Friday, April 12, 2013

Joanne Fluke: Red Velvet Surprise Cupcakes

I just love when my two worlds of mystery and chocolate collide. Today I welcome mystery and cookbook author Joanne Fluke. Be sure and scroll down for Joanne's recipe for Red Velvet Surprise Cupcakes!

JOANNE FLUKE is the New York Times bestselling author of the Hannah Swensen mysteries, which include Apple Turnover Murder, Cream Puff Murder, Cinnamon Roll Murder, and the book that started it all, Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder. Like Hannah Swensen, Joanne Fluke was born and raised in a small town in rural Minnesota, but now lives in Southern California. Readers are welcome to visit for more information. Honored by Romantic Times as a “Living Legend,” Fluke’s compilation of vignettes and recipes from the Hannah Swensen series, JOANNE FLUKE’S LAKE EDEN COOKBOOK, was a Top 10 New York Times Bestselling Cookbook.

Last month, Fluke and Hannah returned with RED VELVET CUPCAKE MURDER, a hardcover caper with over 20 recipes interspersed throughout, including Tickled Pink Lemonade Cookies, Jamboree Muffins, Oatmeal Apple Pancakes, Guac Ad Hoc, Snappy Turtle Pie, and of course, Red Velvet Surprise Cupcakes. The Paula Deen of cozies, Joanne Fluke never fails to cook up culinary mysteries that are just as famous for their scrumptious excess of calories as for their eccentric characters and unexpected endings.

In Red Velvet Cupcake Murder, the series' sleuth suddenly finds the tables turned when her rival turns up dead and Hannah is the prime suspect. The sticky caper begins on a hot summer evening in Lake Eden, Minnesota. Hannah Swensen is serving her famous cupcakes at the Grand Opening celebration for the new Red Velvet Lounge when an unexpected guest makes a splashy appearance: Hannah’s nemesis, Doctor Bev, who hasn’t been seen since she left town in shame two years before. But Bev doesn’t have too much time to stir things up before she’s murdered in cold blood on a hot summer night. The only clue the police have is the Red Velvet cupcake Bev ate right before she died—and the tranquilizers someone seems to have baked into it.  

Q&A with Joanne Fluke

When did you first start writing? 

My 8th grade English teacher got me started. Every Friday our assignment was to write a one-page short story. I loved it. Everybody else in the class hated it! How did you start writing cozy culinary mysteries? I always wanted to write a cookbook, but since I’m not a celebrity dessert chef and I don’t own a famous restaurant or bakery, no one took me seriously. That was when I was asked if I’d like to try my hand at writing a cozy mystery series. I said yes, as long as I could include some of the family recipes I had stacked in twenty-three shoeboxes in the corner of my kitchen. And that’s when Hannah Swensen, small town baker and amateur sleuth, was born.

Is Hannah based on a real person? 

Hannah, as a character, is my conception of the perfect friend. She's funny, supportive, kind, generous, and if she lived next door to me, she'd probably bring me cookies. What more could you ask for in a friend? Hannah doesn't remind me of any one person I know, but she's very real to me. I went to my local grocery store yesterday to pick up some apples for a recipe I was trying. I caught myself just as I was about to turn around to ask Hannah if I should buy Granny Smiths or Gala

What first inspired you to create original recipes for your books? 

My biggest baking influence is my family. I grew up in small town Minnesota, and it was considered rude to serve coffee without some sort of sweet treat to go with it. Almost every woman in town baked and when I was four years old, I started to help my mother and my grandmother bake. They gave me a big wooden spoon and let me stir. Because of them, baking has become a lifelong joy for me.

What would you do if you weren’t an author? 

I'd try to open a cookie and coffee shop like Hannah Swensen. I love to bake almost as much as I love to write.

What book is on your nightstand right now? 

I’m currently reading a book called Video Kill, and it’s a mystery I wrote years ago. I’m in the process of making some final edits and now that I’m re-reading it, I realize that the idea for Hannah Swensen’s cat Moishe began with a cat named Al in Video Kill. (Kensington Publishing will re-release Video Kill in paperback in May of this year.)


If you’re going to make these cupcakes right away, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F., rack in the middle position.

Hannah’s Note: To make these cupcakes, you must first make Chocolate Apricot Surprises. Don’t worry. They’ll only take you 15 minutes at the most. If you’d prefer to make them at night and not bake the cupcakes until morn- ing, preheat the oven at that time.


6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (that’s one cup of chips)
2 Tablespoons apricot jam
2 Tablespoons salted butter
If the apricot jam has big pieces of apricots, cut them into smaller pieces before you measure out the jam. You can also simply pick them out and only use the clear part of the jam.

Place the 3 ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl. (I used a 2-cup measuring cup.)
Microwave on HIGH for 1 minute. Take the chocolate mixture out of the microwave and stir the contents smooth.
Tear off a piece of waxed paper and place it on a piece of cardboard or a cookie sheet right next to the chocolate mixture.
Use a quarter-teaspoon measuring spoon to scoop out the chocolate mixture. Scrape it out of the spoon with your impeccably clean finger and drop it onto the waxed paper in little mounds. If it spreads out too much and won’t mound, let it cool for a minute or two longer.
Once you start making the chocolate mounds, keep in mind that you will need 24 Chocolate Apricot Surprises for your cupcakes. If you end up with less, pinch a little off the larger mounds and transfer it to the smaller mounds. If you end up with too much chocolate left, either make the existing mounds bigger, or make several mounds on a different piece of wax paper and hide them in a small container in the back of your refrigerator for the times you have a chocolate deficiency.
Refrigerate the Chocolate Apricot Surprises until you’re ready to use them in your cupcakes. (You can make them the night before you make your cupcakes, but only if you live alone. If you have a family, someone is bound to get up in the middle of the night to eat them.)

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

1 and 1⁄2 cups white (granulated) sugar
1⁄2 cup salted butter (1 stick, 4 ounces, 1⁄4 pound), softened to room temperature
1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
2 teaspoons red food color gel (if you can’t find gel, you can use liquid food coloring, but gel is best—I used Betty Crocker Classic Gel Food Colors)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 and 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour (pack it down in the cup when you measure it)
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar (or white vinegar if you can’t find red wine vinegar)

Line 24 cupcake cups with cupcake papers. (My cupcake pans hold 12 apiece, so I used 2 cupcake pans. I also used double cupcake papers in each cup.)

WARNING ABOUT FOOD COLOR GEL: Make sure you don’t buy red decorating gel instead of red food color gel. The decorating gel comes in individual tubes and is used to write on the top of cakes in various colors of gel frosting. You need to buy the concentrated food color gel that will color your cupcake batter red. If you can’t find food color gel, you can use liquid food coloring, but you’ll have to use double the amount.

Place the white sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the softened, salted butter and vegetable oil. Beat until the resulting mixture is nice and fluffy.
Mix in the salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cocoa powder. Mix it in thoroughly.
Add the 2 teaspoons of red food color gel and the vanilla extract. Beat until the color is mixed in evenly.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
Add one cup of flour to your bowl and mix it in thoroughly. Then shut off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Pour in a half-cup of buttermilk and mix that in thoroughly on LOW speed.
Add a second cup of flour to your bowl. Mix it in thoroughly and then shut off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl again.
Add the rest of the buttermilk (1⁄2 cup) to your bowl. Mix well.
Mix in the rest of the flour (1⁄2 cup) and mix thoroughly.
Mix in the red wine vinegar.
Shut off the mixer, remove the bowl, and give your cup- cake batter a final scrape and stir with the rubber spatula.
The vinegar may make your batter foam up a bit. That’s perfectly all right.
Fill the cupcake papers 1⁄3 full of batter. (Lisa and I used a 2-Tablespoon scoop to do this at The Cookie Jar.)
Take the Chocolate Apricot Surprises you made out of the refrigerator. Peel them off the waxed paper one by one, and put them in the center of each cupcake. Push them down slightly, but be careful not to push them all the way to the bottom of the cupcakes!
Fill the cupcake papers with batter until they’re 3⁄4 full. These cupcakes don’t rise very much so you don’t have to worry about them overflowing.
Bake the Red Velvet Surprise Cupcakes in a preheated 350 degrees F. oven for 20 to 23 minutes. (Mine took 21 minutes.)
Take the cupcake pans out of the oven and let them cool completely on a cold stove burner or a wire rack. Do not remove the cupcakes from the pan until they are completely cool.
Yield: 24 cupcakes

4 ounces cream cheese (I used Philadelphia Brand in the rectangular silver package—half a package was 4 ounces)
1⁄4 cup salted butter (1⁄2 stick, 2 ounces, 1⁄8 pound)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar (pack it down in the cup
when you measure it)

Place the cream cheese and the butter in a medium-size microwave-safe bowl. (I used a quart measuring cup.) Microwave on HIGH for 30 seconds. Stir. If you can stir the cream cheese and the butter smooth, take the bowl out and put it on the counter. If it’s still not soft enough to stir, microwave on HIGH in 20-second intervals until it is.
Add the vanilla extract to your bowl and stir that in.
Add the powdered sugar, a half-cup at a time, stirring after each addition. Continue to add powdered sugar until the frosting is spreadable, not runny.
Work from the center out when you frost your Red Velvet Surprise Cupcakes. Don’t go all the way to the edges. Leave a little of the red cupcake showing all the way around.

Yield: This recipe will frost 24 cupcakes. (If there’s any frosting left over, spread it on graham crackers or soda crackers for the kids.)
When Lisa and I baked these for the grand opening of the Albion Hotel, we sprinkled the top of the Cream Cheese Frosting with red decorating sugar.


Rachel said...

I am currently listening to the Red Velvet Cupcake Murder, while I am not much of a baker I an tempted by these cupcakes. Thank you so much for posting the recipe.

Melissa Johnston said...

My sister, husband, and I baked these a while back and they were perfect! We read the Hannah Swensen series, but are only on book 12. We jumped ahead to make this recipe and I'm so glad we did. The surprises in the middle are the best part.