AN EXCERPT FROM MY 3rd NOVEL: ONCE UPON A CUPCAKE SHOP
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THAT NIGHT, after showering in the old, upstairs apartment, Eva felt the lingering romance of the farmer’s market adventure. She couldn’t stop thinking about him. Who knew she’d ever have a him to think of again. She couldn’t stop humming her favorite song in the rundown kitchen of her new shop. The lyrics of Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville rattled around in her head as she unpacked ingredients and baker’s tools, staging them across the stainless-steel counter. She was ready to try the riskiest of recipes. One only her grandma was known to pull off successfully, the Dark Chocolate Orange Cupcake.
Eva unearthed the chocolate mousse she’d left in the fridge to set overnight, and was set to start on the next step, when Leandro came from the upstairs bathroom where he’d taken Eva up on a quick rinse after a sweaty, hot day at the market.
“What’s this?” Leandro ask about the brown mixture in a scuffed white enamel bowl covered in clear wrap.
“Mousse I made for the icing.” Eva got nervous. The words from the lady at the market played back in her mind like an audiobook of a romance novel on repeat. I can tell you guys speak the same language, the observant woman had pointed out as they stood at her tent completing each other’s sentences.
“Can I try it?” Leandro interrupted her flashback and tasted the delicious dark chocolate.
Eva prepped the orange glaze and zested oranges and answered Leandro’s questions. “Last night, I took eight ounces of really expensive dark chocolate, the one with the highest cocoa content. I melted that over a steam bath. Then, I added six ounces of unsalted butter, three egg yolks and four ounces of confectioners’ sugar. That got whisked until smooth. Finally, I added the zest of an orange.” Eva wiped a bead of sweat from her forehead—zesting that many oranges was far from an easy task. But when Leandro got closer, her sweating increased by a factor of ten.
“Can I try whisking. Looks fun.” He whispered and got closer. His dimples deepened. He smiled with excitement and anticipation.
After showing him how, with her arms wrapped around his waist, Eva was glad to finally back away from the muscular man with seductive dimples and inviting aftershave. She rounded the stainless-steel counter to put distance between them and continued zesting oranges. “The trick to the mousse is to get the egg whites in a separate mixing bowl and beat them until they are stiff and stick to the spoon. Then, you take all that fluff and gently fold it into the melted chocolate mix with a metal spoon, careful to do it in an up-and-over motion.”
Leandro figured there were reasons for using a metal spoon versus a wooden one, or making sure the egg whites were stiff and folding motions were just so. He wanted to ask so many questions about her process, to learn the subtleties of her art but he became distracted by a wayward curl across Eva’s face, stuck at the corner of her mouth.Leandro tried not to stare but in that moment, he wanted all the reno stuff, the baking stuff, the entire world to disappear, leaving only Eva. Evan standing in front of him without distractions, without To-Do lists. Just Eva and Leandro. Then, he would reach for her delicate cheek and brush the intrusive strand away—a perfect excuse to move in for a kiss. But he’d have to wait for another opportunity because Eva was focused. She had her grandma’s Dark Chocolate Orange Cupcakes to bake. She couldn’t be distracted by something as debilitating as one of his kisses.
Twenty long minutes later, once the chocolate cupcake batter had cooled enough for Eva to pipe the icing onto the little cakes, Leandro realized he was starving and completely excited about the prospect of having only chocolate cupcakes for dinner. He looked in the fridge for a bottle of red wine from the Chinese take-out from the night before.
“We’re in luck,” he popped his head out of the fridge with two wine glasses in hand. “I read somewhere that a Cabernet Sauvignon is the best choice for anything chocolate, especially cakes.” He poured two glasses.
Eva changed her recipe last minute. She did not like the look of the dark brown cupcake and light brown mousse. Too much brown and not enough contrast, she concluded. For Eva, baking wasn’t just about taste. Every great cook, baker or patissier knew how food looked was just as important, if not more so, than how they tasted. They knew, as she did, people ate with their eyes first. Like with relationships, people don’t go around tasting each other. First, they look. The shape, the color, the eyes, mouth, hair, every delicious detail—that’s what makes us take the plunge—that’s what initially drives people’s desires. And like in love, if a cupcake doesn’t look enticing, appealing, and delicious to its intended, what was the point, Eva thought.
Eva drilled into four cupcakes and dug out their center and filling them with mousse. Then she whipped up a special orange icing with some cream, butter, tons of sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla and the juice of the oranges. She cheated and brightened it with equal parts red and yellow food coloring. She thickened it and piped it onto the cupcakes in perfect nectarine swirls. Leandro stood there, watching her work. He was beyond impressed.
“Now for the finale.” She could see he looked at her as if to say, there’s more? Eva unwrapped some of the expensive chocolate, took some shavings and sprinkled some over the light orange icing, then she snapped the corner of the hard chocolate bar and stuck some decorative shards into the fluffy orange cream.
“Wow! That looks great. Wow! That smells incredible, with the orange and the…wow. Chocolate and oranges together? I would have thought, absolutely not. But, even if it tastes like crap…” Leandro saw Eva cross her arms, “…no, no, I mean if it…I’m just saying with a cupcake that looks that good, who cares what it tastes like, ugh…I don’t mean…you know what I mean.”
“Just shut up and come try one already.” She held two cupcakes up. One hers, the other, his.
Leandro’s eyes rolled to the back of his head and his tastes buds exploded with the aphrodisiac decadence of the velvety dark chocolate, the buttery sweetness of the creamy orange glaze and the crunch and bitterness of the chocolate chunk. The after taste of the wayward orange rinds, that had been soaked in a vanilla-honeyed syrup, lingered on his tongue and made him crave more. He ate another—one slow bite at a time—then another. They ate off the same cupcake as Eva fed him, taking turns and alternating bites. Two bodies close, two faces close, two mouths closer, two strangers brought together by rain and fire, chocolates and oranges.