Cooking the Books: Caramel Crush by Jenn McKinlay

Nine books into the Cupcake Bakery Mystery series and Angie deLaura, co-owner of Fairy Tale Cupcakes, is about to marry the man of her dreams. The problem is she’s turned into that most tiresome of creatures: the Bridezilla.

Her best friend and business partner, Mel Cooper, has her hands full talking Angie down from the various ledges she keeps climbing on, so she isn’t too thrilled when a former college roommate comes asking for a spiteful favor. Hard-charging, business-minded Diane Earnest has just discovered that her fiancé, Mike Bordow, is only marrying her for her money. So she wants Mel to personally deliver a caramel-flavored kiss-off in the form of cupcakes announcing that she’s dumping him and record the proceedings on video. Mel is understandably reluctant to participate in all this drama, but she owes Diane big time. Plus, doing this will clear the debt for good.

So off Mel goes with her special delivery … only to find Mike dead in a ball pit with his head bashed in. Diane becomes the prime suspect, but Mel knows that as awful as Diane can be, she certainly isn’t a murderer. The knowledge that Mel still has a debt to repay to her old roommate also spurs her to investigate, despite the misgivings of both her Uncle Stan (the investigating detective) and her boyfriend Joe (the county prosecutor). But nothing—not even whizzing bullets—will stop Mel from discovering the truth.

Fans of the series will love the new developments in the personal lives of Mel, Angie, and co. I was also intrigued by all the hints dropped regarding Marty, their elderly assistant, and that emotional cliffhanger of an ending. But I have to say that the very best thing about this book for me was the amazing cupcakes. The descriptions in the book are mouthwatering, but even they don’t do the actual product justice. Jenn McKinlay provides the recipes for five of them, and it was a struggle for me to narrow that list down to these three that I eventually wound up making in an extremely epic baking session. First, of course, was the batch integral to the story:

Caramel Breakup Cupcakes


½ cup butter, softened

½ cup packed dark brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup milk


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pan with paper liners. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beating well after each addition. Fill paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake 18 to 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely. Makes 12 cupcakes.

Dulce De Leche Icing


½ cup cream cheese (4-ounce package)

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

4 cups powdered sugar

½ cup dulce de leche (found with sweetened condensed milk)


In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and butter on high speed for three minutes, until light and fluffy. Alternately, mix in powdered sugar and dulce de leche until fully combined. Spread or pipe on cooled cupcakes.

This was my favorite of the three cupcakes, but I really had to think long and hard before awarding them that title. My love for caramel and dulce de leche won out, though, and while this is likely the simplest of the three cupcake types I baked, it was also the most deliciously satisfying, in my opinion.

My husband, on the other hand, chose this next as his favorite:

Key Lime Cupcakes


¾ cup sugar

1 ½ cups flour

¼ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ cup melted butter

1 beaten egg

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon key lime zest

2 tablespoons key lime juice


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sift the dry ingredients together in a big bowl. Melt the butter and add the beaten egg to it. Add that to the dry ingredients, then stir in the milk until smooth. Zest half of a lime, and add it to the bowl. Squeeze in the juice of half the lime, mixing well. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 12.

Key Lime Buttercream


½ cup salted butter, softened

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons key lime juice

1 tablespoon key lime zest

½ tablespoon vanilla extract

4 cups powdered sugar


In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat butter on high speed, until light and fluffy. Mix in key lime juice, zest, and vanilla extract. Add in powdered sugar, mixing until it reaches desired consistency. Spread or pipe on cooled cupcakes. Garnish with a candied lime peel, if desired.

I’m always a little leery of citrus cupcakes, but these were amazing! I also loved the look of the zest in the icing—these cupcakes were as satisfying visually as they were tasty. I do have a little culinary confession to make, however. I could not find key limes, but I was assured by Sources Online that I could use a regular lime and no one would be able to tell the difference. I certainly couldn’t, and I would be happy to hear your experiences doing the same, should you try this recipe.

But this last cupcake seemed to be the favorite of most of the people who tried them, including my lovely assistant Karin. It’s also the cupcake with the most ingredients:

Cherry Bomb Cupcakes


1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

⅓ cup Maraschino cherry juice

1 cup milk


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put liners in muffin tin and set aside. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition, then stir in the cherry juice. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk; beat well. Fill the cupcake liners evenly and bake for 18 to 20 minutes. Makes 12.

Cherry Cream Cheese Frosting


½ cup cream cheese (4 ounces), softened

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

⅓ cup cherry pie filling

½ teaspoon almond extract

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups powdered sugar

2-3 tablespoons of milk, if needed


In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and butter on high speed, until light and fluffy. Mix in cherry pie filling and the almond and vanilla extracts. Add in powdered sugar, mixing until it reaches desired consistency. Add in milk, if necessary. Spread or pipe on cooled cupcakes. Garnish with a maraschino cherry, if desired.

Regardless of flavor, every single cupcake was exceedingly delicious. The cake part was the perfect balance of moist and light, and the frosting was as perfect as Ms. McKinlay rhapsodizes about in the book.

I did, however, make one very crucial change to the recipe of every frosting recipe above: I used one full cup less powdered sugar to make each batch. I’ve found that when making icing for previous recipes in this column, the amounts of powdered sugar requested have been way, way too high, causing the end products to come out almost unpleasantly sweet. In the case of the “Cherry Bomb Cupcakes,” I probably used even less, only adding enough sugar till the frosting was stiff enough to adhere to a spoon turned upside down.

I received zero complaints about any of these cupcakes and found them to be perfect for my own sweet tooth. But again, let me know if you try out these recipes and feel differently. I really hope you do at least try them though, as these are the best cupcake recipes I’ve ever encountered!

Next week, I regain my sanity and cook only one recipe, as we travel east to the Berkshires to try a different kind of dessert. Do join me!


To learn more or order a copy, visit:

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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.


  1. MaryC

    Finished Caranel Crush last week – eager to read the next book to find out more about Marty.

  2. Doreen Sheridan

    Gosh, me, too! This was my first of the series but I care so much about what happens to him next, and am super intrigued by his background!

  3. Ginevra

    Are you doing anymore recipes of the cupcakes?

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