Cooking the Books: Shot In the Dark by Cleo Coyle
Welcome back to the Village Blend cafe for the 17th installment in the bestselling Coffeehouse Mystery series! Clare Cosi—Village Blend manager and our heroine—is worrying about setting a date for her wedding to one of NYPD’s finest, Detective Lieutenant Mike Quinn. But it’s another sort of date that soon absorbs all her attention, as the Village Blend has become a hot spot for couples to meet in real life after making a connection on a dating app named Cinder. Clare disapproves of the hook-up culture that she feels Cinder encourages, especially since her ex-husband, Matt, is obsessed with the app. So while she isn’t too surprised when one of these meetups goes sour one evening, she hardly expects actual gunshots to be fired. An outraged woman upset with a loathsome Cinder-using Lothario named Richard Crest has resorted to violence; fortunately, no one is actually harmed in the process.
Unfortunately, video of the incident goes viral, causing business to slow and worrying Clare and her loyal staff. No one wants to go on a first date in an unsafe space, after all. When the CEO of Cinder proposes that they join forces to spin a positive narrative, Clare is initially hesitant to take part. But then a regular turns up dead, and Clare suspects Richard might be involved. Believing that the best way to bring a killer to justice is to join forces with Cinder, Clare enlists Matt to help her set a trap for Richard, unwittingly setting into motion a series of events that will claim more lives before the case is solved.
One of the things I enjoy about the Coffeehouse Mystery series is how successfully multiple plotlines are woven into the narrative of each novel. While Shot In the Dark is ostensibly about online dating, it also deftly discusses drugs, the modern fitness industry, the coffee trade, and New York City’s fascinating history and geography. Add to this a cast of characters that is wonderfully diverse and wholly believable—and whose domestic dramas only serve to enhance the overarching narrative—and it’s easy to see why these books are bestsellers. I definitely look forward to the publication of each one!
Story aside, I’m also a big fan of the impressive recipe and tip section included in the back of each book. In addition to teaching the reader about stovetop espresso, this volume serves up 23 tantalizing recipes. Being on something of a cupcake kick, I chose this one to try out:
The Village Blend’s Chocolate Souffle Cupcakes
*Makes 12 cupcakes
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet bar chocolate (69-64% cacao)*
8 tablespoons salted butter, cut into pieces
1 ¼ cups confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
4 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten with fork
Step 1—Make the batter: Break or chop the bar chocolate into pieces and place them into a large, heatproof mixing bowl. Add the butter and place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (creating a double boiler). Stir with a rubber spatula until the two ingredients have melted together. Set the bowl aside for one full hour. Be patient–the chocolate must cool and thicken a bit. After the hour is up, sift in the confectioners’ sugar, flour, and cornstarch. Add the lightly beaten eggs. Whisk well by hand for a good 30 seconds until the batter is smoothly blended.
Step 2—Prep oven and pan and bake: Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners. If your liners are uncoated, spray the papers lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Measure ¼ cup of batter into each of the paper-lined cups. Divide any extra batter evenly among the 12 cups. Bake for no more than 30 minutes. The cupcake tops should be set (you can touch them lightly to test this). But do not overbake. They should still be moist inside when they come out of the oven. Just like a soufflé, these light cupcakes will puff up during baking and fall slightly as they cool. Serve with coffee, espresso, or a cold glass of milk and eat with joy!
*Cooking tips: Use a good-quality chocolate for this cupcake recipe and be sure to use bars, not chips. Chocolate chips often contain stabilizers, which help them keep their shape but compromise their flavor and make them more difficult to melt than bar chocolate.
This was actually the first time I’ve used a double-boiler, as I finally figured out which of my pots would work for the purpose. I was frightfully pleased with the result, as well as with the ease of making these cupcakes overall. The hardest part was waiting the hour for the chocolate to cool. The cupcakes themselves were a delight. Despite being as light and fluffy as advertised, just one makes for a perfect afternoon treat—though my four-year-olds were quite happy to differ and gobbled up as many as were available.
Next week, we take a short hop north to try out a savory steak dish from a series debut written by an accomplished competitive cook. Do join me!