Cooking the Books: The Corpse in the Gazebo by Debra Sennefelder

Food blogger Hope Early has found more than her fair share of corpses since returning to her hometown of Jefferson, Connecticut. She’ll be the first to tell you that it’s been a distressing chain of events that she certainly did not sign up for, so discovering that a petition is being circulated to run her out of her neighborhood on account of this “disruptive behavior” of hers is just adding insult to injury. When she confronts the petition organizer, her curmudgeonly neighbor Birdie Donovan, she loses her temper in public, only contributing to the ongoing decline of her reputation.

In an effort to make amends, she bakes a batch of apple streusel muffins as a peace offering and brings them over to the Donovans’ house. Apparently mollified, Birdie invites Hope to discuss the matter in her lovingly tended garden the next morning. But when Hope arrives, she finds Birdie dead in the garden gazebo, clutching pieces of an apple streusel muffin.

At first, Hope thinks it’s yet another unfortunate coincidence. Then, the autopsy reveals that the muffin was laced with peanut oil, which Birdie was deathly allergic to. Hope had only learned of this the day before while dropping off the muffins; Birdie had asked with some suspicion whether there were any peanuts or peanut products in the baked goods, and Hope had been quick to assuage her fears. But the allergen had somehow been introduced to the muffins since then, killing Birdie and leading to Hope becoming the prime suspect in her murder.

Hope can’t believe that anyone could possibly think her a killer and is determined to clear her name—never mind the advice of her boyfriend, Jefferson Chief Of Police Ethan Cahill, or her lawyer, Matt Roydon. As the evidence mounts against her—trapping her in a nightmare of losing her business accounts and possibly her freedom if not her life—Hope turns to increasingly desperate measures, risking the permanent alienation of many of her acquaintances as she pursues the truth.

I was genuinely surprised by the lengths to which desperation—combined with Hope’s lack of self-awareness—drives her. In hindsight, though, it is quite realistic: who is at their most sensible when facing so much ostracization, after all? I also find the discord brought about by Birdie and her actions very believable. Mean neighbors make life a misery for everyone, and it was unsurprising that the suspect list in her murder was so long given her habit of making enemies.

Included with this book were five recipes, written blog-style in keeping with Hope’s profession. They all sounded so good, but I finally decided to try out this one, lightly edited here for format:

Gingerbread Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup light brown sugar

6 tablespoons molasses

1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¾ teaspoon ginger

Pinch of ground cloves

¾ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate chips

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugars. With the mixer on slow speed, add in molasses and vanilla. Add in the dry ingredients, reserving the chocolate chips until later. Mix until the dough comes together and is smooth. Remove from mixer or set aside hand mixer and stir in chocolate chips by hand.

Cover bowl and refrigerate for at least one hour, making sure it’s chilled through but not firm.

Using a medium cookie scoop, scoop out cookies and space 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Bake for 10-11 minutes.

Let cookies rest on baking sheet for 1 minute, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container.

I love gingerbread, and I love chocolate chip cookies, and I 100 percent love this combination! Sometimes, putting things like these together doesn’t work out as well as you’d like, but these absolutely exceeded my expectations, combining the best of both kinds of cookies to create a treat that’s truly delectable. They were also very easy to make. I’m definitely keeping this recipe in mind for Christmas cookie season—especially with the weather getting cooler where I am!

Next week, we head to the Midwest to cook up another chocolatey treat while striving to clear the name of someone accused of a grisly stabbing. Do join me!

See alsoCooking the Books: Murder with Orange Pekoe Tea by Karen Rose Smith

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