Today Katherine Hall Page Guest Blogs as part of the continuing series of Mystery Authors & Chocolate. Be sure and check out Mary Kennedy's Guest Blog and her Killer Kahlua Brownies.
Katherine Hall Page is the author of the Faith Fairchild mysteries, the first of which received the Agatha Award for best first mystery. She has also won the Agatha Award for best novel with The Body in the Snowdrift and an Agatha Award for her short story, "The Would-Be Widower." Faith Fairchild is a caterer, so these recipes fit right in.
Make Mine Murder—And Chocolate! by Katherine Hall Page
It’s a conversation grabber—and sometimes stopper. “I write murder mysteries.”—the answer to the polite, “What do you do?” What follows has ranged from a perceptible move away to comments like, “You don’t look like you write about murder”—(and that would be what kind of face?)—and an enormous number of suggestions for killing without a trace, which continues to give me pause.
Chocolate, on the other hand, happily produces predictable responses. (The sure way to tell the villains in my books, which feature caterer Faith Fairchild, is to look for anyone not willing to drive a mile for a Hershey’s Kiss.) I’ve spent many happy hours debating the merits of Burdick’s cardamom dark chocolate salt caramels versus the blood orange ones Vosges makes. My books include original recipes at the end and there’s always something chocolate. To do otherwise would be sinful.
There was never any question that when I was given a gift of time—leaving my job during my husband’s sabbatical in another country—I would write the novel in my head as a mystery. Since childhood, I had read anything and everything, but it was mysteries that posed the wondrous challenge of trying to guess whodunit before the final page. And here I am so many years later trying to keep readers from doing just that.
Agatha Christie set the bar. As I write, it’s one I gaze upon from below with admiration, longing, and very occasionally a glimmer of recognition. I think of Jane Marple as a kind of Great Aunt to my own series character, Faith Fairchild. Jane Marple was—and remains—the quintessential female sleuth, relying on her own intuition and keen powers of observation as the basic tools for detection. She, and Dame Agatha, would scorn the current use of the Internet to ferret out information, having no need for Google. Instead, Miss Marple displays an uncanny ability to make connections between apparently disparate individuals and events, past and present. Human beings are much of a type, as are the situations in which they find themselves. The classic village mystery, of which Christie’s Murder at the Vicarage may be the best example, is the genre into which my series falls. However, I do not limit the locale to a place like St. Mary Mead or in my case, Aleford, Massachusetts, a fictitious Boston suburb. I’ve broadened the definition to include New York City; Lyon, France; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and locales in Maine, Vermont, and Norway. What motivates individuals to commit murder, knows no borders. And this also gives me an opportunity to explore many different cuisines!
Here are two of my favorite chocoholic recipes, which have been favorites with readers as well.. There are more on my web site and Have Faith in Your Kitchen, a Faith Fairchild Cookbook, will be out from Orchises Press in September.
Chocolate Bread Pudding
(From the current book, The Body in the Sleigh)
5 thick slices of chocolate bread, cubed
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups half and half or light cream
1/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
Butter to grease the pan
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
Mix the eggs, milk, half and half, sugar, vanilla, and salt together. Faith likes to pulse this in a blender, which makes it easy to pour over the bread cubes.
Put the bread cubes in a large mixing bowl and pour the egg mixture over them. Use the palm of your hand to gently push the bread into the liquid to make sure it absorbs evenly. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Butter a Pyrex-type baking pan, approximately 12”x8”. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Mix the cherries and chocolate chips together in a small bowl.
Put a layer of the bread mixture in the pan, sprinkle the cherry/chip mixture over it, and cover with the remaining bread mixture. Again, use the palm of your hand to press down, so the ingredients are evenly distributed.
Bake for 40 minutes.
Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.
This is a very rich dessert and this recipe will serve 12 easily.
Neither Faith nor I have ever met a bread pudding we didn’t like. It’s comfort food. Many bakeries make chocolate bread. When Pigs Fly, the bakery company mentioned in the text is based in Wells, Maine, but their breads—including the chocolate bread—are sold at many Whole Foods and other markets. They also sell the bread—you bake it in your own kitchen for the last 30 minutes—online at www.sendbread.com. They also sell a kit to make the chocolate bread.
A reader also recently wrote that he had used chocolate muffins from his local bakery and the result was fantastic.
(From The Body in the Snowdrift)
4 squares unsweetened chocolate, Valrhona is a good choice
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sifted flour
1 cup dried cherries
1 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chocolate chunks or chips (milk or semi-sweet)
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease and lightly flour a 13”x 9” pan. Melt the chocolate squares together with the butter. Cool it slightly and beat in the sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in the flour. Mix well, then add the cherries, walnuts, and chocolate chunks or chips. Put the batter in the pan and bake for about 35 minutes. Be careful not to over bake. Cool in the pan and serve. Makes a very generous1 1/2 dozen.
You may vary this recipe by substituting dried cranberries, golden or dark raisins for the cherries and pecans for the walnuts. Attributed in the book to Faith as a child, it is actually the creation of the author’s dear friend, Gladys Boalt of Stormville, New York.