So really, I’m at the point where I’m feeling like the Hannah Swensen mysteries are a bit like a grown-up version of the beloved Nancy Drew books. Our heroine is smart and charming, has a strong supporting cast, and the dialog sparkles with gentle humor. The mystery itself is solid and the romances sweet.
By the third novel in the Hannah Swensen series, one does feel that there’s a formula being followed, but it’s such a winning recipe that I, for one, certainly don’t mind. And did I mention that the mystery is solid? Every book I’ve read in this series so far has been a perfect example of the cozy genre.
In Blueberry Muffin Murder, the glamorous domestic diva and cooking show host, Connie Mac, has descended upon Lake Eden to grace their Winter Carnival—a festival dreamed up by Mayor Bascombe to drum up tourism in the doldrums of the late Minnesota winter. Hannah gets roped into giving the celebrity a tour of the carnival ahead of Connie’s unveiling of the official cake that she’s baked for the occasion—an experience that leads Hannah to believe that Connie is nothing like her public image of sweetness and light.
Hannah’s dislike is further exacerbated when the truck delivering the cake gets sideswiped, ruining the confection and prompting Connie to immediately fire the blameless truck driver. Connie then asks to use Hannah’s kitchen at her cafe, The Cookie Jar, to bake a replacement overnight. Hannah grudgingly agrees for the sake of the carnival.
When Hannah returns in the morning to find her kitchen in an absolute shambles, she’s furious—until she finds Connie dead in her pantry. Someone disliked the domestic diva enough to take a baseball bat to her head. When the finger of suspicion points to her assistant Janie, a local girl made good, Hannah has more than enough reason to put on her investigative boots and jump in.
After all, the lead detective on the case, Mike Kingston—who Hannah just happens to be dating—won’t allow her to use her kitchen until progress is made on the case, so her livelihood is also in jeopardy until the killer is caught. Her livelihood might not be the only thing in danger, though, as the killer is more than willing to claim more victims, including pesky bakers who go around asking probing questions.
I loved how easy this book was to read and how effortlessly entertaining it was. It attests to a high level of skill on Joanna Fluke’s part to write so well within a template without sacrificing quality storytelling. And then there were eight delicious recipes to try out! I waffled between the “Blue Blueberry Muffins” and my eventual choice: cookies that purportedly taste just like a short stack of pancakes.
Short Stack Cookies
DO NOT preheat oven—dough must chill before baking
1 ½ cups melted butter (3 sticks)
2 cups sugar
2 large beaten eggs, any brand (just whip them with a fork)
½ cup maple syrup ***
4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups flour (not sifted)
½ cup white sugar for coating the dough balls
*** To measure maple syrup, first spray the inside of measuring cup with Pam so that the syrup won’t stick to sides of cup.
Melt the butter and mix in the sugar. Let it cool and add the beaten eggs. Add maple syrup, soda, salt, and vanilla. Mix it all up. Then add the flour and mix thoroughly.
Chill the dough for at least 1 hour (overnight is fine, too).
Roll the dough into walnut-sized balls with your hands. Roll the balls in white sugar and place them on greased cookie sheets, 12 to a standard sheet. Flatten them with a spatula.
Put oven rack in the middle position. Bake at 350°F for 10 to 12 minutes or until nicely browned. Cool on the cookie sheets for no more than 1 minute, then remove the cookies to the rack to finish cooling. (If you leave them on the cookie sheets for too long, they’ll stick.)
While putting the ingredients together, I did think to myself that it seemed like an awful lot of baking soda in proportion to the rest of the recipe, and I think that this unfortunately showed in the end product. The cookies were crisp on the outside and delightfully soft on the inside, and I absolutely loved their flavor until the bitterness from so much baking soda kicked in.
I might try making these again with less baking soda. I’m thinking that one to two teaspoons is more than enough for this recipe, and I’ll likely toss them in with the flour first instead of with the wet ingredients. I definitely loved the idea of this recipe, though, and I figure it’s a rare misfire in what has been an uncommonly good repertoire so far.
Next week, I make another fruity dessert, though not the titular pie. 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.