I think I’ve found a new favorite cozy cooking mystery series to devour while I’m waiting for Barbara Ross to write more of her excellent Maine Clambake books! It isn’t just that Kathy Aarons’s delightful Chocolate Covered Mystery series is set in my home state (and a short drive from where I currently live), though that frisson of familiarity does have a little bit of influence. It’s mostly because she injects a freshness to genre tropes that makes this third installment, Behind Chocolate Bars, stand out in the crowd.
Our heroine, Michelle Serrano, runs her chocolate store on the same premises as her best friend Erica Russell’s bookstore. Erica hosts the small town of West Riverdale’s comic book club, populated primarily by teenagers. One of these teens, Dylan Fenton, is also their “intern,” a position they made up when his mom abandoned him and his father in order to move to Florida with the high school’s now-former gym coach. When Dylan is accused of a murder he swears he didn’t commit, Michelle and Erica immediately take a protective stance. They can’t help but investigate in order to clear his name and find out who really had it in for a woman whose life bore little resemblance to the various online profiles she hid behind.
One of the many things I enjoyed about this book was the refreshing stance Michelle's love interest took towards her sleuthing—not only encouraging but actively assisting her pursuits. I also liked her and Erica's relationship with the police, especially with Detective Lockett, as it was just the right level of cooperative vs. combative. And I super loved how sensitively Ms. Aarons portrayed Michelle's relationship with her PTSD-suffering veteran brother. The complex and wholly believable interpersonal relationships in this book make for excellent reading.
I also really enjoyed looking at the three recipes for making gourmet chocolates included in the back, and I decided to try this one out:
(yields 24 patties)
2 ¼ cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons softened butter
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
2 tablespoons cream
12 ounces melting chocolate wafers
In a mixing bowl, combine the powdered sugar, butter, peppermint extract, and cream. Beat them with a paddle attachment until the mixture comes together. Turn the mixer speed higher and great until the candy comes together and is light and creamy. When you touch it, it should be soft but not at all sticky. If it seems sticky, add a little more powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, until it's no longer sticky.
Scrape the candy paste out onto a long piece of plastic wrap, and form into a thin time, about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Wrap it well in the plastic wrap and twist the ends so that they stay in place. Chill the candy until it is very firm, about 45 minutes.
Once firm, use a large sharp knife to slice off rounds about ¼ inch thick. Melt the chocolate wafers in the microwave at 30-second intervals, and stir between each 30 seconds until melted. Do the candy slices into the melted chocolate, covering completely, and place them onto wax paper. Chill in the refrigerator for one hour.
I'll admit that I picked this recipe simply because it seemed the least complicated of the ones on offer. Truth be told, I don't even like peppermint patties. With that said, whoa, these patties were amazing! Even I liked them, and I was further gratified by the reactions of people who do tend to enjoy the taste combination of chocolate and mint.
The samples I handed out to these folks were devoured, followed by a general clamoring for the recipe. I'm definitely going to be making these for parties, though hopefully my presentation skills will have improved by then. Pretty my peppermint patties were not.
Presentation aside, these were extremely easy to make! It helped that I was able to find melting chocolate wafers that came in convenient microwaveable containers, further simplifying the process. For some reason, I wound up having a lot more than the 24 patties the recipe said I would have, but my taste testers certainly didn't mind! I do think the increased chocolate-to-mint ratio may have helped a little towards why I enjoyed these more than the patties you usually find in stores. And, as is my wont, I used a little less than the recommended amount of powdered sugar—though still enough to make for a non-sticky candy.
Next week, we try out a convenient fish dish while moseying along the East Coast on a road trip. Do join me!
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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.