I should have gone with the muffin tins again, but I don’t have good ones, and I was wary after the last time, when those beauties rose up over the edge and stuck to the top of the tin. That was so disappointing.”
The baker swiped at her tears with the bottom corner of her apron.
The detective poked around the kitchen.
“Were you proofing in the afternoon?”
“The sun comes in that window, right?,” The detective pointed to the small alcove in the kitchen where the baker set her doughs to proof.
The baker nodded.
The detective opened the fridge. “Wow, there’s a lot of stuff in here.”
“Well, you know, pandemic shopping.”
“Hmmm. Are you sure it’s 37 degrees Fahrenheit in this fridge? Seems like all this stuff would warm up it up. And that’s not good.” The baker shrugged. “I guess I should temp it,” she said, using baker speak for sticking a thermometer in the dough.
“What’s this?” The detective pulled out a half-pound satchel of commercial yeast jammed in the refrigerator door between the Newman’s Own vinaigrette and the cheap Pinot Grigio.
“This.” said Detective Coquere, pulling the package out of the door, “This could be a problem. Is it alive?”
“I don’t know. It hasn’t been in there that long.”
“Right. But have you tested it?”
The baker shrugged and looked at her feet. She had not tested to see if the yeast was alive. She knew better, and was momentarily ashamed. She had rushed that part of the process, she realized, when she’d mixed the second batch, and the milk had been too cold to activate the yeast.
She had murdered the little devils. Stone cold dead.
To be continued…