Cooking the Books: Cream Puff Murder by Joanne Fluke

Can I say how disappointed I was that the murder in Cream Puff Murder wasn't precipitated by the book the mother of our heroine, Hannah Swensen, announced was being published in the last novel? Granted, Joanne Fluke dealt with it very cleverly after Delores’s bold claims, and I suppose that it is a bit clichéd for a fictionalization of town life to provide the basis for a murder, but I can’t help feeling it’s a bit of an opportunity lost (or maybe I just enjoy mischief a bit too much for my own good, teehee).

Anyway, Hannah is in a tizzy with the upcoming release party of Delores’s Regency romance novel, with characters based on people from their small town of Lake Eden. She’s been asked to cater, which she looks forward to despite Delores’s constant indecision regarding the menu. What she does not look forward to is serving refreshments in the Regency-era dress Delores ordered for her based on her measurements from the year before. When it finally arrives, Hannah’s worst fears are confirmed: the dress is too small.

This leads to Hannah not only going on a(nother) diet but also finally giving in and frequenting the new local gym with her sister, Andrea. Things aren’t so bad until their fitness instructor breaks his arm and a replacement takes over their class. Unfortunately, said replacement is the insufferable Ronni Ward. Not only is she a man-eater of the first water, she is absolutely horrible to the women in her orbit—going out of her way to be cruel to the women attending her classes. When Hannah finds Ronni’s body in the gym Jacuzzi one morning, the list of suspects is unsurprisingly long.

What does come as a nasty surprise is how the three main suspects turn out to be Andrea’s husband, Bill; Hannah’s sometimes boyfriend Mike (of course, because he is The Worst); and their younger sister’s beau, Lonnie. All three work at the police department where Ronni worked part-time as a fitness consultant, and all three had been suspected (more correctly in some cases than others) of being romantically involved with Ronni. None of the three have a clear-cut alibi for Ronni’s death. Things quickly get personal as the Swensen sisters get to the bottom of the mystery.

I was kinda hoping that this would be the book where Hannah finally dumps Mike, but I’m starting to think that she just wants to keep him as an option so that she doesn’t have to say yes to the very wonderful Norman, her other boyfriend. Basically, the only thing she likes about Mike is that he’s a good kisser. Insert eleventy-billion rolling-eyes emojis here.

I distracted myself from my ongoing chagrin at Hannah’s Poor Choices by considering the 22 recipes in this volume. I was partial to the lazy potato pancakes, but my lovely assistant Karin persuaded me to try something sweet instead. And since I’d had my fill of chocolate the week before, we settled on this recipe:

Lois Brown’s Lemon Cookies

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


½ cup softened butter (1 stick, ¼ pound)

¾ cup white (granulated) sugar

1 egg, beaten (just whip it up in a glass with a fork)

1 Tablespoon lemon zest

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ⅔ cups flour (pack it down in the cup when you measure it)

½ cup milk (I used whole milk)


¼ cup lemon juice

¾ cup white (granulated) sugar


Beat the butter and the sugar together until they’re light and fluffy.

Add the beaten egg, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Mix it all up together.

Mix in the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix well.

Mix in half of the flour and half of the milk. That’s approximately a cup of flour and a quarter cup of milk. (You don’t have to be exact—just eyeball it.)

Stir everything all up, and then add the remaining flour and the remaining milk. Mix well.

Drop by teaspoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Make these cookies small, about the size of a cherry. If you make them too large, they’ll spread out on the cookie sheet and crumble when you remove them.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 12 to 14 minutes. (Mine took 13 minutes.)

Note: I use parchment paper because then I can just slide it onto a wire rack after the cookies come out of the oven.

While the first pan of cookies is baking, mix up the topping.

Heat the lemon juice just a bit in the microwave. (The sugar will dissolve more easily if the juice is warm.) Add the sugar and stir it all up. Place the topping next to your wire cooling rack, along with a pastry brush.

When the cookies come out of the oven, remove them to a wire rack with a piece of foil placed under it or, if you’ve used parchment paper, just pull the paper with the cookies from the cookie sheet and onto the wire rack.

Brush the topping onto the hot cookies. The faster you do this, the quicker the topping will dry into a glaze.

Yield: Approximately 4 dozen cookies, depending on cookie size.

These cookies are very light and lemony, and Ms. Fluke is not kidding when she says to make small cookies for fear of crumbling otherwise. These might actually be the smallest I’ve ever attempted, and they came out delightfully bite-sized. I absolutely loved the lemon topping at the end, even if it is a rather thinner glaze than I’d prefer. Neither Karin nor my kids seemed to mind, though, as all four dozen or so were gobbled up very quickly!

Next week, we continue our Lake Eden visit with a versatile savory dip. Do join me!

See also: Cooking the Books: Carrot Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke


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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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