You have to break an egg to make a cake
Anyone would think it would be the seagulls stomping across the roof that would wake Zoe every day, but it’s hard to hear their drumming footsteps when there’s a baby bawling for blue murder.
Zoe stared at the digital display and willed it say something different, but no matter how many times she blinked it was still 3.14am. Less than two hours before she had to get up for work.
“Hey, hey,” Zoe whispered to her daughter Sophia, just ten months old and crabby, while trying also not to wake her gran in the next room. “Ssssshhhhh” she cooed, cradling her in her arms while Sophia’s hot tears soaked into her chest.
By 6am, on just a few hours’ sleep and with a familiar guilty feeling sinking deep down into the pit of her stomach, Zoe was on her way to work.
Cycling down from her gran’s estate at the top of the East Cliff, Zoe took in some spectacular views of Whitby as she made her way work.
This morning was particularly picturesque.
A low autumn fog hung over the harbour, enveloping the streets in a hazy layer, while the rising sun made a subtle appearance over the River Esk, making the rippling waters golden, while lighting aglow the orange clay rooftops in the town. The remains of the Abbey looked positively heavenly as the sun poured on them, while Zoe, once again, felt a bit like death.
Seven days a week Zoe worked as a housekeeper at a homely B&B on the West Cliff. While Zoe enjoyed meeting people and cooking their breakfasts, she didn’t enjoy the daily grind of changing sheets and topping up toilet paper. She hadn’t factored in scrubbing toilets into her future. But neither had she envisioned becoming a single mum at 18.
Not that Zoe had any regrets about Sophia, who she loved above anything else in the world. It’s just she’d had a bigger plans - but becoming a pastry chef would have to wait. At least until Sophia was at school.
On Monday afternoons, when she had an early finish after a busy weekend, Zoe would take her gran into town for a cuppa and cake to try to show her gratitude for looking after Sophia all week.
Hastily pushing her pram over the cobbles, trying to avoid the crowds of tourists peering into every shop window, the three made their way into a new cafe they’d been meaning to try.
Zoe was disappointed. Though the shabby-chic interior and wide array of cakes looked inviting, it was another venue with factory-made sweets that disappointed her palette.
Having made all kinds of deserts before giving up catering college, from macarons and mille feuille to brownies and banoffee pie, she’d hoped to find a cafe to relax in that had the kind of things she really liked to eat. Gran could sense disappointment. “I keep telling you, you should use that Facebook thingy and instagram what-ma-bob you go on and sell your cakes on there!”
“What time do I have though? Between Sophia and the B&B I barely get enough time to make a sandwich, let alone get my baking perfect,” Zoe replied, feeling defeated.
Still, Sophia was in a good mood that day, and happily took in messy mouthfuls of Victoria sponge from her gran’s plate. Zoe couldn’t help but smile at that.
Rather than heading home straight from work the next day, Zoe decided to take her bike for a ride down the coast. Despite it being October, the weather was still warm, and there was still enough daylight to make it to Sandsend village and back without being noticeably late for relieving her Gran of Sophia.
Zoe really loved this time of year. When the sun wasn’t as high or as harsh the golden landscape of the area really came into its own. The long sands stretched out before her as she meandered along the promenade, walkers graced the pebbly beach with their fleeces tied around their waists, as a couple of stray surfers enjoyed the waves and a ride along the spray.
Down the beach, a toddler not much older than Sophia was almost taken out by an excitable cocker spaniel. Zoe smiled as she saw the tot gathered into her father’s arms. It still stung a little that she didn’t have the same for her own little girl.
Breathing the salt air deep into her lungs, Zoe hopped off her bike and sat down on a boulder at the bottom of the slipway, listening to the crashing waves of the far-off tide.
An idea had been niggling in her subconscious since speaking to her Gran about her baking aspirations. She wondered if rather than trying to compete with the cafes to sell cakes to customers, she could go into business with the cafes herself? She probably had enough time to bake on an evening after her shifts finished, and her goods would probably be cheaper than the wholesalers they were buying from.
But how to get the cafes to taste her baking? She had an idea, but it felt pretty silly.
The town would soon be filled with all kinds of ghouls (and plenty of tourists) at the town’s Goth Weekend, taking place each Halloween. If she baked up some batches of Halloween specials, and they sold well, maybe the cafe owners might like to buy some more of her cakes?
She got back on her bike, and should have been taking in the amazing scenery on her ride home, but her mind was too full of schemes and plans to concentrate properly on her surroundings.
That night Zoe didn’t sleep very well. After getting Sophia off for the night, she stayed up researching and planning. Ideas came to her easily. She could adapt recipes she already knew and had lots of fun ideas for designs and flavours.
But as soon as she closed her eyes she opened them soon after, when another idea popped into her mind. She’d quickly jot down the idea in her phone, but would then start searching for more inspiration. When Sophia awoke at 4am, Zoe was already wide awake. Housekeeping would be a struggle that day.
Zoe spent the whole weekend baking, and the finished goods were as polished as anything she’d made in college. Tiny bags of cobweb cookies and creepy cake pops filled the basket of her bike, which she’d lined with black cloth and covered in fake cobwebs, tiny black plastic spiders hanging off the front for full effect.
Zoe felt as though thousands of tiny spiders were making themselves at home in her stomach as she made her way into town, slowly navigating the downhill stretches so as not to damage any of her precious baked goods. She had a mental list of cafes and a route planned. In a bid not to have to say too much to the cafe owners, she’d prepared a short letter to go with each goodie bag explaining her idea, that her prices were negotiable, and how to get in touch.
With just two weeks to go until Halloween, Zoe hoped she’d hear from the cafe owners pretty soon.
Still full of adrenaline after her nerve-wracking cake-drop around town, Zoe treated herself to a bag of chips and a can of coke and plonked herself down on a bench on the pier. A couple of gulls eyed her up but didn’t approach. Zoe eyed them back and tentatively placed a hot chip in her mouth.
She tried to take some positives from the day despite her nerves. Even if none of the cafes wanted to invest in her goods, at least she’d have some new items for her portfolio, and the kids on Gran’s estate would love their trick or treat takings this year.
Arriving home with an empty basket but with a smile on her face, Gran greeted Zoe with a sleepy Sophia. Clumsily embracing Zoe while still holding the baby, Gran gave Zoe a huge hug. “I’m so proud of you, Zo. I love both my beautiful girls.”
Two days later, all but one of the cafes had got back to her. All had said no. While they said her baking was not only delicious but beautiful, they’d already ordered in extras for Halloween weekend. Some had said they’d been in touch before Christmas if she could do samples of something similar, which Zoe felt delighted with.
Work was dragging after the previous week’s excitement and anticipation had worn off, and Zoe felt relieved to finish and looked forward to a warm bath at home. The weather had also taken a turn for the worse, and by the time she was home gusts across the harbour coupled with a vicious downpour had left Zoe soaked to the skin. She’d battled rivers or rain flowing downhill as she faced a headwind heading uphill.
Peeling off her soggy layers and slipping into the bath, Zoe switched on her phone for the first time since lunch, to find several missed calls and an answerphone message from an unknown number.
“Hello darling, I’m Anthony from the Bay Tearooms. I absolutely loved your cakes! Do I still have time to order some for Halloween? We’ll sell them this weekend too if you could make them in time! Maybe 20 of each? We’re sure they’ll go down a treat. Oops that wasn’t meant to be a pun! Call me back ASAP!”
Zoe was no longer relaxing in the bath. She sat up with a jolt and did a happy little scream. Gran probably wondered what on earth was happening.
It was hard work getting all the goods together, but after what looked like a flour bomb had gone off in Gran’s already tiny kitchen, and several sleepless nights, Zoe had provided 200 baked items for Anthony over two weekends. And he’d sold out of everything.
Zoe headed into town to collect her cake boxes from the cafe, when Anthony asked her to take a seat and have a chat. He made her a hot chocolate, whipped cream melting down the edge of the mug, and said he had a proposition.
“Of course I’d love to buy more baked goods off you for Christmas, but I was wondering if you’d be willing to supply me some cakes now? It’s off season at the moment so I’m not needing much, but when it gets to spring I’ll have a lot more demand. I’d like you to bake for me exclusively. I don’t know whether you’re working at the moment, but when it’s busy again I’d also love it if you’d like to come do some shifts on the counter? It would be so nice for you to tell people about your cakes.”
Zoe could feel her eyes widen and her cheeks redden as she took in his words. She had no idea he’d liked her cakes that much. Of course she would come work for him!
Cycling home through the quiet, grey, November streets, Zoe should have been dreading the long winter ahead. But she felt as though she had a new lease of life. She was going to be paid to do what she loved best - and could spend more time at home with Sophia as she grew up.
Gran was thrilled at the news. She also had a proposition. Why not move to a bigger place with the extra money coming in, with a nicer kitchen to bake in, where Sophia could have a bedroom of her own? Zoe was ecstatic. Everything was falling into place.