About the Holiday
National Personal Chef Day pays homage to all of the professional chefs and bakers who provide tasty and nutritious meals to families, organizations, and institutions around the country. Through their education, skills, and talent, these chefs enrich the lives of those who can’t cook for themselves and provide comfort for the people who love and care for them. If a professional or personal chef cooks meals for someone you love, take a moment to thank them today.
The Bake Shop Ghost
Written by Jacqueline K. Ogburn | Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
For all intents and purposes, Miss Cora Lee Merriweather is Merriweather’s Bake Shop and the bake shop is Cora Lee. “Her Mississippi mud pie was darker than the devil’s own heart,” and her sponge cake was as light as angels’ wings. Her bakery case is stacked with fluffy pies, flaky strudels, and cakes of every size and flavor. In fact, no one’s birthday is complete without a Merriweather cake to celebrate with.
When Cora passes away, the congregation at her funeral weeps when the preacher reads the bake shop menu and everyone realizes that “all those luscious desserts were now only sweet memories.” It doesn’t take long, however, for a new baker to buy Cora’s business. Gerda Stein stocks the shelves with the ingredients for her strudels and cakes and starts baking, but the ovens burn every dessert, the refrigerator goes on the fritz, and Gerda hears ominous footsteps overhead and frightening clanking behind her. She slowly turns around and finds herself staring straight into the eyes of a ghostly Cora Lee Merriweather who shrieks, “Get out of my kitchen!”
The bake shop goes back on the market and is sold to Frederico Spinelli who is not afraid of ghosts—until the next day when he emerges from the front door drenched in powdered sugar and never returns. Sophie Kristoff, the marzipan queen, takes over next, only to be chased out by flying eggs, three pink marzipan pigs, and a bunch of marzipan grapes.
After her departure the shop stands vacant for years, growing dim and dusty. One day Annie Washington, fresh off her stint as a cruise ship pastry chef, strolls by the dilapidated storefront. She falls in love with it as soon as she steps through the door. Annie buys the old bakery and scrubs and polishes everything until it shines.
That night Annie goes straight to work on a puff pastry. Around midnight footsteps creak overhead, a cold wind sweeps the room, and mixing bowls topple to the floor. Annie keeps working. When she’s finished she dusts off her hands, turns around, and finds herself staring into ghostly eyes. “‘Miss Cora Lee Merriweather, I’ve been expecting you,” she says.
“Get out of my kitchen!” Cora says. But Annie is not intimidated. “This is my kitchen now,” she tells Cora. And what’s more, even though Cora may have been the best baker in the state, Annie tells her that she was the best pastry chef to ever sail on the Sea Star cruise ships. Come typhoon, tsunami, or shipwreck, she never left a kitchen until she was finished.
Cora tries every trick in the book—she shrieks, flings utensils, rises up through the dough Annie’s kneading, shatters eggs, and as dawn breaks scatters a 50-pound bag of flour across the kitchen. All right, Annie says, “What can I do so you’ll leave me in peace?” Cora has a ready answer: “Make me a cake so rich and so sweet, it will fill me up and bring tears to my eyes. A cake like one I might have baked, but that no one ever made for me.” “Piece of cake,” replies Annie.
Annie makes every cake she knows and Cora critiques them. But none fill her up or bring a tear to her eye. Annie grows to respect the ghost’s advice, but she wants her kitchen back. After a month and hundreds of cakes, Annie is out of ideas. She goes to the library to research more recipes. There she finds a small book on town history, and after reading it, she knows just what kind of cake to bake.
That night at midnight Cora appears, and Annie is ready. She lifts the cover on a very special cake. “Across the top, in piped icing, it read, ‘Happy Birthday, Cora Lee.’” The ghost looks at Annie with tears in her eyes. “‘How did you know?’” Cora asks. Annie reveals the secrets of her research then adds, “Besides, who ever makes a cake for the baker?” With tears streaming down her face, Cora eats her slice of cake. When Annie offers her another, she declines. “‘I do believe I’m full.’”
Now everyone in town enjoys Washington and Merriweather Bake Shop, where the cakes are almost as good as Cora’s. But they never suspect that Cora Lee helps out in the kitchen. And the most beautiful cakes? Those are the birthday cakes Annie and Cora make for each other.
A recipe for Ghost-Pleasing Chocolate Cake follows the story.
The Bake Shop Ghost was first published in 2005 and made into a short film in 2009 starring Marianne Jean-Baptiste. Despite its age, however, this is a story that seems fresh every time it’s read. Jacqueline K. Ogburn plays out the story with such excellent pacing and details that the twist ending is a true surprise. Her descriptions of Cora Lee’s delicacies are mouthwatering and her metaphors just as downhome and tantalizing. Ogburn’s Annie will inspire young readers with her confidence, kindness, generosity, and enduring friendship.
Marjorie Priceman illustrates The Bake Shop Ghost with verve and delicious colors that will make readers wish they could visit Merriweather’s to sample the desserts in the well-stocked cases. The sophisticated shop is no less inviting, with its delicate chandeliers, French café chairs, and homey details. Priceman infuses her pages with humorous details as well: as Cora is distracted with a sale, a dog licks icing off a wedding cake, and at Cora’s funeral the preacher, choir, and congregation shed copious tears as ethereal visions of the cakes they will miss float in the air. The scenes in which Cora’s ghost menaces the new shop owners are cleverly depicted with swoops of white that bear Cora’s face and hands floating above the disaster she causes.
Ages 4 -9
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Paperback edition, 2008 | ISBN 978-0547076775
National Personal Chef Day Activity
Very Vanilla Cupcakes
This delicious vanilla cupcake recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction would definitely please Cora Lee Merriweather—and they’ll become one of your favorite confections too!
- 1 and 2/3 cup (210g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
- 2 large egg whites
- 1/4 cup (60g) vanilla Greek yogurt (or plain; or regular yogurt; or even sour cream)
- 3/4 cup (180ml) vanilla almond milk (or cow’s milk; or soy milk; or plain almond milk)
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract seeds scraped from 1/2 split vanilla bean1
Vanilla Bean Frosting
- 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 4-5 cups (480-600g) confectioners’ sugar
- 1/4 cup (60ml) heavy cream2
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract seeds scraped from 1/2 split vanilla bean1
- Salt, to taste
- Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt butter in the microwave. Whisk in sugar – mixture will be gritty. Whisk in egg whites, yogurt, milk, and vanilla extract until combined. Split 1 vanilla bean down the middle lengthwise. Scrape seeds from half of the vanilla bean into batter. Reserve other half.
- Slowly mix dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until no lumps remain. Batter will be thick.
- Divide batter among 12 cupcake liners (or 24 mini) and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Bake for 8-9 minutes if making mini cupcakes. Allow to cool.
- To make the frosting, beat softened butter on medium speed with an electric or stand mixer. Beat for about 3 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add confectioners’ sugar, cream, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds with the mixer running. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add more powdered sugar if frosting is too thin or more cream if mixture is too thick. Add salt if frosting is too sweet (1/4 teaspoon). Frost cooled cupcakes (I used Wilton 1M piping tip). There may be leftover frosting depending how much you use on each cupcake.
- Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days and in the refrigerator up to 7.
- If you can’t get your hands on vanilla beans, add an extra ½ teaspoon of pure vanilla extract instead.
- Strongly urged to use heavy cream. You may use milk or half-and-half, but heavy cream will give the frosting a thicker texture. I recommend it!
For ways to adapt this recipe and more scrumptious recipes, visit Sally’s Baking Addiction. I guarantee you’ll go back again and again!
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