Cooking the Books: Fudge Bites by Nancy Coco

Allie McMurphy is looking forward to becoming an official year-round resident of Michigan’s charming Mackinac Island. With the tourist season drawing to a close, she’s planning on building a roof deck for the Historic McMurphy Hotel and Fudge Shop that she runs in anticipation of an even busier season in the year to come. But first, she’s going to enjoy herself by dressing up for the island’s late-October zombie-walk charity event.

Her enjoyment ends very swiftly, however, when her cat Carmella leads her to a dead body in the back alley behind the hotel. The dead man is the son of her hotel manager’s friend, Maggs, who is absolutely devastated by the discovery. In her grief—and knowing of Allie’s involvement in solving several other recent murders—Maggs begs Allie to help bring her son’s killer to justice.

Allie would be far more eager to jump in if it weren’t for her own relationship with the island’s top investigator, police officer Rex Manning. He’s understandably reluctant to involve a civilian in his investigations, especially one he’s developing feelings for. Her good friend, town paper editor and reporter Liz McElroy, has other ideas, however, especially after photos she took of the zombie walk indicate that the victim might have been killed due to a case of mistaken identity. As Allie and Liz investigate—with the help of Carmella and Mal, Allie’s adorable bichon poo—they find themselves uncovering a mystery decades in the making.

This was a delightful visit to a charming community that raised some interesting questions about fitting in and what it means to truly be considered a full-time resident. I felt for Allie’s anxiety over missing her friends while not wanting to hold them back from leaving the island for their own benefit.

I do, however, wish this book had more of a Halloween theme. After the zombie walk, you wouldn’t really know Halloween was even celebrated on Mackinac Island given the utter lack of reference to it. Also, as this was also my first Candy-Coated Mystery, I was somewhat surprised that nobody made Empire Records references around Rex Manning; don’t worry, I kept a stream of them in my head every time he graced a page.

Fudge Bites featured recipes for seven sweet treats, but since I’m not the biggest fan of fudge myself (I know, the horror), I decided to try out this non-fudge recipe:

Decadent Dark Chocolate, Cinnamon Chip, Flourless Brownies

Ingredients

1 ½ sticks (¾ cup) butter

1 ⅓ cups unsweetened dark cocoa powder

1 ¾ cups granulated sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 large eggs

¾ cup cinnamon chips

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350° F and prepare 8-inch pan by lining it with parchment paper. I like to use a round pan for thicker brownies.

Melt butter gently. Add cocoa to melted butter and whisk. Then add sugar and salt, and whisk until well combined. Add vanilla, stirring until smooth.

 

Add eggs. Stir in gently until well combined—do not overmix eggs. I switch from whisk to spatula for this part. Gently fold in cinnamon chips.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth out the top. Bake 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with moist crumbs and no wet batter. Unlike with cake, a clean toothpick means brownies are overdone.

Your house will smell awesome!

Cool 15 minutes and remove with liner from the pan. Set them on a rack to cool completely (if you can wait). Cut and enjoy!

Makes about 2 dozen brownies.

My oven runs absurdly cool, so this took me 45 minutes to get to the moist crumbs stage instead of 25. However, the end result was well worth the extra baking time. The juxtaposition of dark chocolate with cinnamon made for a delicious dessert. I had never really thought about how flourless cakes are made, so this was a very illuminating experience for me. And while these brownies are perfectly fine on their own, I do recommend serving them with vanilla ice cream for a really decadent treat.

Next week, we head east to participate in another town tradition that is cut short by murder while trying out a pasta dish. Do join me!

See alsoCooking the Books: Two Bites Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein

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