Cooking the Books: Sealed Off by Barbara Ross
By Doreen SheridanJanuary 15, 2020
I can’t believe this is already the eighth book in the Maine Clambake Mystery series! It feels like only yesterday that I started to have adventures with Julia Snowden and her friends and family, enjoying each book as thoroughly as the last.
In this installment, Julia is overseeing the imminent reconstruction of her family’s inherited (and dilapidated) island manor house, Windsholme, as the tourist season in Busman’s Harbor, Maine, is winding down. Renovation will have to start with demolition work on the third floor as there are complications: bad October weather, the need to not disturb patrons of the clambake business that provides the Snowden family’s bread and butter, and the impending visit of the oldest living member of Julia’s family tree, the Boston-based nonagenarian Marguerite Morales. Julia wants to allow Marguerite the chance to tour the original manor she summered at as a child one last time before the building gets updated for modern living.
It’s a lot to juggle, so the last thing Julia needs is for romantic trouble to rear its disruptive head amongst her clambake employees. As if that isn’t enough, the demolition crew also makes a discovery that necessitates another pause in the proceedings—a hidden room, pristinely preserved due to having been sealed off for decades. A journal found inside leads the extended Snowden family to investigate a historical mystery, but there’s a more pressing crime for Julia to solve when she stumbles across a very contemporary dead man just outside of Windsholme.
Barbara Ross is my favorite culinary cozy author and for good reason; her plots are engrossing and topical, her characters have both smarts and heart, and her books are always a terrific read. I only wish this installment had been longer! While it does set up nicely for the entertaining novella Hallowed Out included in the Haunted House Murder collection, I’m out of Maine Clambake mysteries to read for the foreseeable future, and this makes me quite sad.
Fortunately, Ms. Ross has thoughtfully included a brownie recipe (alongside four others) in the recipe section at the back of the novel because nothing consoles quite like chocolate.
1 cup butter
1 cup cocoa
2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla
1 ½ cups flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped nuts, optional
1 tablespoon cooking oil of your choice to grease the pan
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large saucepan, melt butter. Remove from heat. Stir in cocoa until it mixes completely, then stir in sugar until it mixes completely.
Add the 5 eggs one at a time, stirring each in before you add the next.
Add the vanilla, flour, baking powder, and salt, stirring each one before adding the next. Stir in the nuts, if desired.
Bake in a greased 13 x 9 pan for 30 to 35 minutes.
I actually made these brownies the first time from the instructions included in the advance review copy, and I was sorry to say that it looked like Ms. Ross and I had to part ways on our opinions of deliciousness—even if we do see eye to eye on what makes for a terrific mystery. Fortunately, she included a link to the correct recipe, printed above, in her newsletter and in the copies of the book on sale now, so I gave them another go.
I could tell even before putting the pan in the oven that this recipe was a far sight better than the last one. The batter was rich and tasty, and the resulting brownies were a delight, with a consistency just short of cake-like. I especially enjoyed the amount of salt in this, which brought to mind a visit to the seashore without overpowering the chocolatey goodness of the sweet treat.
Next week, we stay in-state to bake another delicious dessert while paying tribute to a recent loss in the culinary cozy community. Do join me!