The baker had a good business, a plump wife, and a big family. He was a happy man. But trouble came to his shop one day in the guise of an old woman. She entered the shop a few minutes before closing and said: “I wish to have a dozen cookies.” She pointed to the special angel meringue cookies that were sitting out on a tray. So he counted out twelve cookies for her.
The old woman’s eyes narrowed when she saw the cookies. “Only twelve?” she asked. The baker knew at once what she wanted. There was a tradition that said a baker’s dozen is thirteen cookies; one extra baked good as a “thank-you” for a plentiful order. But this baker was known to reject the custom. What man of sense would give away an extra cookie for free?
I asked for a dozen cookies, and you only give me twelve,” the woman said to the baker.
“A dozen is twelve, woman, and that is what I have given you,” he replied.
“I ordered a dozen cookies, not twelve, the baker’s dozen.” said the old woman.
The baker was upset by her insistence. He always gave his customers exactly what they paid for. Nothing more. Nothing less. The baker was a thrifty man with a very high opinion of his baking prowess. It was against his nature to give away something for nothing. And furthermore, he opined, his baked goods were the finest in the land and his customers were lucky to get them.
“I have a business to run and a family to support,” he replied stiffly. “If I give you a free extra cookies, everyone will expect one. A dozen is twelve, not thirteen! Take it or leave it!”
“Very well,” said she, and left the shop without taking the cookies.
From that moment on, his good fortune changed. The next day, his cakes were stolen out of the shop, and the thieves were never found. Then the bread refused to rise. For a week, every loaf of bread the baker made was so heavy that it fell right through the oven and into the fire. The next week, the bread rose so high that it actually floated up the chimney. He was frightened when he saw the loaves floating away across the rooftops.
It was that incident that caused him to think that the old lady who he had most recently quarreled with, was not who she seemed. What kind of evil power did she hold?
The mishaps continued to plague him. The old woman returned to his empty shop. The baker was livid. How dare she show her face in his shop after all she had done to ruin his life! He yelled and cursed, he would not allow her to utter a single word. He opened the door and shoved her out on to the street.
He complained to God. He demanded to know why he was singled out for ruin. But instead of listening for an answer, he stubbornly concluded it was all the work of the devil – dressed as that wicked little old lady who came to his shop.
The weeks passed and things got worse. One baking disaster after another. He didn’t even have enough bread to feed his hungry family.
A former customer took notice of his plight. Despite the baker’s stinginess, this customer brought the baker a lumpy loaf of bread, baked from a meager supply of coarse flour her husband milled himself.
To the baker, it appeared as the most beautiful delicacy his eyes had ever seen. Light and airy just like his angel meringue cookies. And then it came to him.
“Angel!” He shouted it out loud.
He knew with all his heart that the old woman who came to visit was not the devil at all, but an angel. She was God’s messenger, coming to him personally, to teach him the lesson of generosity.
The baker was transformed. “I spent my whole life begrudging good people their due. An extra cookie, or one more loaf of bread, will never mean the difference between rich or poor for me and my family, but it will make a difference to the people in my village.”
And every year after, on the exact day of the baker’s revelation, the sky rained angel meringue cookies for everyone to enjoy.