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Henri de Ceredigion

Chapter Four: Making a Meal of it / Chapitre Quatre: Faire un Repas
“Past the hour of two and all’s well!”

As the town crier walked past Henri’s digs, both master and servant had tied on their aprons and were starting on the meal. The first thing to be tackled was boeuf bourguignon, one of Planchet’s suggestions, which needed the longest amount of time to cook. As Henri cut the beef into large chunks and started to cover them with some of the flour, Planchet heated up a pan and was soon searing them over the heat and as he did he explained why to his master, who was taking a very keen interest.

“This will bring out the flavour of the meat, master” he explained, “and as we have a gourmet coming this evening, flavour has to be everything!” and Henri found himself agreeing. When the beef looked done, Planchet took it out and handed the pan to Henri who was about to tip the residual oil out to start afresh for the next batch of ingredients when Planchet grabbed his arm.

“Non” he said, with a stern expression on his face, “keep the oil”

“But it’s dirty” replied Henri

“Yes” replied Planchet, “and full of flavour as well” and with that he threw in some chopped bacon, some onions and some peppercorns and as he heated them through until the onions started to change colour Henri suddenly gasped and pointed to the bottom of the pan.

“The peppercorns have burnt!” he exclaimed and started pacing the floor, “the meal’s been ruined before we have even started”.

Planchet smiled and said “There is nothing to fear, it will make the stew taste better” and with that added some herbs and then the meat and then asked his master for some wine. Henri opened a cupboard and took out the bottle that he handed out whenever Athos came to visit however Planchet simply said “If the wine is not good enough to drink, it is not good enough for this” and took out the wine that Henri had bought especially for Aramis that evening and poured it into the pot before pouring in some beer and then using his smallest fingers crushed a small sugar cube into the pot.

Henri was sad to hear that the sugar was being used in the meal, he had managed to buy just enough sugar for the meal and wanted to taste some himself but as Planchet placed the pot into the oven he said “I shall just have to wait to become a baron!”

Next on the agenda struck Henri as rather odd as Planchet announced he was going to make a cake.

“A cake?” asked Henri, “but…”

Planchet chuckled and said “In England you may have cakes made of sponge, but here our cakes are of the savoury nature” and with that he set to work making a cake that Henri had never seen before in his life.

As Planchet poured some flour into a large bowl and added some yeast, Henri was asked to slice some of the goat’s cheese into small cubes, then chop some olives which he had bought from a Greek merchant, and then chopped some hazelnuts from his native home and as he did he suddenly stopped and said “Planchet, do you miss your home?”

“Master” said Planchet, mixing the yeast into the flour, “this is my home by your side!”

“I mean” added Henri, “do you miss your home, home. Where you were born and grew up with your parents?” and with that he sniffed slightly

Planchet stopped mixing and asked Henri if something was wrong.

“Chopping these hazelnuts” he said, “has reminded me of home. Last Christmas I didn’t miss my home at all, I was living in Paris, a new city, but, well., I…” and with that Henri broke down and slumped into his servant’s chest. Planchet gently patted his master and said “Here, let me chop those nuts for you”

As Planchet finished chopping the nuts and then added them along with the cheese and the olives to the mix, Henri sat down on a stool and sniffed.

“I’m sorry” he said, wiping his eyes with his apron, “I don’t know what came over me. I could only think of my parents, gathering food for the next few days, sitting around the table with my seat empty. I know that they know that I am safe and well as I only wrote to them a few days ago, but, it’s not the same as actually being there!”

Planchet smiled and said gently, “We all think of our family at this time of the year, master, but think of the glory that will be bestowed on them when you return at the end of your training as a fully commissioned officer. Is that not what you dream of?”

Henri sniffed as he nodded in agreement.

“There” Planchet said, “now how about making the batter for the cake and mixing it with such force that not even Porthos could deny your strength!”

As Henri added four eggs to a bowl, he took a deep breath and whisked as hard and as fast as he could. It took him the best part of ten minutes to get the eggs to Planchet’s satisfaction and as he handed the bowl to his servant, Planchet gently squeezed his arm and said “The Titan has a challenger!” which caused Henri to smile for the first time in an hour.

Planchet added some olive oil to the eggs, some milk, some curds, a pinch of salt, a peppercorn, and then added the mixed flour as well and gently started to mix it but as Henri noted, he wasn’t mixing it he seemed to be folding it, as if making his master’s bed in the morning.

“If you mix a cake too much” he replied, “you get a cake like Porthos, tough, but folding a cake, it becomes like Aramis, light and delicate” and left Henri wondering if Aramis would like being compared to a cake.

As Planchet carried on mixing, Henri buttered a loaf tin that he had borrowed from the next door neighbour who worked at the local bakery and a short while later, the mixture was poured in and that too placed in the oven.

It was now approaching sunset and as the sky started to turn orange, Henri opened the door and watched the spectacle. He had not seen this before and would have been scared that the world was ending if Aramis hadn’t told him on one of their many escapades about the time he saw it in his hometown as a child and as Henri watched the ornateness slowly fade as night descended on Paris, he smiled to himself and thought of the friend who would soon be coming to feast with him.

“Master” called Planchet from the kitchen, “time for the Madames!”

Henri smiled and as he entered the kitchen, he bowed and said “Madames, welcome to my kitchen” and with that took a pan from the wall and started to make a roux sauce. It was one of the things that he knew to make off by heart having been taught it by his mother when he was a child and as he made it he recited the recipe, “One part of butter, one part of flour, half a English pint of milk, season and sauce!” and as he did Planchet watched with a smile on his face. When he had finished, Planchet leaned over and added “with some mustard for the French!” and dropped in some mustard. As Henri mixed it into the sauce, Planchet took some of the bread that he had made the previous day and cut off the crusts before rolling the bread thinly and then spread some butter that had been standing by the hot oven over the bread.

“Why the butter?” asked Henri

“No butter, master, no crunch, no crunch, no croque!” he replied with a smile as he placed the bread into a muffin tin and then asked Henri to place some ham into the bottom of the bread, this was then followed by a small egg, then the sauce and was topped off with some Gruyere cheese than had been bought by a Swiss cheesemaker who made the trip to Paris every year just to supply Henri’s cupboards and with that the “madames” were placed in the oven. That just left the chouquettes which were Planchet’s speciality and as much as Henri would have loved to have watched them being made, a knock on the door meant that was not possible. His guests had arrived for the meal and so he had to become the dutiful host for the evening.