by Emily Esterson
(Editor’s Note: To catch you up, the first of this two-chapter story can be found here.)
Detective Coquere spooned a bit of yeast from the baker’s refrigerator into a bowl with warm water. The baker facing the detective’s inquiries had executed a horrid bake after an earlier success. It was troubling.
“We’ll see how this works. If it foams, then the yeast was not the problem with those criminal brioche.”
The baker and detective leaned over the bowl and watched. And watched. A few minutes passed.
“You know what they say, watched pot… boiling, etc.,” nervously interjected the baker. They both stepped back, and within five minutes the yeast had gone from lively electric tiny granules to foam.
“Well that clearly wasn’t the problem,” Kitchen Crimes Unit (KCU) Lead Detective Pierre Culinaire piped in from the other side of the kitchen.
“How much sugar are you putting in that dough?” Culinaire inquired pointedly, swiping his fingertip along the counter and clinically swishing the counter contents inside his mouth. “There’s sugar everywhere.”
“Well, the recipe calls for a lot, maybe 20% of the total ingredients.”
“And are you using osmotolerant yeast?”
“You don’t know what osmotolerant yeast is? You call yourself a baker?”
“Well, I’m not THAT experienced,” she said, shuffling and frowning. “I’m mostly self-taught. You know, an experiment here and there.”
Culinaire and Coquere, dubbed the C-Team by the KCU, looked at each other and shrugged condescendingly. There was simply no excuse for failure to pay attention, follow the rules, and know essentials such as osmotolerance. A crime had certainly been committed.
It was clear now that the crucial ingredient had been omitted, but had accommodations been unwittingly made for that important misstep? That would be the key to the case.
Culinaire swept a hand through his thick gray hair and sighed. “Listen, you can’t just randomly omit an important ingredient. You have to think these things through.”
“But how come it worked the first time?” The baker sounded defensive. “I’m just going to try again. Get out of here, please.” She took both men, hefty of girth, by the elbow and showed them to the door of her kitchen, “Shoo!”
The two got in their bakery investigation truck and zoomed away, fairly certain they had found the cause of the crime and that they had, if momentarily, reformed the baker into following the recipe. She seemed a bit of a wild girl, Coquere noted, what with her flour-covered apron and hair flying every which way. She might never get it right more than once in a while if she couldn’t follow the rules.
And she didn’t seem like a rule-follower.
“We’ll check in on her tomorrow,” Culinaire rolled down his window and leaned out, like a dog catching the breeze. “In a way, I admire bakers like that. You know, those who can experiment and fail, and try again.” Coquere grunted dismissively.
That evening, while the C-Team enjoyed an end-of-the-day Tarte Tatin, the baker mixed a dough with butter, eggs, and an unmeasured, random, but much larger quantity of yeast. She’s put it in the milk before incorporating it, starting with just a tablespoon but then she just just kept adding. She had no real idea how much yeast she’d put in.
She thought that she really must start writing these things down.
She set the dough to ferment in the refrigerator, poured herself a glass of wine, and dozed off in front of “The Great British Bakeoff” (TGBB), episode 950, in which Paul Hollywood had been caught canoodling one of the contestants. Termed the Cannelloni Incident, it of course made the front page of Cooking People magazine.
She’s seen all 2000 episodes of TGBB, multiple times, and every time she watched episode 950, she imagined she was the cannoodled contestant, only maybe Paul Hollywood preferred men and not women. It was hard to tell.
She yearned to be on that show, to get that Hollywood handshake, to gaze into those crystalline eyes. But her bakes were inconsistent, maybe too creative, and quirky. The producer had noted that on the comments on her denied application video.
The next morning she set about shaping her brioche——they felt right. The dough was smooth and not too taut, the butter not soft but solid, well incorporated. This would be a good bake, even if she didn’t follow the rules letter by letter. She could just tell. She checked on them after their first 45 minutes in her homemade proofer constructed via a cardboard Amazon box and heating pad.
The brioche were rising.
She called Culinaire immediately. She’d show him. “Get here at 2:30 and bring your appetite.”
Culinaire and Coquere showed up just as she was taking the puffed beauties out of the oven. The kitchen smelled sublime—sugary and doughy and bready—exactly as brioche tasted. “They are au piff,” Culinaire murmured, smiling.
“So how much yeast did you use?” Coquere leaned in to get more of the scent.
“I don’t even know. It just felt right,” she responded proudly. She handed each detective a brioche, still warm from the oven. They tore the gentle dough and tasted.
“Oh” remarked Coquere emphatically.
“Oh my,” responded Culinaire deliciously.
“This,” said the baker, “was made with love and yeast. Plenty of both.”