Business is booming for Winnie Johnson, owner and baker of the Emergency Dessert Squad, a service that delivers wittily named, made-to-order desserts to the residents of Silver Lake, Ohio. And a good thing too, since Winnie needs something to take her mind off of her love-life woes.
Her professor boyfriend, Jay, has gone to Hollywood with his teenage daughter, Caroline, to facilitate a mother-child reunion after his ex walked out on their family nearly a dozen years ago. Caroline has always been hostile to Winnie, whom she views as an interloper, and she's only too happy to reunite with her now-movie-star mom. It’s pretty obvious that she harbors hopes of getting her parents back together and will do everything in her power to make that a reality. To make matters worse, Jay is terrible at communicating over the phone, leaving poor Winnie in a welter of loneliness and confusion.
Fortunately, she has her friends to support and distract her, as they come up with more cute names for a bunch of desserts to be delivered to a nearby artists’ retreat. For the first time, she has her assistant Renee come with her on a delivery, only to have them both stumble across a horrific tableau: the dead body of the retreat’s administrator surrounded by the gathered resident artists. When Winnie realizes that the artists were playing her and Renee—and that one of them must have been the murderer—she throws herself into finding out exactly whom.
I love spending time with Winnie and her friends, and I also enjoy how this is one of the few cozy mystery series to just outright admit that the local sheriff is a buffoon who needs assistance from rank amateurs. Winnie is so much fun to root for, and I think I finally understand her attraction to Jay (even if I, like Renee, think Master Sergeant Hottie is a better match for her at this point in the series).
There were two recipes included this go-round, and since I’d just baked Snickerdoodles for the last column, I decided to try out these mini-donuts instead:
Now You See 'Em, Now You Don-Uts (Maple Glazed)
2 cups all-purpose baking mix
¼ cup sugar
⅔ cup milk
1 egg (lightly beaten)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For maple glaze:
¼ cup butter
½ cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon corn syrup
2 teaspoons maple extract
2 cups powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Spray mini donut pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Mix all donut (not glaze) ingredients in medium bowl until well blended. Spoon approximately 1 tablespoon of batter for each donut into prepared pan.
Bake 10-12 minutes.
Meanwhile, it's time to make your maple glaze. In a small pan, combine butter and brown sugar. Whisk in milk and cook for about 5 minutes (medium heat). Continue stirring until butter is needed and sugar is dissolved.
Remove from heat and add in corn syrup and make extract. Add in powdered sugar a little at a time—whisking smooth after each addition. You can add another teaspoon or two of milk if needed. Once all powdered sugar has been added, keep the glaze warm on the stove (whisk on occasion).
When donuts are done (toothpick inserted in center should come out clean), remove from pan and immediately coat in glaze. Let cool on a wire rack. Be aware the glazed donuts may drip as they cool, so place rack on a sheet of waxed paper to minimize mess.
I’m honestly not sure how people manage to spoon batter into those mini-donut cavities, as I quickly had to give up and use my fingers in order to get the batter to go where it needed to be. I did spray generously with the nonstick cooking oil beforehand, as I’ve read that one of the main concerns with using these pans is that the donuts will stick if not greased liberally. Feel free to shape the donuts in the pan, as they will pretty much bake into the form they’re placed in—you can tell from my pictures that some definitely came out looking more photogenic than others.
The donuts themselves are quite tasty (though I will always prefer the taste and texture of fried), but the maple glaze is the real standout in this dish. I’ve always been a fan of maple-glazed donuts, and this was just as good as store-bought—if not better! I’ll definitely be making that glaze again, even if my taste buds would rather I continue to fry my donuts instead of using the healthier alternative of baking them.
Next week, we go back to Joanne Fluke’s seminal series and try out a party pleaser. 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.