“A bold flame to a whimper of coals; a wise p?tissierknows which their desserts need.”
—From the salvaged notes of A., apprentice in the kitchens of Fontainebleau c. 1530s
Henri’s angel wings were shapeless. He looked down at the pairs piled on the pewter platter. Not even his glorious stacking job would save them.
He’d woken up before the cock crowed and walked in the cold darkness through the woods between the village and the palace. Not stopping, even when he heard the howls of couples finalizing their evenings against bark.
He’d walked through the side gardens still littered with streamers. Henri laughed as he tripped over a runaway peacock pecking at an overturned goblet. Something caught Henri’s eye, nestled by the pale legs of a marble bench. He snatched up the green bottle shimmering in the dying starlight. Henri smiled. Half full.
A sign. This morning was going to be his. This was a toast to his victory. Though the king slept somewhere above, he’d unknowingly given Henri a taste of the blessings in store. Henri’s sugary artistry would be praised above all others.
Henri palmed the squat bottomed bottle. Its neck was embossed with a crest he wasn’t familiar with. Certainly not French, he thought as he squinted in the darkness. A gift from Italy perhaps? Like theirlittle toadess,Henri thought. He hadn’t seen a glimpse of her yet, but the rumors went that her beauty was scarce.
“Let’s hope the little toadess doesn’t just eat flies,” Henri had quipped and sent the rest of the apprentices into laughter over their swirling flour and rolling pins a few mornings before.
Henri couldn’t identify the crest in the waning moonlight. He rubbed his thumb over it. It felt like six balls raised, like sugar plums on a shield. He slugged it back. Henri’s insides sang. He tipped the bottle in the direction he imagined the wedding guests had hastily departed, dropping their bounty on the lawn.
The celebration of the Medici princess’s marriage to the king’s son had stretched into a week of performances, jousts, and feasts. Many of which, surprisingly, featured new dishes served by her army of Italian bakers.
Swords and tongues of different nations clashed above in merriment, but for the kitchens of Fontainebleau, it meant a lot of drunk, hungry royals around the clock. An exhausting affair finally extinguished with the last ambassador’s carriage waved off and the royals put to bed a few hours ago.
At this hour the palace sat silent. It’s sprawling grounds were hushed. Even the posted guards’ helmets drooped like tulips under a spell of slumber. This hour of twilight was Henri’s favorite. For at this hour reigned a silence beyond the bustle of humanity. A world untouched by the affairs of men. An intoxicating stillness Henri loved to wander. He walked the halls where stable boys and chambermaids dreamed.
This hour was his. Henri would fry heaven on earth. Once the royal chefs de dessert tried his crispy angel wings, they would drop to their knees in reverence. All of them. Blind with tears of rapture after finally tasting true salvation. The court would gobble up his desserts and fall into ecstasy. The king’s curiosity would lead him to commissioning a trough of gold where Henri could dump trays upon trays of angel wings and more while the king gorged on his hands and knees.
The vision of his creations sliding down the king’s royal gullet brought tears to Henri’s eyes.
Once satiated, the king would look upon Henri. Not as he would his subjects or servants, but he would really seeHenri. It would be like the sun bowing to its brother moon.
The king would have to declare him, Henri du Roi de France, the king’s private p?tissiertill the entire world demanded Henri share his delicious gifts! Earth’s lips would drool in anticipation every day for the latest of Henri’s golden confections!
This morning was the beginning of it all. Henri smiled as he lit the royal ovens. He added kindling slowly till a tampered flame rose, a temperature Henri knew would yield a gentle heat to turn the butter block to oil.
A bold flame to a whimper of ash, the best chefs know which their desserts prefer, Henri overheard once. Now what did angel wings prefer?
To achieve the flakey crust, Henri knew he must not drown the angel wings in the oil cackling as it heated. He rolled out his prepared dough from the night before. Using a knife, he slit the rolled dough into boulevards. He twisted the wings tenderly. As if each pair were truly sky bound. He blessed each one before dropping it into the melted butter. He made his entire roll of dough. And another, then another.
He dipped them all. First with a fork. Then a knife. Finally turning them one by one, delicately with his bare fingertips. Though it burned, perhaps it would give him more control over the crisping? Not a single wing seemed to take to the butter. Henri’s skin was turning more gold than his cookies.