We peppered Ellie Alexander, author of Caught Bread Handed, with some questions and she was gracious enough to spice up our blog with some delicious answers about her Bakeshop Mystery series, her recipes, and more!
Torte is the bakeshop owned by the Capshaw family. Are there any real life bakeries that inspired Torte?
Yes! In fact, there are quite a few bakeries that have inspired Torte. The series is set in Ashland, Oregon, which is one of my favorite places. The town is designed with Elizabethan architecture and centers around the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. There’s a great artisan coffee shop and bakery on the plaza, Mix, where I imagine Torte would sit because it has a fabulous view of all of the action downtown. I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with professional bakers through writing the series, and my pastry “muse” is Tier Catering. They craft gorgeous, elegant cakes and pastries that are works of art and taste divine.
As a baker, Jules Capshaw is constantly making delicious treats. Do you have a favorite dessert or treat?
That’s a tough question. Do I have to pick one? Like Jules, I’m constantly baking and testing new recipes for the books. Many of the recipes that end up in the books are old family favorites. Food can be memory, and one of my best memories is of my Mom’s raspberry Danish. She would make it on Saturday mornings, and I used to think it took hours to bake because waiting for a slice of the gooey raspberry deliciousness was agony. Then, I made it as an adult and realized it only takes thirty minutes.
How do you decide which recipes to include in your books?
I don’t work on any recipes until after I finish a first draft. I keep a notepad next to my computer and will jot down potential recipes. Once I have a completed first draft, I set it aside and don’t look at it for a few months. During that time, I review my notes and start testing recipes. I want food to feel like a character in the books, so I spend a lot of time making sure the recipes match the tone of the book.
For example, I set the third book in the series, On Thin Icing, at a remote high alpine lodge in the dead of winter, so all of the recipes in that book are hearty—things like tomato orange soup and roasted rosemary chicken. Usually, I have too many recipes, and I get a ton of reader feedback about things that Jules mentions as she baking but don’t make the final cut. It’s so fun to hear what resonates with readers, and I have a running list of recipes for future books.
I’ve seen some pictures of you sketching out your books. What can you tell our readers about your writing process?
I always start my initial sketches with the actual murder. Then, I map out my list of suspects and what each of them are lying about or hiding. I find that giving every suspect a secret helps misdirect readers and naturally embeds red herrings into the story. Maybe a suspect is lying about sneaking around the back alley because they are the killer, or maybe they are just addicted to Jules’s double chocolate cookies and are stealing them from the back entrance to the bakeshop. After I have my suspect list, I plot out each act and then write about a twenty to thirty page outline. It’s interesting to look back and see how the final books end up really close to my initial sketches.
Caught Bread Handed is the 4th book in your Bakeshop Mystery series. How has Jules changed over the course of the series?
Jules has really found her stride running Torte, the family bakeshop, and being back in her childhood town of Ashland, Oregon. So much of her story is about coming home. I love getting to explore the idea of whether we can really ever go home again and how the idea of home changes and evolves as we change and evolve. I think it’s one of the things that makes her such a strong heroine. That and her incredible ability in the kitchen of course!
The Bakeshop Mysteries are set in Ashland, Oregon, the home of Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play?
My dad is a huge Shakespeare buff. He taught Shakespeare and can quote almost any sonnet on command. When I was younger, my parents threw a Midsummer Night’s Dream party where all of our friends and neighbors came in full Elizabethan costumes and dined under the stars. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the play because it felt so magical to me. Reading it as an adult (kind of like baking my mom’s super easy Raspberry Danish) made me realize why it felt so magical—it’s a play all about magic and fairies! No wonder I loved it.
What would be your murder weapon of choice?
A rolling pin! It has to be a rolling pin. I was interviewing a professional pastry chef a while back and when she showed me her marble rolling pin I thought, now there’s a murder weapon. I haven’t killed anyone off with a rolling pin yet, but just wait. I mean, could there be a better way to bump someone off in a bakeshop than with a marble rolling pin?
Tell us about Caught Bread Handed. What can readers expect in this newest Bakeshop Mystery?
I’m so excited to share this book with readers. Jules is back in Ashland and business is booming at Torte, as the town enjoys the last few weeks of calm before the launch of the new season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Jules is up to her elbows in bread dough. The bakeshop has taken on additional wholesale accounts during the off season and is preparing for the Chocolate Festival. And, to complicate matters, her husband, Carlos, has shown up unexpectedly.
Ashland is known for its Tudor style architecture and its shops and restaurants themed after Shakespearean characters, like Puck’s Pub. The downtown plaza has strict guidelines about maintaining its old English design standards, so when a chain restaurant with hideous green and orange neon signage moves in, no one is happy. In fact, the owner of the new chain ends up murdered and everyone in town is a suspect.
If you could pick any famous detective to help Jules solve the murders in Ashland, who would you choose?
I think I would have to go with Sherlock Holmes. I have a feeling that he would fit right in with Ashland’s eclectic artistic community of playwrights and actors. He would feel at home in Ashland’s charming downtown. No one would raise an eyebrow if they spotted him strolling the cobblestone streets with his pipe and deerstalker cap. Sherlock is known for his aloof attitude when it comes to personal relationships, but I think that Jules and her mom, Helen, would butter him up with their delicious pastries and have him spilling all of his secrets!
What is one imaginary snack that you would love to try? (Examples: Butterbeer from Harry Potter, Turkish delight from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, etc.)
One of my favorite books growing up was Little House on the Prairie, and I remember drooling over the Molasses Snow Candy that Laura and Mary made whenever it snowed. Basically, it involved pouring hot molasses on snow and letting it melt. I begged my mom to let me try and make it one winter when I was a kid, and I was quite disappointed with the result. I’m sure that molasses would have been a special treat growing up in the 1800s, but not so much these days.
Do you have a favorite mystery book?
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. It’s one of the first mysteries I read, and I was so impressed and in awe of how she crafted such a layered and entwined plot. It definitely inspired me to want to write mysteries.
What is the last book you read that you wish you had written instead?
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. Not only do I wish that I had written it, but I wish I could go back in time before I read it, just so I could read it again for the first time. It’s a beautiful book, and I’m a sucker for anything set during World War II, but as a writer, what’s stunning to me is that the entire book is written in letter form. It’s a masterpiece!
I know you are working on more Bakeshop Mystery books. Any hints for our readers about what’s in Jules’s future?
I have many more culinary adventures in store for Jules. In the next book, Fudge and Jury, which will come out in early 2017, she and her team at Torte are going to be one of the showcase vendors at Ashland’s annual Chocolate Fest. My office was dripped with photos of chocolate while I was working on the book, and I had the oh-so-tough job of tasting lots and lots of chocolate. If you’re a chocolate fan, then this book is for you! After that, Jules is going to be heading back to the seas for a quick stint on the cruise ship in Book Six.
What’s the one recipe from Caught Bread Handed that you can’t wait for readers to try?
I’m excited for readers to try Jules’s recipe for Lemon Olive Oil Cake. It’s the perfect cake for summer. It’s light and airy with a fantastic tang from fresh Meyer lemons and a hint of spice from the olive oil. My official taste testers (AKA my middle schooler and husband) devoured it.
I know that in the second Bakeshop Mystery, A Batter of Life and Death, Jules competed on a baking reality show. How do you think she would do on a real cooking reality show like Chopped or Cupcake Wars?
She would win it all, of course! Actually, I think she would be a great contestant on a reality cooking show because she’s very level-headed. Having worked as a professional pastry chef for over ten years, I don’t think that she would let the pressure get to her. And, she’s insanely talented when it comes to the culinary arts. I’d love to give her a Chopped basket and see what she would create. Come to think of it, maybe that’s a future plot line!
What is your recipe for a great mystery?
- 1 vile victim
- 5-6 cagey suspects
- 1 cunning and crafty sleuth
- A recurring cast of rich characters
- A page-turning plot
- Copious amounts of mouth-watering food
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Ellie Alexander is a Pacific Northwest native, who spends ample time testing pastry recipes in her home kitchen or at one of the many famed coffeehouses nearby. When she's not coated in flour, you'll find her outside exploring hiking trails and trying to burn off calories consumed in the name of “research.” Find her on Facebook to learn more!