This sweet first novel in the Emergency Dessert Squad Mystery series is as much a treat for cozy mystery lovers as it is for bakers! Winnie Johnson is a bit of an odd duck: 34 years old, attractive, and single—she’d much rather focus on her baking and hanging out with her elderly neighbors than on dating.
But then, Winnie’s landlord raises the rent on her beloved bakery and one of her good friends, wealthy Gertrude, passes away. When Gertrude’s lawyer summons Winnie to his office, she isn’t the only one of her circle to hope that Gertrude might have left her a bequest that will help save her bakery. Instead, Gertrude has left Winnie with Lovey, a cat that has no fondness for her, and a restored antique ambulance.
Fortunately, Winnie’s elderly friends and her one employee (who happens to be her best friend, as well as one of the few her own age) inspire her to start a new business delivering desserts with her ambulance. Unfortunately, yet another of her neighbors passes on, plunging Winnie into the thick of a murder mystery after she discovers his smothered corpse. With the local police department reluctant to investigate the murder of a man they consider to have been close to death anyway, Winnie and her friends must solve the murder themselves.
Éclair and Present Danger is a steadily paced, well-constructed mystery, with a cast of endearing characters who form a convincing circle of friends. Relationship-wise, I also enjoyed that the romance element in the book was far from formulaic. It was really nice to see a heroine who valued her friends and identity over an otherwise nice, good-looking guy. I also loved the schtick of an ambulance service that brings made-to-order baked goods for one’s emotional emergencies. I would totally be a customer myself.
And whoa, those desserts! Firstly, the names Winnie and her friends come up with for their menu are absolutely adorable. Laura Bradford includes the recipes for three of these in the book, but I decided to try out only the two that show up in pivotal scenes. First, there’s the peach pie Winnie is delivering when she comes across the body:
You’re A Peach Pie
Pastry for double-crust 9-inch pie
½ cup sugar
¼ cup packed brown sugar
4 ½ cups sliced and peeled peaches
3 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
1. In a large bowl, combine both sugars. Add peaches and gently toss. Cover and let stand for one hour.
2. Line a 9-inch pie plate with the bottom pastry. Trim and set aside.
3. Drain peaches and reserve juice.
4. In a small saucepan, mix the cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
5. Slowly add in reserved juice and stir. Bring to a boil, then c
ook and stir for 2 more minutes to thicken. Remove from the heat. Add in lemon juice and butter, and stir. Gently fold in peaches and pour all into crust.
6. With a rolling pin, make a lattice crust from the remaining pastry. Seal edges and flute if desired. Cover edges loosely with foil.
7. Bake at 400 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Remove foil. Cool on a wire rack.
Full disclosure: I’ve never made a pie before. When there were no actual instructions for pie crust, I just bought mine from the store—you may judge me, but I feel no guilt. And, as much as I’d have liked to learn how to lattice the top crust, I also foolishly started making this pie way too late at night, so I decided to just cut a heart-shape into the top for venting. The pie came out beautifully, despite my laziness, and was a big hit with my family. It was especially delicious served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. For my first venture into pie-making, this was definitely a success, and a recipe I’ll keep for future use.
The second recipe I chose was for something I have more experience with. I’ve made cookies from scratch before, but never one large cookie, despite having always wanted to. I was thus very eager to try this out:
You Are One Smart Cookie
1 cup butter, softened
¾ cup brown sugar, packed firmly
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups semisweet or white chocolate chips
1 cup milk chocolate or white chocolate chips for drizzle
1. In a large bowl, combine butter, both sugars, and vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy.
2. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
3. Slowly add flour, baking soda, and salt. Beat until well blended.
4. Stir in chips.
5. Spread in greased 16-inch round pizza pan (14-inch if you want a thicker cookie).
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
7. Cool cookie in pan.
8. Drizzle with melted chips.
This recipe was super easy and relatively quick to complete. I picked the semisweet and milk chocolate options because I’m an admitted snob when it comes to what constitutes real chocolate. My only complaint is that the final product came out sweeter than I’d prefer. My best friend with a sweet tooth loved it as is, but I’d likely tweak the recipe next time to have a little less sugar.
Overall, the recipes in Éclair and Present Danger do a wonderful job of complementing the mystery they accompany. It would have been nice if éclairs themselves had made more than a token appearance in a book otherwise filled with clever puns, but the desserts that do show up are out of this world and support a solid cozy debut.
Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She
microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.