Cooking the Books: Cinnamon Roll Murder by Joanne Fluke

We’re back in Lake Eden for a very brief stop so I can find out what happens with Norman and that interloper, Doctor Bev! As the 15th book in the Hannah Swensen series opens, our heroine is en route to the Lake Eden Inn with her sister, Michelle, to deliver an order of cinnamon rolls from her bakery, The Cookie Jar. The weather and traffic are typical of the miserable Minnesota mud season that Hannah has dealt with all her life, so she is well-prepared when she sees the sudden flurry of brake lights on the highway in front of them. She takes evasive action to ensure that she and Michelle aren’t caught in the pileup before the sisters head out to offer first aid and hospital transport to any injured.

The accident seems to have been caused by a tour bus that has completely flipped over. The passengers are the members and hangers-on of the Cinnamon Roll Six, a jazz ensemble hired to headline the Lake Eden Inn’s first annual jazz weekend (and the reason for the large delivery of namesake rolls). While the driver seems to have had a fatal seizure that caused him to lose control of the bus, the most serious injury otherwise is the keyboardist’s broken wrist. Buddy Neiman seems to be fairly blasé about his injury given how it will likely affect his livelihood, but he allows Hannah to escort him to the hospital where her mother volunteers.

The hospital is in a state of controlled chaos, as the victims of the multi-vehicle pileup have all been brought here. All available medical personnel have come in to assist, including Norman, Doctor Bev, both dentists, and Delores and her brigade of volunteers. When Delores goes to check on Buddy in his examining room later, she is aghast to discover a pair of surgical shears buried deep in his chest.

Hannah, of course, gets roped into investigating Buddy’s murder. She soon discovers that “Buddy Neiman” is a false identity and that the dead man’s past might be more connected to Doctor Bev’s present than any of the Lake Eden inhabitants could possibly suspect.

As a card-carrying member of #TeamNorman, I can happily announce that the conclusion of this installment of the series made me so, so happy! Not completely happy, of course, but it was good to see all put right in Hannah’s fictional world once more. I rather wish Joanne Fluke had wrapped up the case of the bus driver’s death as well, as that mystery remained unaddressed as the novel ended. But it was otherwise a very satisfying installment of the series.

Cinnamon Roll Murder included the usual bounty of recipes, with 20 this time. I was in the mood for a quick and easy cookie recipe, so I chose this one:

Sinco De Cocoa Cookies (Chocolate Avocado Cookies)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F., rack in the middle position.


½ cup salted butter (1 stick, 4 ounces, ¼ pound)

3 one-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate (I used Baker’s)

¾ cup white (granulated) sugar

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ cup mashed avocado (that’s 2 medium or 1 very large avocado)

3 cups all-purpose flour (pack it down in the cup when you measure it)

1 cup semi-sweet or 60% cocoa chocolate chips (that’s a 6-ounce bag)


Melt the butter with the squares of chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl on HIGH for 2 minutes. Stir to see if the chocolate has melted. If it isn’t, microwave it again in 30-second increments until you can stir it smooth. You can also melt the butter and chocolate in a saucepan on the stovetop at MEDIUM heat, stirring frequently. (I did this and it made my kitchen smell SO good!)

When everything is melted, take the mixture off the heat (or out of the microwave) and let it cool on a cold burner.

Combine the white sugar and the brown sugar in a mixing bowl. Stir, or mix with an electric mixer until they’re a uniform light brown color.

Add the eggs, one by one, mixing them in after each addition.

Mix in the vanilla extract, and beat the mixture until it’s light and fluffy.

Mix in the salt and the baking powder, and beat until they’re thoroughly combined.

Mash the avocado until it’s a smooth puree. Measure out a half cup. Add it to your work bowl and mix until it’s well blended.

Feel the outside of the bowl containing the butter and the chocolate mixture. If it’s not so hot that it might cook the eggs, add it to your mixing bowl. (If it is, have a cup of coffee and wait until it cools some more.) Beat until everything is thoroughly incorporated.

Add the flour, ½ cup at a time, mixing after each addition. Continue to mix until the dough is smooth and well-blended.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the chocolate chips by hand. Stir until they’re evenly distributed throughout the cookie dough.

Drop the dough by rounded teaspoons onto greased cookie sheets, cookie sheets sprayed with Pam or another nonstick cooking spray, or cookie sheets covered with parchment paper.

Bake at 350 degrees F., for 13 to 15 minutes, or until the cookies feel dry when LIGHTLY TOUCHED on the top. Be careful doing this. They will be very hot. If the very top of the cookie feels dry, take them out of the oven immediately. Like brownies, you don’t want to overbake them. (Mine took exactly 14 minutes.)

Cool the Sinco de Cocoa cookies on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes. This will firm up the bottom. Then remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. (If you use parchment paper, you can just pull it off the cookie sheet and onto a wire rack.)

Yield: 4 to 5 dozen delectable, chocolaty cookies that taste silky smooth and rich.

I love avocados, and I was so excited to try this! Everything seemed to be going really well until I added the last half cup or so of flour, at which point the batter seized up. When I dropped the dough onto the cookie sheets, it formed a ball that did not change at all in shape after baking. I actually took the cookies out at 13 minutes on the dot because they were already perfectly dry by then.

Now, I don’t want to say that these cookies were bad. My kids definitely enjoyed them, and they tasted like store bought. But I expected something rich and moist, which these just weren’t. I think that the problem here was with the amount of flour. I’m pretty sure just two and a half cups would have been fine for this, possibly even two and a quarter. I’m seriously considering trying this recipe again with less flour, and I will update in the comments if I do.

Next week, we head southwest to try a tasty Tex-Mex staple. Do join me!

See also: Cooking the Books: Marinating in Murder by Linda Wiken


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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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