Cooking the Books: Fudge Cupcake Murder by Joanne Fluke

Five books in, and I finally make the dish listed in the title! The titular fudge cupcakes also provide an interesting culinary mystery that Joanne Fluke handles beautifully, with intriguing clues that had me guessing right until the end as to what the mystery ingredient might be. I very much admired this mystery within a mystery.

Spoiler alert: the recipe quoted below does have the mystery ingredient listed, so feel free to skip over it if you’d rather go into reading the book without knowing the answer.

As to the main story, Hannah Swensen is helping her brother-in-law, Bill Todd, run for sheriff against the high-handed incumbent, Jim Grant. When she finds Sheriff Grant’s body in a dumpster with frosting from the fudge cupcakes she’d just made smeared down his shirt, she knows there’s no way she can stay out of investigating his death.

When Bill becomes the prime suspect and is suspended from the force, Hannah and her heavily pregnant sister, Andrea Todd, join forces to clear his name—even if it means running afoul of Hannah’s boyfriend, acting sheriff Mike Kingston. Good thing Hannah has her other boyfriend, Norman Rhodes, squarely in her corner! She’ll need all the help she can get, though, when her investigations lead her right into the hands of a criminal who has zero problems with racking up a body count.

Fudge Cupcake Murder was a delight, as all the books in the series so far have been, though it hewed more closely to the formula of the first three novels than to its immediate predecessor. I do hope the lecture Hannah received in this book on choosing a mate with a similar sense of humor leads to her choosing Norman, which I’ve been advocating since the beginning. As always, Hannah’s family is relatable and fun to be around, even if her mother can be completely exasperating. Have I mentioned that her mother is a lot like mine?

Anyway, there were 10 recipes included here, but I was definitely feeling like chocolate this week, so choosing this one was a no-brainer:

Fudge Cupcakes

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


4 squares unsweetened baking chocolate (1 ounce each)

¼ cup white sugar

½ cup raspberry syrup (for pancakes—I used Knott’s red raspberry)

1 ⅔ cups flour

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup butter, room temperature (one stick, ¼ pound)

1 ½ cups white sugar (not a misprint—you'll use 1 ¾ cups sugar in all)

3 eggs

⅓ cup milk


Line a 12-cup muffin pan with double cupcake papers. Since this recipe makes 18 cupcakes, you can use an additional 6-cup muffin pan lined with double papers or you can butter and flour an 8-inch square cake pan or the equivalent.

Microwave the chocolate, raspberry syrup, and ¼ cup sugar in a microwave-safe bowl on high for 1 minute. Stir. Microwave again for another minute. At this point, the chocolate will be almost melted, but it will maintain its shape. Stir the mixture until smooth and let cool to lukewarm. (You can also do this in a double boiler on the stove.)

Measure flour, mix in baking powder and salt, and set aside. In an electric mixer (or with a VERY strong arm), beat the butter and 1 ½ cups sugar until light and fluffy. (About 3 minutes with a mixer—an additional 2 minutes if you're doing it by hand.) Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition to make sure they're thoroughly incorporated. Add approximately a third of the flour mixture and a third of the milk. (You don't have to be exact—adding the flour and milk in increments makes the batter smoother.) When that's all mixed in, add another third of the flour and another third of the milk. When that's incorporated, add the remainder of the flour and the remainder of the milk. Mix thoroughly.

Test your chocolate mixture to make sure it's cool enough to add. (You don't want to cook the eggs!) If it's fairly warm to the touch but not so hot you have to pull your hand away, you can add it at this point. Stir thoroughly and you're done.

Let the batter rest for five minutes. Then stir it again by hand and fill each cupcake paper three-quarters full. If you decided to use the 8-inch cake pan instead of the 6-cup muffin tin, fill it with the remaining batter.

Bake the cupcakes in a 350 degree F oven for 20 to 25 minutes. The 8-inch cake should bake an additional 5 minutes.

Fudge Frosting

18 cupcakes, or 12 cupcakes and 1 small cake, cooled to room temperature and ready to frost.


2 cups chocolate chips (a 12-ounce package)

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk


If you use a double boiler for this frosting, it's foolproof. You can also make it in a heavy saucepan over low to medium heat on the stovetop, but you'll have to stir it constantly with a spatula to keep it from scorching.

Fill the bottom part of the double boiler with water. Make sure it doesn't touch the underside of the top.

Put the chocolate chips in the top of the double boiler, set it over the bottom, and place the double boiler on the stovetop at medium heat. Stir occasionally until the chocolate chips are melted.

Stir in the can of sweetened condensed milk and cook approximately two minutes, stirring constantly, until the frosting is shiny and of spreading consistency.

Spread on cupcakes, making sure to fill in the “frosting pocket.”

These were delicious, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t think they were quite what was described in the book. All my cupcakes rose perfectly, with no “frosting pocket” available. Maybe it had something to do with the raspberry syrup I wound up using. This was the second recipe in a row where neither I nor my lovely assistant Karin were able to find the one seemingly simple ingredient in our local grocery stores. We wound up using a mixture of raspberries reduced in simple syrup with a reduction of organic raspberry popsicles in lieu of store-bought. The end product was neither moist nor dense but was still very delicious and fudgy. Perhaps if I eventually come across real raspberry syrup while grocery shopping, I’ll take another crack at this.

I also very much appreciated that the recipe gave the option for making a small cake in addition to the cupcakes. I always feel like cake stores better than cupcakes, especially in my household. The frosting was also easy to make even without a double boiler, though perhaps I was extra vigilant against scorching due to all the warnings in the recipe.

Next week, I take a break from sweets to make a savory dish. Do join me!

See also: Cooking the Books: Lemon Meringue Pie 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.


  1. Teddy P

    Get in my belly!

  2. Sandra Perry

    Thank you for going through the trouble of making this recipe and giving us your honest opinion about it. BLESS YOU! I;m just wondering if you have a Smart & Final in your town. If so, they probably carry Torani Raspberry Syrup bottles (for flavored drinks & smoothies). That’s one flavor I haven’t been tempted to buy, but your cupcake recipe makes me want to try it now.

    • Doreen Sheridan

      I don’t have a Smart & Final near me, unfortunately, but I’d love to hear if you do try this recipe with the Torani! Thanks for the kind words!

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