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Recipes in between murder, mayhem

July 11, 2012
By ESTHER McCOY - Food editor , The Herald-Star

Whether it is the "Devil's Food Cake Murder," "Apple Turnover Murder," "Cream Puff Murder," Cherry Cheesecake Murder" or her recent "Cinnamon Roll Murder," author Joanne Fluke manages to include many spectacular and far from ordinary recipes in between the murder and mayhem that happens to her heroine, Hannah Swensen.

Imagine my surprise when I sent Joanne Fluke an email asking if I could use some recipes from her book in my food column and her replying back almost immediately to say yes. She asked that I give credit to her as the author and to Kensington Publishing.

She answered one of my emails while having lunch with her son, John. She even borrowed his phone to get back to me.

Article Photos

DOWN?HOME?MYSTERY — Joanne Fluke, New York Times best selling author, combined Hannah Swensen’s expertise in baking cinnamon rolls with trying to solve the murder of a well-known keyboard player, Buddy Neiman, in her newest book, “Cinnamon Roll Murder.” All of her books, published by Kensington Publishing, center around Swensen and her “down home” style bakery shop in a small town in Minnesota.
-- Esther McCoy

Getting to her book, Hannah Swensen is the owner of a very "down home" bakery called The Cookie Jar, where all the locals hang out every morning to discuss the hottest gossip of the day and enjoy her favorite cookies and ones she experiments on. The experiments are usually given to customers free of charge just to get their comments and reactions.

In the "Cinnamon Roll Murder," Swensen bakes up a huge batch of the spicy and sugary rolls for the namesake of a jazz band that would be playing at the town's Weekend Jazz Festival, the Cinnamon Roll Six.

The baker and her sister, Michelle, encounter an overturned bus on its way into town on roads that had turned icy after a spring thaw. The bus contained the members of the band, with Buddy Neiman, the beloved keyboard player, injured and later dying in the hospital. So starts the murder mystery part, as Buddy was stabbed to death on the surgery table with surgical scissors. But enough about the mystery, it is the recipes that are calling out to be shared.

What I like is how Fluke explains many of her measurements. New cooks will appreciate knowing that you can cut a stick of butter or margarine in half and get 1/4 cup and many more explanations.

The first recipe is the namesake of the book, cinnamon rolls. Fluke notes that, although the work time for making the rolls is only about 30 minutes, the rolls take about 4 hours from the mixing bowl to the mouth. There is much waiting on the rising and baking of the rolls that contain chocolate chips, along with cinnamon.

Special Cinnamon Rolls


1/2 cup hot coffee

1/2 cup whole milk

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 packet dry active yeast, she uses the Fleischmann's brand

1/4 cup salted butter, 1/2 stick

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 large egg

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup granulated sugar, and she writes, yes that is in addition to the sugar above

3 to 3 1/2 cups flour


1/2 cup, 1 stick salted butter, softened to room temperature

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Pan ingredients:

2 tablespoons softened butter

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon


1 cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon salted butter, melted

1 tablespoon milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a small microwave-safe container, combine the hot coffee with the milk. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir in a tablespoon granulated sugar. Pour a half cup of the mixture into another container. Add the packet of yeast to the microwave-safe container and gently stir. Let sit to proof, that is when the yeast starts working and bubbling.

In the meanwhile, melt the butter in another small microwave container. Add vegetable oil and cool. In a medium bowl, use a wooden spoon or a fork to beat the egg with salt, 1/4 cup granulated sugar and coffee and milk mixture that does not contain the yeast. Feel the bowl containing the butter and oil mixture. If it is not so hot that it could cook the egg, stir it into the work bowl. Add 1 to 1 1/2 cups flour. Stir until mixture is smooth. Add the yeast mixture, noticing that it is puffy from the mixture working and stir in gently. Add 1 1/2 cups more flour in half cup increments, stirring after each addition. If the dough seems sticky, add the last half cup of flour.

Using a bread board or a clean counter work space, dust with flour. Upend the work bowl and plop the dough down. Sprinkle more flour on top, then flip it so the bottom is now the top. Now Joanne's advice is to think about the old boyfriend who broke up with you in high school, visualizing his face in the center of the mound of dough, pick up one edge and start punching hard into the center of the dough. Turn the dough clockwise and do it again. Keep turning and punching for 5 minutes, flipping it every minute to make sure you're also kneading the bottom.

Spray the inside of a much larger bowl coated with a nonstick cooking spray and nestle the dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap sprayed with the cooking spray, making sure it is touching the surface of the dough. Set in a warm, draft-free place and let rise 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. Sprinkle the cleaned kneading area with flour again. Put dough on board, sprinkle lightly with flour and punch down with the palms of your hands or a rolling pin into a 9 by 13-inch rectangle as this is the size of the pan you will be using for baking. Spread with softened butter. Let sit while you make the rest of the topping.

Mix 3/4 cup granulated sugar with cinnamon and sprinkle over the dough. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly on top. Starting from a long side of the rectangle,roll up tightly like a jelly roll, pinching the edge of the surface so it will stay closed. Spread the baking pan with 2 tablespoons butter, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar and tip the pan so it is evenly distributed. Sprinkle on the teaspoon of cinnamon or mix it with the sugar and sprinkle it on.

Using a sharp knife to cut the dough into slices, arrange in cake pan, three rows across and four rows down. Put a cooking spray covered piece of plastic over the rolls and let rise again for 45 minutes, or until doubled in bulk. Leave the wrap on the rolls until ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove wrap and bake for 30 minutes or until nicely browned. Cool slightly and frost with icing made with the butter, milk, vanilla and powdered sugar. If too thick, whisk in a little more milk if too think add more powdered sugar.

Note: Since I am not a chocolate lover, I would use butterscotch chips in the filling.

Here is a sandwich-style cookie that looks really good. I haven't tried the recipe as yet but plan to.

Raspberry Drop

Sandwich Cookies

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup, 2 sticks, salted butter, softened

3 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 and 1/2 cups raspberry pie filling, she uses Comstock and red raspberry or black berry filling can be used

3 cups all purpose flour

Place sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add softened butter. Beat on low for 1 minute. Gradually increase the speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently and beat again for each level of speed on the mixer until you arrive at the highest speed. Beat at the highest speed for 2 minutes or until the mixture is very light and fluffy. Turn to low and add eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add salt and when mixed in, add baking soda until incorporated. Turn mixer on low and add pie filling to the bowl. Shut off mixer and scrape down sides of bowl. With the mixer on low, add flour in 1 cup increments, mixing after each addition. Shut off mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Give the mixture a final stir by hand and the resulting cookie dough should be fluffy, but not as stiff as sugar or chocolate chip cookie dough. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper, grease them heavily or spray thoroughly with nonstick cooking spray.

Using a teaspoon from your silverware drawer, drop rounded teaspoons of dough on the baking sheet, 12 to the standard size sheet. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and slide the cookie-laden parchment paper onto a wire rack to cool. For greased cookie sheets, let them sit for 2 minutes and remove with a metal spatula. Cool and frost the bottom of one cookie with raspberry cream frosting and put another on top. This will make a cookie sandwich that is rounded on the top and bottom. Makes 2 to 2 1/2 dozen cookie sandwiches.

Raspberry Cream Frosting:

3 cups. powered sugar and 1 cup additional if needed

1/4 cup heavy cream, the whipping cream variety

3 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam

Place 3 cups powdered sugar in small bowl. Do not pack the sugar down in the cup when you measure it but level off with a table knife. Whisk heavy cream into the powdered sugar. Heat the raspberry jam in a small microwave-safe bowl for 15 to 20 seconds or until it melts a bit. Mix the warm jam into the cream and then into the powdered sugar. If it is too thick, add a little more cream. If too thin, add a bit more powdered sugar.

Note: If there is icing left, frost some graham crackers as a special treat for the children ... adults will love them too.

(McCoy can be contacted at

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