No More Mr. Nice Pie

No More Mr. Nice Pie
Drawing by Retsu Takahashi

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Sweet New Year

One would think that ushering in a New Year might just quell a bit of the wacky. Fresh from my recent upstate pie-scapade, I returned to work buoyed by the optimism that accompanies a new season. The rotary phone was ringing as I set foot inside the bakery. What I didn’t realize was that Murphy, of Murphy’s Law was walking in right behind me.

Coffee business is brisk and I find myself foolishly answering the phone. (Second to Murphy’s Law is the “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished” Dictum.) My phone conversation is with a woman who is moderately pleasant but most insistent that we pay strict attention to her cupcake order. She had retrieved her custom cookies the day prior and felt they were a touch paler in color than what she had envisioned. She could live with the cookies but she wanted to make sure that the gum paste letters that were to bedeck today’s sweets would sit atop more dramatic shades of pink and blue buttercream. Not baby pink or baby blue, but dark. But not too dark. But not too pale. And not too babyish. But not too mature. She did relinquish control over where the letters would perch on top of the cupcakes. That was all up to me. Lucky me.

History indicates that Murphy was not the actual fellow behind the adage, “Anything that can possibly go wrong, does.” Nonetheless, I give him full credit. His law is particularly prevalent during
holidays, regardless of the time of year. I have often considered the fact that this Murphy fellow must have toiled in a bakery at one time. What other explanation is there for things going horribly awry around a Bakers bench?

If I have to point a finger at the individual responsible for the technical difficulties hampering the bakery this week, I’ve got to go with Mr. Murphy himself. Nothing says “L’Shanah Tovah, Baby” the way multiple commercial equipment crises can. In our intimate space, we are down one Hobart mixing bowl and one convection oven. These glitches have forced both bowl and oven to bow out of the Rosh Hashanah baking party. A plucky crew of bakers are we, priding ourselves on being ever adaptable. The baked goods however, are less so.

Like women and children lining up for life rafts, trays of scones and banana breads, coffee cakes and cookies are running to the front of the oven line. The oven timer blares like a Captain over a megaphone, “Scones and Gluten Free Breads first! High Holiday Baked Goods step to the end of the line.” Personally, I’m about ready to jump ship.

The apple studded cinnamon batter is forced to wait impatiently in Bundt pans, while honey cakes spiked with strong coffee and a generous splash of whiskey are lollygagging in loaf pans. The bittersweet chocolate truffle cakes are the most needy; it’s all about them, divas demanding water baths and moderate oven temperature. I beg of the unbaked goods, can’t we all just get along?

My New Year’s resolution of “calm and serene” is rapidly flying out the window. The biggest monkey wrench of the day is a wayward pie order due at 3 o’clock. Pies prefer blistering hot climes in order to set the crust, with a gradual downward temperature spiral. No can do without incurring the wrath of the truffle cakes.

What I needed was a sign. A sign that despite its malaise, I could turn to and turn on the malfunctioning oven. There is a corollary of Murphy’s Law, “If there is a worse time for something to go wrong, it will happen then.” I opined that by engaging the top oven, odds were likely the repairman would appear. I had no sooner uttered the words than who should arrive but Mr. Parts and Service.

His timing was impeccable, his ability to diagnose and treat the problem, less so. With the lower oven blazing full steam ahead stuffed to flux capacitor with Bundt pans and loaf pans, and Pate Brisée crusts on hold in the freezer, Mr. Parts and Service maintained a poker face as he began to dismantle the top oven.

With little if any bedside manner, the oven surgeon would not tell us what we desperately needed to know. Would the patient survive, and if so, how long before the oven would be up to temperature? His answer was nothing if not vague, and once I heard him mumbling something about not having the part on his truck, I disengaged. Ms. Three o’clock Pie would need a heads up that three was desperately optimistic. With the apple cakes and honey cakes out of the oven, the truffle cakes were next up for their spa treatment. The pies simply could not jump the line.  The truffle cakes took their sweet time while I continued to peel apples. Mr. Parts and Service was busy making phone calls, nuts and bolts and oven parts strewn in his wake. When the timer finally signaled that the delicate chocolate cakes were ready, I blasted the oven up to high and urged the pies to bake faster. Pies do not respond to idle threats. Neither do repairmen.

I slithered out of the bakery as the sun took a nose dive in a pastel sky. As I exited stage left, Murphy and his Law exited stage right.

On Thursday, with the Jewish holidays in full swing, there was a little bit of Christmas happening at the bakery. Murphy’s departure heralded the arrival of Mr. U.P.S. delivering a package filled to the bubble wrap brim with Hobart goodies. Whisk and paddle and dough hook attachments were tucked inside a brand new mixing bowl. If that wasn’t celebration worthy enough, the word on the street was that Mr. Parts and Service will have our oven up and running in mere days, not weeks.

This very well may shape up to be quite the New Year. Sweet.

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