Cooking the Books: Honey-Baked Homicide by Gayle Leeson

The Down South Cafe Mystery series just goes from strength to strength with this third installment of the series! Our heroine Amy Flowers is doing well enough with her cafe that she’s thinking of hosting a sort of farmer’s market for local growers on a consignment basis, beginning with the local beekeeper, Stuart Landon, and his delicious honey.

Stuart is a mysterious figure in Winter Garden, Virginia, who showed up some two decades earlier to buy a secluded farm that he seems to use primarily to hide out from the rest of the townsfolk. Amy’s adorable Great-Aunt Bess is convinced he’s some sort of retired secret agent, but even she is shocked when he’s found with his throat slit, quite dead, in the parking lot of Amy’s cafe.

Stuart’s death unearths all sorts of secrets, and while Amy doesn’t set out to investigate his murder, she does find herself caught up in the aftermath when the truth of his origins is slowly revealed. His long-lost family shows up in town, as does an engineer for a gas company looking for deposits that could make several landowners wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. Amy soon finds herself in the crosshairs of a ruthless killer who won’t stop at only one murder.

I really loved how this story flowed, with Amy only wanting to extend a helping hand to the grieving and injured but finding herself solving the case in the process. I also enjoyed her relationship with her boyfriend, Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan, though I did think it was pretty silly how she gave her friend Roger such a hard time about installing security cameras at her cafe. Still, overall, it was another terrific installment in this very strong culinary cozy series.

There were also five delicious recipes included. I love butterscotch, so decided to try this cake:

Butterscotch Cake

Yield: 1 cake


1 ¾ cups brown sugar

¼ cup butter

1 ½ cups milk

3 cups sifted cake flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ cup shortening

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 eggs, beaten


Preheat oven to 350°. Combine 1 cup brown sugar, butter, and ¼ cup milk in a saucepan. Heat, stirring constantly. Cook until a small amount will form a hard ball when dropped into a cup of cold water. Remove from heat.

Heat the remaining milk and stir into the syrup mixture. Cool.

Sift the flour, salt, and baking powder together. Cream the shortening and vanilla with the remaining brown sugar. Beat the eggs until light, and add to the creamed mixture. Add the dry ingredients and the butterscotch syrup mixture. Beat thoroughly. Bake in a greased and floured loaf pan for 50 to 60 minutes.

Butterscotch Icing

Yield: Approximately 2 cups


1 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup milk

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

2 cup confectioners’ sugar

¼ cup shortening

¼ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons hot milk


Cook the brown sugar, butter, milk, and corn syrup until a small amount of the mixture forms a hard ball when dropped into a cup of cold water. Remove from heat. Cream together the sugar, shortening, and salt. Add the hot milk and then the butterscotch mixture. Beat until smooth and thick enough to spread onto the cooled cake.

I did not realize how much of a pain butterscotch is to make until my lovely assistant Karin pointed out that the deceptively simple instructions entail quite a bit of standing over the stove, stirring, and testing. It was totally worth it, though (I say, given that Karin did most of said stirring and testing), as the flavors were exceptional!

I only wish the recipe had told me to cool the cake on a wire rack. I was so scattered while baking that day that I didn’t assume to do so automatically, resulting in a steamed-bottom cake that was really only edible for the first day after baking. I’m seriously considering making this cake again, though, perhaps for a holiday occasion, as the icing and top part of the cake were incredibly delicious.

Next week, we travel to the Midwest to investigate the murder of another farmer, and I tackle a title dish (for a change.) Do join me!

See also: Cooking the Books: A Late Frost by Sheila Connolly


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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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