Our heroine Hannah Swenson might solve murders in Lake Eden, but her real calling is baking for The Cookie Jar—her cookie café and the local hotspot for all the good gossip. Thus, she’s excited to help when her business partner, Lisa, starts organizing a big family reunion for both Lisa’s own family and her newlywed husband’s. Over a hundred Beesemans and Hermans from all over the country will be descending on Lake Eden, and Lisa and Hannah are tag-teaming running The Cookie Jar with feeding and shepherding Lisa’s relatives.
When Lisa’s long-lost Uncle Gus rolls into town, he immediately becomes the center of attention. Having run off under something of a cloud from Lake Eden, he’s back with a vengeance, eager to show how he’s made good in the ensuing 25 years. So it comes as a huge shock to everyone when Hannah discovers his body stabbed to death next to the carrot cake she’d baked specially for him just a day earlier.
In a reversal from the last book, Deputy Sheriff Mike Kingston—Hannah’s sometimes boyfriend—enlists her help on the case. Hannah suspects that the partnership he’s offering is really more of a one-way street, with her giving him all her information but not the other way around. With the help of her sisters (and the absolutely wonderful, underappreciated Norman Rhodes, her other sometimes boyfriend), she does manage to solve the case before him—though not without putting herself in great, if rather picturesque, peril.
I’m getting annoyed all over again just thinking of how great Norman is, how obnoxious Mike is, and how Hannah can’t see that. I do respect how Mike just can’t share information with her because of his legal obligations, but so much of how Hannah views Mike feels so distorted that their relationship does little more than irritate me nowadays. I did very much enjoy the opening church scene, however, and I absolutely loved Hannah’s mom’s revelation at the end. I can’t wait to read the next book and chortle over the fallout from that last!
Carrot Cake Murder included 21 recipes to choose from, but I had no problem zeroing in on this one to try out:
Black Forest Brownies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F., rack in the middle position.
4 one-ounce squares semi-sweet chocolate (or the equivalent—¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips will do just fine)
¾ cup butter (one and a half sticks)
1 ½ cups white (granulated) sugar
3 beaten eggs (just whip them up in a glass with a fork)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or cherry extract)
1 cup flour (pack it down in the cup when you measure it)
½ cup pecans
½ cup chopped dried cherries (or ½ cup well-drained Maraschino Cherries finely chopped)
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli)
Prepare a 9-inch by 13-inch pan by looking it with a piece of foil large enough to flap over the side. Spray the foil-lined pan with Pam or other nonstick cooking spray.
Microwave the chocolate squares and butter in a microwave-safe mixing bowl for one minute. Stir. (Since chocolate frequently maintains its shape even when melted, you have to stir to make sure.) If it's not melted, microwave for an additional 20 seconds and stir again. Repeat if necessary.
Stir the sugar into the chocolate mixture. Feel the bowl. If it's not so hot it'll cook the eggs, add them now, stirring thoroughly. Mix in the flavor extract (vanilla or cherry).
Mix in the flour and stir just until it's moistened.
Put the pecans and dried cherries in the bowl of a food processor and chop them together with the steel blade. If the dried cherries stick to the blades too much, add a Tablespoon of flour to your bowl and try it again. (If you don't have a food processor, you don't have to buy one for this recipe—just chop everything up as well as you can with a sharp knife.)
Mix in the chopped nuts and cherries, add the chocolate chips, give a final stir by hand, and spread the batter out in your prepared pan.
Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes.
Cool the Black Forest Brownies in the pan in a metal rack. When they're thoroughly cool, grasp the edges of the foil and lift the brownies out of the pan. Put them facedown on a cutting board, peel the foil off the back, and cut them into brownie-sized pieces.
Place the squares on a plate and dust lightly with powdered sugar if you wish.
I absolutely messed up by not packing the flour down when measuring out this recipe, resulting in a dish that took a lot of time to bake and cool into something firm enough to eat with fingers. That said, the flavors in this are absolutely amazing! I love black forest cake, and this was the perfect brownie equivalent. As I’m not a huge fan of nuts in brownies, I put the chopped pecans in only half of the batter, but everyone who tried both sides enjoyed both versions greatly. I also used Morello cherries, which I felt cut through the sweetness nicely with their slightly sour tang.
Next week, we continue our sweets streak with a tart treat. 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.