Cooking the Books: Bewitched, Bothered, and Biscotti by Bailey Cates

The second novel in the Magical Bakery series wasn’t the strongest installment for me so far. I wouldn’t exactly call it a sophomore slump, as it’s still a very enjoyable entry, but there were several things that I didn’t care for here as much as I did in the other books.

First, a synopsis: Katie Lightfoot, our professional baker and amateur hedgewitch heroine, is settling down to life in Savannah running the Honeybee Bakery with her aunt and uncle. She’s out on a picnic date with one of her suitors, Declan, when they come across a dead body in the bushes. At first, Katie thinks it’s just an unfortunate incident—that is until her eye is irresistibly drawn to an unusual tattoo on the corpse. Her investigation into the tattoo reveals the existence of a society of druids connected to her other suitor, Steve, and draws her into great danger, as it appears that the dead man is not the last person that a dangerous killer wants to destroy.

Detective Quinn comes out to investigate, bringing with him his new partner—transplanted New Yorker Detective Taite, who seems to know (and suspect) a lot more about Katie and her friends than is comfortable for anyone involved. There’s a really exciting climactic showdown that takes full advantage of creepy Halloween atmosphere, and the descriptions of magic and mayhem are as nicely done as in the other Magical Bakery books I’ve read.

I guess a large part of my discontent has to do with how I continue to be on Team Steve. None of his weaknesses outweigh his strengths, in my opinion, but perhaps I didn’t see his choice near the end as a betrayal of his relationship with Katie, as she clearly did. Also, Declan is so boring! Which would be bad enough, but he’s also possessive and pushy—two traits I personally find unappealing in a romantic partner.

And then, I have my reservations about Taite’s pronouncement as to Katie’s powers. While I like the idea in theory, the fact that—according to him—she’s incapable of using her powers for evil cuts off a lot of interesting avenues of exploration as she’s still developing in her practice. Not that I want to see Evil Katie, but I did enjoy the discussions of morality in the first book. To essentially close off any arguments in that way felt like a disservice to the series.

Anyway, we had two delicious recipes to choose from in this book, and I chose the following:

Margie’s Coca-Cola Cake

*Makes one 9×13-inch sheet cake

Ingredients

1 cup Coca-Cola

½ cup buttermilk

2 cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup butter

1 ¾ cups sugar

2 large eggs, slightly beaten

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.

Mix the Coca-Cola and the buttermilk together and set aside. Sift together the flour, cocoa, and baking soda and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together on low speed with an electric mixer. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat together until thoroughly combined. Add half the flour mixture and combine well. Mix in the Coca-Cola and buttermilk, then add the rest of the flour, mixing until just blended.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees F for 30 to 35 minutes until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool for a few minutes while you make the frosting.

Coca-Cola Frosting

Ingredients

½ cup butter

¼ cup Coca-Cola

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pound confectioners’ sugar

1 cup chopped dried cherries (optional)

Instructions

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the Coca-Cola and cocoa powder and bring the mixture to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. Stir in the chopped cherries if you’d like. The cherries can also be replaced with the same amount of more traditional chopped pecans. Pour the warm frosting over the warm cake and allow to cool completely before slicing.

This was one of those cakes that actually tastes more delicious the next day than the day of baking! I’d never added a carbonated beverage to a cake mix before—though the notion has certainly come to my attention—and this was quite an interesting way to start.

The cake was nicely balanced in texture: not too insubstantial but not too dense either. The frosting was a little too sweet for me—and I used about a third less than the recommended pound of confectioner’s sugar in the frosting—but that’s something that’s easily adjustable to taste. I do think it might have been even tastier as a cupcake (as it was made in the book) rather than a sheet cake (and certainly more photogenic!).

Next week, I take a break from the Magical Bakery series to discuss a novel that is just debuting, but I’ll be back to cover Katie’s capers the week after!

See also: Cooking the Books: Brownies and Broomsticks by Bailey Cates

 

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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.

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