Cooking the Books: Death of a Wedding Cake Baker by Lee Hollis

It is so weird but great to go straight from the first book to the latest in the Hayley Powell Food and Cocktails Mystery series. Hopefully, I’ll be able to cover everything in between sometime in the near future, but it’s honestly pretty awesome to see how well Hayley and her friends and family have been prospering since those first mystery-solving days.

In this latest installment, Hayley is helping one of her two best friends, Liddy Crawford, prepare for her impending wedding. Liddy has every excuse to be in crisis mode: her mom is controlling, her family support system is otherwise lacking, and her husband-to-be weirdly checks out from the proceedings. Plus, Liddy has never been the most laidback person, so her characterization as a nascent—but honestly not over-the-top—Bridezilla is far more convincing and sympathetic than in most other recent popular fiction I’ve come across, regardless of genre.

Liddy’s mom, Celeste, is insisting that Liddy hire her famous if infuriating cousin Lisa to bake the wedding cake. Lisa is a celebrity baker with more enemies than friends, and she’s not too interested in making nice with her family either. When Hayley visits the bakery and discovers Lisa face down in a poisoned wedding cake, she finds herself worrying about Liddy for more reasons than the obvious. Besides putting a serious wrench in the wedding planning, Lisa’s murder soon has Liddy herself positioned as the prime suspect.

Hayley’s investigations get wrapped up inextricably in the chaos of wedding planning, leading to a climax filled with shocking revelations and deep repercussions for the future. I loved the cliffhanger ending, even as I loved less Hayley’s ongoing relationship with Bruce. Maybe there’s stuff in the intervening nine books that explains his appeal, but in both the first and last novels of this series, he’s struck me as a narcissistic man-baby. Regardless of your feelings on Hayley’s love life, however, this was a great installment with plenty of mystery and drama.

And recipes! There were seven food recipes—five for wedding-appropriate appetizers and two for pastries—and seven accompanying cocktails. Since I tried a delectable creamy chicken marsala last week, I thought I’d try out a dessert this time around:

Grandma Dolly’s Walnut-Filled Horns

Dough

Ingredients

One 8-ounce package softened cream cheese

1 ¼ cups real butter, softened

2 egg yolks

1 entire egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 ½ cups flour

Instructions

In a stand mixer, add your cream cheese, butter, egg yolks, and one entire egg and mix until well combined.

Add your vanilla and mix in.

With the mixer on low, slowly add in your flour until well combined.

Using a small scoop or spoon, scoop and roll your dough into 2-ounce balls about the size of walnuts and place on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets two inches apart. When finished rolling the balls, place them in the refrigerator and chill for two hours.

While they are chilling, prepare your filling.

Filling

Ingredients

3 cups ground walnuts

3 egg whites, partially beaten

1 ½ cups sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

Instructions

In a stand mixer or bowl, mix together all of the above ingredients.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

When your dough is chilled, remove from fridge. Take a ball and, with a rolling pin, roll flat. Add a tablespoon of filling in the middle of the circle. Fold over one side and seal with your finger to make a half moon or horn shape, then place back on parchment-lined baking sheet. Continue to do the same with the rest of the balls.

Bake for 15 minutes or until a nice golden brown.

I know it’s a departure for me to try out such a nut-heavy dessert, and I’m afraid this one won’t change my general disinclination for such, but everyone else who tried them really liked them! The pastry shells were pretty great, almost tart-like, and I’m sure that if I liked nuts better, I would have enjoyed the filling too. I wasn’t sure what “partially beaten” meant when it came to the egg whites, so I decided to just beat them to soft peaks. And when rolling out the dough, I found that it was easier to eschew a rolling pin in order to do them by hand instead.

One cosmetic note: the first batch my lovely assistant Karin and I pulled out of the oven looked more pale than appetizing despite having been baked for 20 minutes. She suggested an egg wash, using the one leftover yolk and some heavy whipping cream, and that really helped the remaining horns look as good as they tasted.

Next week, we travel south down the coast and try out a versatile dessert recipe. Do join me!

See also: Cooking the Books: Death of a Kitchen Diva by Lee Hollis

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