It’s easy to see why Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mystery series is such a bestseller—16 books in and it's still going strong with terrific plotting and charm!
Dead Cold Brew finds our heroine, Clare Cosi, back in New York City running her coffeehouse, Village Blend, for her former mother-in-law, the beloved Madame. When a series of shootings that seems to be targeting cops comes to Clare’s attention, her boyfriend, NYPD Detective Mike Quinn, assures her that it’s all coincidental … until another shooting targeting Mike and his squad outside of Village Blend itself turns Clare into an eyewitness.
Shaken by the attempt on Mike’s life, Clare finally agrees to make their relationship official. When consulted privately by Mike, Madame is only too delighted to donate several coffee diamonds for a custom engagement ring made by a jeweler she recommends. Madame, however, has one demand of Clare: find out what’s happening with her son and Clare’s ex-husband, the roguishly charming Matt.
Nowadays, Matt is Clare’s friend and business partner who travels the globe to source beans for Village Blend’s distinctive coffees, but he’s been avoiding Madame since returning to the city from his last trip. A strange visit from a lawyer about an inheritance for their daughter gives Clare further impetus to track down Matt, which leads to a long-forgotten mystery that Clare must solve in order to save the lives of those she loves.
I was really impressed by the multiple layers of this mystery and how everything flowed smoothly and plausibly from the many action-packed plot points. This book successfully melds cop shootings with the disaster of the Andrea Doria, modern jewel heists, and the history of New York City’s hidden structures—no easy feat!
Intelligent and expertly plotted—though I did have my initial reservations regarding the choice of Panther Man for the sniper’s superhero costume—Dead Cold Brew balances its mystery and thrills with great character development. Most refreshingly, this 16th installment was instantly accessible for someone who has yet to read the rest of the series (and didn’t give away the plots of previous books: a pet peeve of mine).
On top of all this, I was astonished to find over 40 pages of recipes at the end. It seemed a little excessive, but then I bit into the results of the recipes I’d chosen, reprinted here:
The Village Blend’s Farmhouse Apple Cake Muffins
*Makes 12 muffins
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 large Golden Delicious apple (*see apple note)
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup butter (1 stick), softened to room temperature
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk (or light buttermilk)
(optional) Cinnamon-Vanilla Glaze (recipe follows)
Step 1 — Mix dry ingredients: Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg. Set aside.
Step 2 — Shred apple: Peel the apple. Using a boxed grater (or food processor), shred the apple. (Do not chop or finely dice. Shred it as you would cheese.) Set aside.
Step 3 — Beat wet ingredients: Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. (Make sure butter is softened to room temperature.) Add your 2 eggs one at a time (use room-temperature eggs for best results), whipping well between each addition. The whipping will help make your muffins delightfully tender. Finally, mix in vanilla and buttermilk.
Step 4 — Marry dry and wet ingredients: With mixer on a low speed, add the premeasured dry ingredients to your wet ingredients, mixing just enough to create a smooth batter. (Do not overmix or you will develop the gluten in the flour and toughen your muffins.) With a spoon or spatula now gently fold in the shredded apple.
Step 5 — Bake: Either line muffin pans with paper liners and lightly coat the papers with nonstick spray, or use the spray on the muffin tins (or grease with butter or oil). Divide batter among the cups; filling to the top. Bake at 375°F for 18 minutes. Test doneness. If a toothpick comes out clean, with no wet batter clinging to it, the muffin is baked. Otherwise, bake 5 minutes more and test again. Cool the muffins 5 minutes in the pan and carefully remove to finish cooling on a rack. (If left in the pan, muffin bottoms may steam and become tough.)
*Apple note: The type of apple that you use will affect your muffins. That’s why Clare is recommending Golden Delicious—not to be confused with Red Delicious. Golden Delicious apples have wonderful flavor and texture for baking, and will give you good results. Using a single shredded apple, as the recipe directs, is what keeps these muffins tender and light.
*Makes enough glaze for 12 muffins
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
⅛ teaspoon table salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
Melt butter in a saucepan on low heat. Remove pan from heat and whisk in salt, cinnamon, whole milk, and vanilla (in that order). Return pan to low heat. Whisk in the confectioners’ sugar, a little at a time, until you have a smooth glaze. If glaze is too thick, add a bit more milk; if too thin, whisk in a bit more confectioners’ sugar. Dip tops of muffins into glaze or use a fork to drizzle the glaze in a zigzag fashion across the tops. If glaze hardens, place over heat and whisk again until smooth.
I’ve never had baked goods disappear from my home as quickly as these did! These apple muffins were amazing. I’d never heard of shredding an apple for baking before, but I wholeheartedly recommend it. I also recommend drizzling the glaze on the muffins instead of dipping the tops into the glaze, as the latter method risks separating the muffin tops into the glaze pan, alas.
Between the extremely solid mystery and the quality of the abundant recipes in the back of the novel, I highly recommend Dead Cold Brew and look forward to exploring more of Cleo Coyle’s back and future catalog. Next week, we head to the shores of Lake Erie to break out the popcorn: 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.