DISCLAIMER: Disney owns The Princess and the Frog. I just love it and want to have its babies.
"Let me help you."
It isn't so much a command as a puppy-eyed request, and when Naveen tacks on a please that's just a hair shy of outright begging, Tiana fights down a laugh and gives in.
"All right, mister." She brushes a strand of hair out of her eyes, resting the flour-dusted knuckles of one hand on her hip as her husband eagerly rolls up his crisp sleeves. "But I think you ought to wait on makin' beignets 'til after you've got some more experience in the kitchen."
"I do have experience!" Naveen protests, feigning indignation. "I can mince. Besides..." He rests his hands on her shoulders, leaning down to breathe hotly on the ticklish spot just under her ear. "How will I ever learn to cook for my beautiful wife if she does not teach me?"
His earnestness is infectious, and not for the first time Tiana finds herself smiling and rolling her eyes and letting him have his way. She kisses him lightly in return before saying, with a hint of amusement, "Well then. You'd best get to work, hadn't you?"
"Perfect!" Naveen bounces away like an eager child, looking around the tidy kitchen as though expecting to see a sign with instructions hanging on the wall next to the battered pots and pans. Finding no such thing, he at last asks, "Er...What do I do?"
"Over here." Tiana picks up the bowl she'd been working with a minute ago, before her husband had barged in with kisses. "This is the dough. Or at least, it will be."
"This?" Naveen takes the bowl from her and peers into it with undisguised curiosity, his thick brows furrowing. The stuff inside is a creamy, light-colored batter, gooey and alien, giving off a strange smell that reminds him only vaguely of bread. "This does not look like your beignets."
"Well of course it doesn't. It's only got half the flour it needs before it rises." She smiles as Naveen cocks his head curiously, still staring into the batter as if to divine knowledge from it. "I've already stirred in everything else. All you gotta do--" (she pokes him on the nose for emphasis, startling him) "--is mix in the rest of the flour, and then knead the dough. Easy as pie."
"Kneading," Naveen echoes. "I have heard of this, in the palace kitchens."
"Well, you're about to try it for yourself. But first," Tiana's spoon points towards the countertop, "stir that in. And not all at once, either--just a bit at a time."
Obediently Naveen scoops a handful of flour off of the carefully-measured pile sitting on the countertop and tosses it into the bowl--or tries to, anyway. His aim is such that his green vest suddenly turns white-flecked and dusty. Tiana laughs with him instead of at him and hands over the wooden spoon she had been using.
"Try again. Gently."
Having figured out that he can't throw flour, Naveen quickly succeeds in mixing the rest of it into the batter--bit by bit, as Tiana had instructed, letting out an appreciative Achedanza! at the magic moment when the batter at last begins to thicken and coalesce into a great sticky ball at the bottom of the bowl. When there is no more flour out on the counter Tiana reaches into the pantry for a jar of it and gives the countertop a good sprinkling.
"Now you're ready to knead." Tiana offers Naveen the jar, and when he doesn't react, adds, "Y'gotta dust your hands, honey, or you'll have dough sticking to you till next Sunday."
"Right, right. Of course." Naveen sets the bowl down and rubs a generous helping of flour onto his hands, looking more ridiculous than he knows, since he dusts the backs of his hands as well. Tiana just keeps her smile pinned tightly to the corner of her mouth as she says, "Now, you gotta knead this dough till it's nice and soft. But don't do it too long, or it'll go tough."
"Right." Naveen buries his fingers in the ball of dough and plops it down onto the counter, keeping his hands on it. "And...how do I knead it?"
"Just push it forward with the heel of your hand." She demonstrates the motion in the air next to him. "Just like that."
Naveen shoves the sticky mess across the counter with both hands as though pushing poker chips across a table, and Tiana fights not to laugh at his suddenly horrified expression as all ten fingers disappear into the dough. When he tries to save face by withdrawing them, half the dough comes with him, clinging mercilessly to his hands. He then tries to pick up the mess and reform the original ball, but most of it has now stuck to the counter, too, refusing to lift. Tiana finally bursts out laughing when Naveen experimentally touches his dough-covered palms together and then pulls them apart, peering at her through the spiderweb of goo now hanging between his hands.
"This kneading, it is...complicated, yes?"
Tiana shakes her head at her husband's dismayed expression. "Well, you ain't doin' it right, is all."
"I did exactly what you told me!"
"You've gotta make sure you've got enough flour, or else you'll get all sticky."
"There is plenty of flour! It's all over the place." Naveen indicates his vest. "Even on me!"
Tiana just smiles.
"Want me to show you how it's done?"
"Yes. Show me how to tame this--this blob." As Naveen steps aside for her he puts a finger in his mouth and makes a face at the chewy blandness, perhaps having expected the crystalline sweetness of cookie dough. Tiana, meanwhile, powders her palms and gives the mess on the counter a fresh coat of flour.
"You can't knead it too long, or put too much flour on it, or the beignets won't come out right," she says matter-of-factly, using the back of her hand to brush that unruly strand of hair out of her face. "But you also want the dough to come together. Watch and learn."
And then it's that first mincing lesson in the swamp all over again: Naveen, standing over her shoulder, watches in amazement as her nimble hands dart forward, grasping and working the dough with swift, practiced ease, dipping into the flour a few times to keep herself from his own sticky fate. It's a simple, rapid cycle--stretch it out, fold it over, rotate, stretch it out, fold it over, rotate--and as he watches her work Naveen nibbles unconsciously on a bit of dough from his pinky finger. A thought occurs to him.
"How do you know?"
"Hmm?" Tiana pauses her kneading, glancing up at him, and Naveen realizes that the color of her eyes is probably always going to make the bottom drop out of his stomach. "How do I know what?"
He wriggles his sticky fingers in the direction of the counter. "How do you know when it is ready?"
"Well, that's why you take it out of the bowl and work it with your hands." Tiana resumes kneading on the worn counter. "You gotta feel it. Sure, it's a little resistant at first, but once you start massagin' it, it goes all soft after awhile. Just...melts under your touch, almost."
"Hmm." Naveen considers this, then suddenly wraps his arms around his wife from behind, pinning her to him while trying not dirty her new apron. "So...You are secretly beignet dough? Because that is exactly what happens with you."
Tiana tries to resist, but Naveen's kisses are not really something it's possible to resist, and even when he accidentally cups her cheek with a sticky hand all she can do is laugh. She ignores his protests and leaves the residue there while she finishes working and he cleans up; it's not until the ball of dough has gone ruly and truly smooth and soft that she allows her husband to tenderly wipe the dough off of her face. When she oils up another bowl and drops the dough in it, covering it lightly with a cloth, Naveen gets curious again.
"What are you doing with it now?"
"Gotta let it rise, sweetheart. Needs some time to get nice and puffy."
"Oh." He has her pinned again, this time with hands around her waist. "You just...leave it in a bowl?"
"Yup. We can cut it and fry up some beignets as soon as the dough's gotten about twice as big as it is right now."
"How very interesting." He kisses the top of her head; she smells like flour and yeast and bliss. "And how long will that take?"
"Oh, a couple of hours, at least."
Her modest smile broadens to match Naveen's grin when he leans in to whisper in that spot under her ear.