...because life is delicious

Chronicles of Culinary Wizardry

Sep 8, 2017 | Middle grade, Short Story

illustration by Claudia Pimentel

Pip was walking along the beach with his metal detector when something sparkled a few steps ahead. Could this be the ancient artifact or lost pirate treasure that I’ve been waiting for? The waves teasingly rolled it up on the shore only to swallow it right back. After chasing it up and down the beach a few times, Pip pounced on it. It was a glass bottle with a scroll of paper inside. He brushed away the sand and held it up to the sun.

The bottle was foggy but he could see that there were scribbles on the paper. What does it say? He unscrewed the cap and jammed in a couple of grubby fingers, but they were too short to reach the scroll. He tried shaking the bottle upside down but the paper wouldn’t budge. He tried pushing it out with a stick of dried seaweed, but the seaweed fell inside. Pip scowled then hopped on his bike; he had better tools at home.

Once he got back to his house, he gathered three bamboo skewers from the kitchen, a couple of magnets from the refrigerator door and a roll of tape, then got to work. First, Pip taped a magnet to each skewer. Then he pried a corner of the scroll away from the glass with another skewer and simultaneously inserted his magnetic skewer-chopsticks into both sides of the paper and… CLICK! The magnets snapped onto each other, trapping the corner of paper between them. Pip held his breath and carefully tugged the scroll out. With the curled paper freed before him, Pip jubilantly waved his tool in the air. My crafty invention worked! He quickly recomposed himself and smoothed the scroll out with his hands.


The Secret Ingredient

You’ll mistake me for flour every once in a while,

But don’t you go looking in the baking aisle.

I’ll sit pretty and nice near the shelf with spice.

I’m related to salt, to be most precise.


Cream is in my name but I’m not made from dairy.

I come from the fermentation of berries.

I date back over 7,000 years

Found inside pottery once filled with good cheers.


I’m whipped with egg whites to make them stand tall.

Bakers can’t live without me at all.

I keep colors and whites bright and divine,

Or scrub me on metal for a dazzling shine.


With all my merits, I’m still humble and true.

Usually just a half teaspoon will do.

Can you sift through the riddle to find clues in the rhyme

To guess what I am before dinnertime?


Pip flipped the paper over and read the back. It was titled “A Magic Cap” and listed ingredients with a set of baking instructions. The “secret ingredient” was whipped with egg whites.

A mysterious milk bottle, a cryptic message to a secret ingredient and a recipe for a “magic cap”. Pip laid back on the floor and sighed at all his hard work. For what? A baking recipe? He was a boy: a hole-digging, treasure-finding, bike-riding, tool-making, adventure-loving, puzzle-solving boy… with possible wizarding potential! Nowhere was he close to being a baker! Only girls baked. And he never liked sweets anyway.

Pip got up and sandwiched the recipe scroll in the middle of his favorite book, Sherlock Holmes and put it on the shelf next to his Harry Potter collection.

That night after dinner he reread the riddle. Even if I didn’t make the “Magic Cap”, solving the riddle could still be a victory, he thought.

The next day Pip stopped by the grocery store on his way home from school. He went straight to the baking aisle mumbling to himself. “Maybe the riddle was misleading on purpose? Sometimes things are hidden in the most obvious places. Mr. Holmes would definitely still check the baking aisle.” There was wheat flour, white flour, gluten-free flour and almond flour, but nothing with the word “cream”.

He moved to the spice aisle where he found cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, but again, nothing with the word “cream”. In the salt aisle, there was sea salt, rock salt, pink salt and powdered salt. The powdered salt looked most like flour so he grabbed a container. Pip spent the afternoon searching each aisle meticulously. The only thing he found that had “cream” in the name and looked like flour but was not dairy, was Cream of Wheat. He bought a box of Cream of Wheat along with the powdered salt and biked home.

Pip placed the items on his desk and researched their origins and properties on the internet. He even created a chart to compare the traits of each ingredient.

TraitsPowdered SaltCream of Wheat
Looks like flour?YesYes
Related to salt?YesNo
"Cream" in nameNoYes
Made from fermented berries?No - made from salty oceanNo - made from wheat farina
Found inside pottery?Maybe?No
Whipped in egg whites?Maybe?No
Keeps colors?NoNo
Makes metal shiny?Yes - with lemon juice to scrub tarnish off copper pots and pansNo

The Cream of Wheat was clearly the wrong thing, but the salt seemed promising. Pip felt that he was getting close. The next day he returned the powdered salt and Cream of Wheat and found himself lingering in the detergent aisle. He recalled that detergent keeps clothes white or colors bright and sometimes comes in a powdered form. But it was definitely not edible. He shook his head and returned to the spice aisle. There on the top shelf, was a new item that was not there the previous day. He tried to read the label but he was too short.

Pip looked to the right and left to make sure no clerks were watching and then stepped up on the lowest shelf and climbed up to grab the container. The label read “Cream of Tartar”. Pip fell out of the shelving in his excitement and tumbled to the floor.

That night when he researched the ingredient, he found that Cream of Tartar was made from the sediment at the bottom of wine barrels, and was first found in ancient pottery that once contained wine. That explains the “good cheers” part. Pip learned that wine was made from grapes. But grapes aren’t berries… or are they? He checked the online dictionary. It turned out grapes were berries since they were “small pulpy fruit with seeds”. Score!

Pip was too excited to sleep and researched long after the house got quiet. He found that a pinch of Cream of Tartar thrown into a pot of boiled vegetables helped the vegetables keep their bright colors. It was used in cakes to make them fluffy and white. But most importantly, it was beaten with egg whites to create stiff peaks for meringue. Cream of Tartar must be it! Pip bolted up. He wanted to see it in action. Maybe I’ll try making the “Magic Cap” after all.

Pip raided the pantry and refrigerator for eggs, flour, butter, cheese, and milk. He secretly baked without waking anyone. It was difficult to beat eggs without making too much noise, but a silicon whisk did the trick. Pip thought he was quite clever. Over half an hour passed and the egg whites still wouldn’t fluff up. His arm ached and felt like it was going to fall off. He baked it anyway hoping for the best, but it cooked into a rubbery mess. Pip dumped it in the trash and went to bed disappointed.

The next day, he researched what could have gone wrong with his egg beating. He learned that eggs still cold from the refrigerator have trouble fluffing up when beaten. He also read that it would be a lot easier on the arms if he used an electric mixer instead.

Pip waited for a night when his parents went out for dinner and then tried the recipe again. This time he used an electric mixer on eggs that had been sitting out at room temperature. When it was baking, the batter rose and expanded like a balloon. Pip danced about the kitchen in excitement. After the timer rang, Pip immediately opened the oven door, and watched, horrified, as the balloon rapidly deflated into a pancake. He couldn’t even shake it out because the pancake was stuck to the dish. That’s right! I forgot to grease the dish!

The following weekend when his parents were out, Pip tried the recipe once again. He was pretty sure he did everything right this time. With fingers crossed, he watched through the oven window. The small mound grew and grew. No wonder it was called a “Magic Cap”. It reminded Pip of a blooming mushroom. The puffed cap started to pull away from the sides of the dish and the top began to crack. Pip left the dish in the oven after the timer rang and patiently waited a couple minutes for it to set before taking it out.

Pip leaned over the golden cap and poked at it curiously with a finger. It jiggled. The rising steam tickled his nostrils. It smells amazing! He spooned a large warm scoop of fluffy cheesiness into his mouth. It was light and airy, like eating a cloud with a soft, creamy center that melted on his tongue. He didn’t know something baked could be this fun to eat. It was unlike anything he had ever tried before. It was more delicate than a cake and savory instead of sweet. He liked it!

Pip copied the riddle and recipe into a new journal which he titled “Chronicles of Culinary Wizardry”. He took a step back and assessed his bookshelf, already crammed with books, for the journal’s new home. Sherlock Holmes may have to move over, but he was sure Mr. Holmes would understand since he had memorized most of the story by heart. Pip took out Sherlock Holmes and slid the journal in it’s place next to his Harry Potter collection. He looked pleased with his expanding wizardry section.

The next week Pip biked back to the ocean. He returned the scroll to the bottle and added his own notepaper with tips.


Tip 1: Whip the egg whites when they are at room temperature. Cold eggs won’t fluff up.

Tip 2: Don’t forget to grease the dish.

Tip 3: After the timer rings, leave the Magic Cap in the oven for a couple minutes. Don’t open the oven door right away or it will deflate.


Pip – a hole-digging, treasure-finding, bike-riding, tool-making, adventure-loving, puzzle-solving, kitchen wizard.


He screwed the lid tight and flung the milk bottle into the ocean as far as he could. It soared in an arc, twinkling in the sunset, and disappeared with a splash. Pip grinned and biked home, thinking about what his next entry in “Chronicles of Culinary Wizardry” would be.

Cheese Soufflé

makes five 4″ diameter soufflés

prep time: 30-35 minutes
cook time: 35 minutes
total time: 1 hour 5 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes


butter, at room temperature

2 tbsp grated Parmesan

3 tbsp butter

3 tbsp flour

1 tsp ground mustard

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/8 tsp kosher salt

1 1/3 cups milk, hot

4 large egg yolks

3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese 

5 egg whites

1 tbsp water

1/2 tsp cream of tartar


butter, at room temperature

2 tbsp grated Parmesan

3 tbsp butter

3 tbsp flour

1 tsp ground mustard

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/8 tsp kosher salt

1 1/3 cups milk, hot

4 large egg yolks

3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese 

5 egg whites

1 tbsp water

1/2 tsp cream of tartar


Use room temperature butter to grease the five 4″ diameter soufflé dishes. Add the grated Parmesan and rotate the dish to coat the buttered sides. Cover with plastic wrap and place into the freezer for 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, ground mustard, garlic powder and kosher salt.

In a small saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons butter. Whisk the flour mixture into the melted butter and cook for 2 minutes.

Whisk in the hot milk and turn the heat up to high. Once the mixture reaches a boil, remove from heat.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks to a creamy consistency. Slowly pour the egg yolks into the milk mixture, stirring constantly. Add the shredded cheese and mix until incorporated.

In a separate bowl, using a hand mixer, whip the egg whites, water and cream of tartar until it has reached stiff peak stage.

Add 1/4 of the whipped egg whites into the milk mixture and gently fold until the white streaks are gone. Continue adding the egg whites by thirds, folding very gently. Be careful not to over mix.

Pour the mixture into the soufflé dishes until approximately 1/2 inch from the top. Place the soufflés onto an aluminum pan and bake in the oven for 35 minutes.

When it is done baking, be sure to leave the soufflés inside the oven for a few minutes so they don’t deflate right away.

Garnish with chives and enjoy immediately!



Adapted from Alton Brown

Author’s Notes

In the kitchen
Did you know that there are four stages of whipped egg whites? Foamy, soft peak, firm peak and stiff peak.

Foamy – The egg whites are clear, liquidy and foamy.

Soft Peaks – The egg whites are white instead of clear. When the whisk is lifted out of the egg whites, it will form soft peaks that slump over to the side and melt back into itself.

Firm Peaks – When the whisk is turned upside down, the peaks will hold but the tips will curl. The ridges will look more distinct and the egg whites will not slide out if the bowl is tipped sideways.

Stiff Peak – When the whisk is turned upside down, the peaks should stand straight. When stiff peaks form, the egg whites have reached their fullest volume and should not be beaten any longer.

Over beaten egg whites will become grainy, watery and flat. At this point you’ll have to use new eggs and start over.


In the classroom
Soufflé is a French egg dish named after the French verb souffler which means “to breathe” or “to puff”. According to Wikipedia, the development and popularization of the soufflé is usually traced to French chef Marie-Antoine Carême, considered one of the first internationally renowned celebrity chefs, in the early nineteenth century. He is also credited with creating the standard chef’s hat (yes – the tall, round, pleated, starched white one that you see in all chef cartoons).


In life
When I first tasted soufflé, I was awestruck by the light and airy texture. How is that texture even possible? And like most humans, when we are awestruck by something too cool for common sense, we like to explain the unexplainable with the simple word – magic.

Why is it so fluffy??!! Magic.

Why does it dissolve on my tongue??!! Magic.

Why is it so yummy??!! Magic.

So I wanted to write a story that celebrated the magicalness of food. For me, soufflé had always been in the “too fancy to make at home” category and reserved for special occasions when you wanted to practice your French accent at a restaurant. But after a couple of attempts in the kitchen, I’d say it’s not as intimidating and as complicated as I initially thought. It is very rewarding when you get it right. All you need is some curiosity and determination, and then let it do its thing!