The Baking Contest
Special thanks to amandakrueger and her Neopet alexis1234567498.
Sweets, true to her nickname, loved baking. She enjoyed eating her delicious creations, too, but the real fun was making them.
Today was no different, as she finished mixing the dough and set it on the counter to rise.
Her faithful petpet, a fire Swabby named Max, was happy to clean up the flour that had gently floated to the floor. She patted his head and went to get the Neomail from the Mail Weewoo, who had just arrived.
Skimming through it, she noted a letter to Lina, her owner, from a Neofriend, several notices from TNT concerning their items in the auction house and whether or not anyone bid on them, and some random flyers and notices. She tossed them on the counter, next to her rising dough.
She then removed her apron and hung it neatly on the kitchen door. Walking into the bathroom, she washed her face and hands free of any sticky dough bits and flour, brushed her teeth, and tied her ears back into a ponytail, in which she kept her extra Aisha ears neat and out of the way.
Back in the kitchen, she greeted her three sisters, all Aishas, like her. She herself was painted Checkered. Kata, the oldest and adopted, was painted Christmas. Kimiko, also known as Kimi, was Lina's first pet and was painted Desert. Cream, who was the youngest, was painted Speckled.
"Is Lina here yet?" Kimi asked.
"I don't think so," Sweets replied.
"Whatcha baking?" Cream asked, poking the dough. The dent made by her finger quickly disappeared. When it was ready to bake, the dent would have stayed.
"Just bread," Sweets answered, gently stopping Cream as she tried to poke it again.
"This the Neomail? Anything exciting?" Kimiko asked, picking up the mail.
"Nothing too exciting. There's a letter from Amanda, and some auction notices. And the usual junk mail," Sweets answered, pouring herself some hot tea and spooning in some honey.
Kimiko skimmed through it, finding nothing exciting either, and dropped it on the table.
"Why don't you guys ever look through the flyers? Sometimes there is cool stuff in there!" Cream said, grabbing what everyone else considered the junk mail.
"See?" she said, between bites of Honey Nut Pebbles. "Here's an advertisement for that baking competition. You should enter, Sweets."
"I don't like competitions," Sweets said, poking her dough. This time the dent stayed, and she popped it in the oven to bake.
"But you do like to bake," Cream pointed out. "It'll be fun. I might even enter!"
"Cream, you're horrible at baking," Kimiko pointed out.
"Yeah, but I still like it!" Cream retorted.
"Last time you made brownies, the were so hard and tough that not even the Skeith across the street would eat them," Kimiko said.
Cream stuck her tongue out at Kimiko, and continued to eat her cereal.
"Still, Sweets, you should enter," Kata said. "Even if you don't like competition, it would be a good experience."
"I heard that Alexis was going to enter, now that I think about it," Kimiko said. "Yes, I'm sure Alexis was going to enter. See, Sweets? You'll even have a friend in the baking contest!"
"When is it?" Sweets asked.
"The competition is tomorrow, at 9," Kata replied, scanning the flyer. "You have to enter today, and the entry fee is 300 NP."
"I can afford that," Sweets said, thinking of the 2,563 neopoints she had in a shoe box under her bed.
"What are the prizes?" Cream asked.
"First prize is a book called My Favourite Food, a ribbon plus 1,000 NP, second prize is 500 NP and a ribbon, and third prize is 300 NP and a ribbon," Kata answered.
"Fine, I'll do it," Sweets said, smiling. Maybe it would be fun, after all.
"You should make your lemon tarts!" Kimi said. "Those are delicious!"
"Yeah, and I could totally test them to make sure they're not bad," Cream said, licking her lips.
Just then, Lina, their owner, opened the door.
"Girls, I'm back," she called. "Sweets, you ready?"
"Oh, I almost forgot!" Sweets exclaimed, standing up. "I'm Lina's active today! I'll see you all later!"
Sweets ran up to her room, grabbed 300 neopoints, and ran back down to Lina.
"What's that for?" Lina asked.
"I was thinking about entering a Baking Contest. Is that okay?" Sweets asked. "I need to sign up at the Bakery, and the entry fee is 300 NP."
"Of course," Lina replied. "Why don't we do that first? That way we won't forget."
The pair headed over to the Bakery. The Breadmaster greeted them.
"Hola," he said. "Woulda like ta buya breada?"
"No thanks," Lina replied. "We're here to sign up for the baking contest."
The blue Kacheek nodded, and replied, "Signa upa ova therea. That'lla bea 300 NPa."
Sweets handed him the money, and signed her name.
"Gooda lucka," the Breadmaster called as they left.
"Why does he talk like that?" Sweets asked her owner when he was out of earshot.
"I think it's an accent," Lina replied. "He probably grew up in Krawk Island or something."
The two walked around Neopia, talking as they did their dailies.
"Finally!" Lina exclaimed, as they won a bagguss from the Fruit Machine. "That's the only good thing we've gotten today."
"Back to the house now?" Sweets asked, using both arms to carry the unusually large bagguss.
"Yup!" Lina replied, as they headed for home. "So what are you planning on making for the contest? Bread?"
"Bread!" Sweets shouted, nearly dropping the fruit. "I forgot! I have a loaf of bread in the oven! Oh, it's probably burnt by now."
"Don't worry, I'll send a Neomail. Maybe it'll still be okay," Lina said, waving a Mail Weewoo over. On a piece of paper, she wrote:
Sweets left a loaf of bread in the oven. Can you take it out? Thanks.
"Come on, let's hurry," Lina said, watching as the petpet flew on ahead of them.
The two raced home to their house in Neopia Central.
"Oh no," Sweets whispered. "I smell burning."
Lina did too, but did not say so.
Finally, they rushed into the house.
"I'm sorry, Sweets," Kimiko said, gesturing to the table. "I took it out as soon as your Neomail had arrived, but it still was a little burnt."
They looked at the loaf, slightly darker and tougher than it should have been.
"Some parts are still good, though," Kimi said optimistically.
"No, that's all right," Sweets said, shaking it off. "It's only bread. Besides, I have to get started on my Lemon Tarts."
"I know!" Lina exclaimed. "I'll put it in the shop. People are willing to buy anything. That way, it won't go to waste. Is that okay, Sweets?"
Sweets nodded, already past the bread and looking up a recipe for lemon tarts.
Lina walked into her shop, placed the loaf of bread on the counter, and put up a sign that said, "Slightly Burnt Homemade Bread - 10 NP."
Back in the kitchen, Sweets was scanning through her favorite cookbook.
"Lemon Lime Hard Candy... Lemon Meringue... Ah, here it is. Lemon Tarts," she mumbled, her fingers tracing the page.
She pulled out the ingredients one by one, although she excluded the lemon flavoring and the whipped cream. Instead, she liked to use real lemon juice mixed with sugar, and she made the whipped cream herself by mixing heavy cream.
She got out a cupcake pan and buttered it, and lined it with thin strips of pastry dough. She put in the lemon filling, and set it in the oven to bake, this time setting the timer so that it would ring when they were done.
Then she rinsed the dishes and put them in the dishwater, and sat down at the kitchen table with a copy of Classic Moehog Tales.
The timer went off, and Sweets put a bookmark on the page she was at. She put on an oven glove and carefully pulled out the tarts.
Setting them aside to cool, she poured a bowl of heavy cream, mixed in some sugar, and began to stir it. The cream slowly started to become more thick, until it was no longer a liquid, but not really a solid either.
She carefully popped each tart out of its container, and arranged them on a plate. She put a dollop of cream on top of each one, careful not to make a mess.
Experimentally, she tasted one. It was delicious! Without a doubt, the best lemon tarts she had ever made.
She set them in a cupboard, where they could stay fresh, then after a thought, added a note that said "Please, no eating." Although Cream would want one, she respected Sweets enough not to ruin this for her.
Glancing outside, she realized how late it had become. She petted Max, who had been lying at her feet, and filled his food bowl with Swabby Chow.
Walking around the Neohome, she saw Cream and Kata watching Neovision, Kimiko brushing her fur, and Lina putting on her coat, about to leave.
"I'll be back first thing in the morning," Lina said to Sweets. "We'll have fun tomorrow."
Then she left. Sweets always wondered where owners go when they're not here. She asked Lina once, and Lina told her that there was a whole other world out there, where owners where originally from.
Sweets sometimes wondered about this other world, but was content to live in Neopia.
She decided to get ready for bed. It was going to be a long day tomorrow.
Sweets was up the earliest. She always was. It was 7:00, which meant that she had two hours until the baking contest. She checked the tarts. They looked amazing, and usually tasted better the day after they were made. She was sure they would grab the judge's attention.
"Woo. Weewoo. Woo," came a sound. Sweets walked to the door, and opened it for the Mail Weewoo. It handed her a Neomail, and the most recent copy of the Neopian Times. Sweets handed it a Neopoint, since it was required to do so every time it brought the newspaper, and the Weewoo flew off.
The Neomail was from her friend, alexis1234567498, or Alexis for short, and was addressed to her.
Sweets opened the Neomail. It read:
Heard you are in the baking contest. Me too, but I ran out of faerie flour, and I'm making faerie toast! I need it now. Could you bring over a cup?
Sweets rushed to the kitchen, and grabbed the jar of faerie flour. She knew how hard it was to make faerie toast. If the flour wasn't added instantly, the whole thing would be ruined.
Luckily, Alexis' house wasn't that far away, but Sweets was still running as fast as she could. Suddenly she stopped. A fat, ugly bug was sitting in her way.
"Excuse me," she asked. "Could you move? I'm in a rush."
The bug slowly looked at her, and said, "When you're not looking, I'm going to eat all your food."
Sweets blinked, surprised, and thought of her tarts. She looked back at the bug, but he was waddling, rather quickly, towards her house. He was going to eat them! She began to run back towards her house, but then remembered Alexis. She needed her faerie flour!
Sweets whimpered and ran towards Alexis' house. She rang the door bell, but didn't wait for it to open and ran into the Neohome.
Alexis greeted her.
"I'm sorry, Alexis, I really need to go," she said, handing the Starry Gelert the flour.
"All right. Thanks so much. Any later and it wouldn't have made it," Alexis replied.
Sweets ran out of the house and back towards her own.
She rushed into the kitchen and flung open the cabinet.
But her tarts weren't there.
A few crumbs were left on the plate, and her "Please, no eating," note had been rudely tossed aside. She had been too late. The bug had eaten them all.
She glanced at the clock. It was 8:30. She had no time to make more tarts. Or anything, for that matter.
Sweets sat down, and thought hard. What could she enter?
"Bread!" she said, jumping up. "Oh, please, let it still be there."
She rushed to the shop, and was happy to see the burnt bread was still there.
She grabbed it and rushed back into the house. Carefully, she sliced off the burnt parts until she had a few slices of bread that were pretty good. She tasted a little, and wrinkled her nose. It tasted fine, but you could definitely tell that it was overcooked. Then her face cleared as she opened the fridge and grabbed some Gooseberry Jam. She spread that over the slices, and tasted it again. Much better!
"Sweets, you ready to go?" Lina called.
"Yup!" Sweets replied, covering the slices and bringing them with her.
The walk to the bakery was short, and the Breadmaster was handing out numbers to the contestants. Sweets was number 22. There were 30 Neopets entered.
"Sweets! Hey, Sweets!" Someone called, and Sweets looked around and saw Alexis, waving at her. She ran closer.
"Hey, Sweets. Thanks so much for that faerie flour. It was a real life saver. The toast came out perfect!"
She showed Sweets the slices of faerie toast. They did look amazing!
"What did you bring?" Alexis asked.
"Just homemade bread, with gooseberry jam," Sweets replied. "It was a last minute sort of thing."
"Contestantsa, woulda pleasea linea upa?" the Breadmaster called.
Sweets said good bye to Alexis, and went to her place.
There were three judges: the Breadmaster himself, the Fresh Food Chia, and the Crumpetmonger.
Sweets listened to the statements they made after they sampled each item, trying to judge her chances of winning.
"Very gooda chocolatea cookiesa," the Breadmaster said.
"Mmm! This is absolutely delicious!" said the Food Chia.
"Ugh, this strudel needs a little somthin extra, laddie. Nice try, though," the Crumpetmonger said.
"That just tickles my taste buds! Delicious, lass, if I do say so meself."
Sweets grinned when all three judges praised Alexis' toast. Alexis had very good chances of winning. Sweets was happy that she helped her with the flour.
Finally, it was her turn. She offered the slices of bread.
"Nothing likea gooda loafa breada," the Breadmaster said, taking a bite.
"The taste melts in yer mouth, lassie, although it's a tad tough to chew," the Crumpetmonger said, finishing her slice.
"Hmm... Very interesting," the Fresh Food Chia said, licking the last bit of jam of his fingers.
Sweets smiled and thanked the judges for their time.
After all the judges had sampled the dishes, they talked amongst themselves. She saw several glances towards Alexis, some glances towards a yellow Wocky who had prepared a mixed berry pie, a few glances at a Faerie Acara who had made doughnuts, but no glances towards her.
"We will now declare the winners!" the Fresh Food Chia announced. He glanced at his fellow judges, and said, "The first place ribbon, a copy of My Favourite Food, and 1,000 neopoints goes to... alexis1234567498 the Starry Gelert and her Faerie Toast. The second place ribbon and 500 neopoints goes to... Flaming_Ashes458 the Yellow Wocky and his Mixed Berry Pie. The third place ribbon and 300 neopoints goes to... SweetyHeartpteri the Checkered Aisha, and her slices of bread with gooseberry jam!"
Sweets jumped, surprised! She smiled, and felt like she would never stop smiling as she climbed onto the stage and received the smallest of the three ribbons. But to Sweets, it seemed like the biggest and the best ribbon there ever was. Maybe she did like competitions, after all.