The kitchen hummed with excitement and the aroma of cinnamon drifted throughout the room. Eager for the contest to begin, Ms. Claus made her way towards Blanch, head of the North Pole kitchen. Overseeing the yearly cookie baking contest at the North Pole for several years, Ms. Claus knew how intense the competition could be. This year, however, invitations had been sent to all baking elves throughout the world to join in the Great Cookie Bake-Off. Fifteen teams had accepted.
“This is exciting,” Blanch remarked as she walked up to greet Ms. Claus. “My staff and I stocked the kitchen carefully and have provided every baking utensil possible.” Picking up her clip board, she added, “Gotta go! Each team has to be checked in before the contest can begin.”
“No problem. While observing the excitement, Ms. Claus felt a tap on her shoulder.
“Can I talk with you a minute Ms. Claus?” a quiet voice asked.
Turning, she noticed the unhappy face of the youngest elf on the North Pole’s team. “Certainly, Guinevere, what seems to be the problem?”
“I’m sorry Ms. Claus,” she began, “but Doheny always finds things to yell about that really aren’t problems. I know what I’m doing, but she makes me so nervous.”
“Don’t let Chef Doheny get to you, Guinevere. She is a perfectionist, but you could learn a lot from her. Besides you have baking skills that the North Pole team needs.”
“Thanks, Ms. Claus, for believing in me, but… maybe I’m not up to the task and should step aside so the team can do its best.”
Ms. Claus stared directly at Guinevere. “OK, if that’s how you feel. But I have confidence in you. This world-wide event will only happen every five years. Are you in or out?”
“In!’” was the elf’s determined reply as she turned on her heels and walked back into the kitchen.
Ms. Claus smiled. “Now,” she muttered, “I better find Blanch so we can begin the contest.”
“Make Santa proud,” she remarked as she passed her team. Turning, she winked at Guinevere and made her way towards Blanch in the front of the kitchen. “All teams ready?” she asked.
Nodding, Blanch whispered, “Ready as they’ll ever be!”
Taking the microphone, Ms. Claus welcomed everyone. “Remember, you have an hour to bake two dozen cookies. Place them on the official North Pole platter that each team was given, and take them to the dining room across the hall so that our official taster, Santa, can determine the winners. Is everyone ready?”
As cheers traveled throughout the room, Ms. Claus yelled, “Let the contest begin.”
Ms. Claus scrutinized the room, pleased by the excited dedication the elves revealed. Strolling among the teams, Ms. Claus noticed an elf rub a lemon over a grater to create lemon zest. “That lemony scent makes my mouth water,” she remarked.
Then she made her way to the Laplander table to watch the elves prepare Finland’s famous Joulutorttu (jo lu tort tu) cookie. Ms. Claus watched two team members cook down the prunes, adding a little sugar as they did to create a jammy consistency. Three others laid out the dough into two-inch squares, partially cut into fours. “What an interesting design.”
Proud of her country’s unique cookie, the elf explained, “Each square will have a dollop of jam placed into the middle. Then we curl the dough to the left of each part and create a star. Powdered sugar is sprinkled on top. I hope you will try one after the contest.”
Smiling, Ms. Claus nodded, “I definitely plan to do that.”
When I arrived, Ms. Claus and Blanch opened the doors to the dining-hall, inviting me to take my place at the head of the table. “Welcome, my fellow elves,” I announced. “What a beautiful display of your baking skills. Since this is the first international cookie contest of its kind, I will enjoy every tasty morsel.”
The elves broke into laughter and cheered me on as I made my way around the dining table. Listing the number attached to each platter, I then sampled a cookie and wrote notes about each one on a pad of paper.
About an hour later, with my stomach straining against my belt, I walked to the front of the room and took the microphone. The room went silent. “My taste buds were put to the test today. It wasn’t easy, but I have chosen the winners.”
“Finland, your Joulutorttu was one of the most unique cookies I have ever tasted, congratulations,” I said handing them the first place trophy.
“That was a hard call because the Nutmeg Cookie was also outstanding,” I remarked as Chef Doheny and her team cheered. “I am so proud of the home team.”
Holding up the second place trophy, the chef smiled with delight.
“Finally, the Scottish elves made a delicious Lemon Shortbread cookie,” I said, giving them the final trophy. “You know, Ms. Claus is especially fond of lemon, so I see her making these cookies without me having to ask.”
“Thanks Santa,” yelled the team in unison.
The slap of high fives and dances of victory could be heard and seen throughout the dining room. “You have made three teams very happy Santa,” whispered Ms. Claus as she gave me a quick kiss.
“This was a wonderful idea, Anya,” I remarked slipping my arm around her shoulders. “I am so proud of you and Blanch. I’ve never had so much fun tasting sweets.”
“Cookies will always be your weakness,” she joked.
Spotting Guinevere in the back of the room, Ms. Claus excused herself and went over and hugged the elf. “I’m so proud of you!” she exclaimed.
“Is this the young elf you were talking about Anya?” remarked Santa, slipping up behind us.
“Yes, she is. Guinevere did more than she thought she could do today, and it paid off.”
“Thanks Ms. Claus! If you hadn’t challenged me, I don’t think I could have stuck with it.”
“Hurry up Guinevere,” yelled one of her teammates.
“Coming,” she called out. “Sorry Santa and Ms. Claus. Need to go. We’re getting our team picture taken.”
As the excited elf ran to catch up with her team, I turned to Ms. Claus, “I love how you work with our young elves,” I said giving her a quick kiss. “They need encouragement.”
“Thanks Santa, but you know, I learned from the best.” Grabbing my arm, she added, “Now let’s enjoy some cookies before they are all gone.”
Notes From Santa
To read more about cookies or the North Pole kitchen please check out: With a Little Help From My Friends, which was posted on July 1, 2019; and Not All Candy Canes Are The Same, which was posted on July 22, 2019;
I hope you enjoyed today’s story. I will post another one next Monday. If you have any comments or if there is something you would like me to tell you about, please feel free to leave me a comment. Until next week . . .
Illustration by FireMane Studio