Friday, October 31, 2014

Spider Cookies

by Sheila Connolly

O lucky me! I get to post on Halloween, and I am so ready!

First, I have a gift for you readers who love my County Cork mysteries and are having a hard time waiting for An Early Wake, which won’t be published until February 2015. So I’ve written a short story set in Ireland, Under the Hill, which fits nicely with the Halloween theme (you’ll see why) and it’s free for all e-platforms. You can find it here:

Second, if you like cozies (pun intended), have I got a cozy for you: this skull tea cozy. You could have some really interesting tea parties with this (if anyone would drink the tea under it!). Leave a comment here before midnight (when the dead walk this night!) and I’ll draw one name.

And now, on to the recipe! I’ve talked before my love affair with Stock, the cookware shop in Dublin. The first time I saw it was two years ago in November, and they were sold out of most of their Halloween cookies cutters. (Note: they have terrific cookie cutters—intricate and sturdy and really interesting. Last time I was there I bought a tractor and a rosebud.) I made sure to put in an order well before last Halloween, so now I have a great jack-o’lantern, and a ghoulie, and a skull and crossbones, and…a spider. I had to have the spider.

I’ve used this cookie recipe before on MLK, a couple of years ago, but since these cookie-cutters are very detailed I had to modify the recipe to make the dough a bit less fragile, and easier to handle. That meant cutting down on the butter and substituting solid shortening, plus adding a bit more flour to make the dough stiffer. They still came out nice and chewy.

As for the frosting…I ordered the black food coloring (there are some sources online that say if you combine all colors of food coloring you get something black-ish, but I think that sounds like a muddy mess), but it’s not expensive. You might be able to find it at a local craft supply store.

(the black widow is the only poisonous spider common in my state)

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup solid shortening
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 cup unsulfured molasses

6 cups all-purpose flour (more if needed)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
4 tsp ground ginger
Spices (yes, lots!)
4 tsp ground cinnamon
1-1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp finely ground black pepper (really!)
1-1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, beat together butter, shortening and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs and molasses.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt.  Stir into the butter-shortening-sugar mixture.

Divide the dough into thirds and wrap each piece in plastic wrap.  Chill for at least an hour (you can do this well ahead of time if you like), or even overnight.

Roll the dough 1/8-inch thick between two pieces of wax paper.

Cut the dough into shapes with your cookie cookie cutters.  Place the cookies on ungreased baking sheets.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, until crisp but not too dark.  Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 1 minute, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

[Note: spiders have skinny legs, so it’s a little tricky to transfer them. If you don’t have a spider cutter, this would work well with pumpkin-shaped cutters.)

Makes 4-5 dozen cookies, depending on their size.


I’ll admit I was stymied by this. I ordered the food coloring, no problem. But most of the recipes I found called for a base of Royal Icing, which in turn required Meringue Mix. I have never heard of Meringue Mix. It seems to consist of dried egg whites with a little sugar added, and it’s what makes bakery frosting firm and crisp rather than gooey. You can order it when you order that black food coloring.

In a pinch you can substitute the old reliable recipe of confectioners sugar plus a bit of milk, add powdered chocolate, then add the black color. Or you can buy some canned chocolate frosting and add the color (although this version won't harden). One tip: you might want to wear latex gloves when playing with the black frosting, or your hands may end up with some interesting blotches. Wicked stuff!

And don't turn your back on them for a minute!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ginger DeadMen and the Ancient Curse

Welcome back to our truly scarifying MLK Halloween Week!  You know our slogan:


We interrupt this TERRIFYING recipe to offer congrats to the winner of the Cat Hat: Grandma Cootie!  

And now (and about time too) , GINGERDEADMEN  creepily  presented by Victoria Abbott, aka Mary Jane Maffini and Victoria Maffini:  


Life is short and then they eat you!

MJ here: This post started off as Chocolate GingerDead Men and Bat Buddies. But that was before I knew about the Ancient Curse that had afflicted my baking and indeed, my entire kitchen.  

You ask: How bad could it be?  Bad enough that when Victoria tasted the first sample of Chocolate GingerDeadMen, she screamed, kind of like these pumpkins.

That scream was totally appropriate and seasonal, but not the response I’d wanted. 

Then she said, “I can’t believe you made something that tasted like that.”

 I couldn’t either. In retrospect, some of the ingredients did seem a little unconventional, especially that one ENTIRE tablespoon of baking powder. 

But I did check it several times in case I was reading it wrong. What do I know, I said. It must do something for the recipe. And it did something all right.   
So, all to say, while the Chocolate GingerDeadMen and their companion Bat Buddies looked pretty good and they were a chance to play with my new cookie cutters,  you won’t be seeing that recipe here.  It should come as no surprise that the photos didn't turn out either.  Was the camera possessed too? Why else the out of focus shots? The full memory card? The icing on the lens? You tell me.

Never mind.  This version of gingerbread cookies tastes really good and will reappear in gentler form for Christmas around our house. 

But that’s not the end of my story. The Ancient Curse continues with my icing and cake decorating kit.  That icing was so runny that I worried it would ooze outside and get the pumpkins. Why else would they have those expressions?   Hey, what's that red puddle on the floor.?

 Did I mention the smoke alarm kept going off?  Yes, the smoke alarm that we have to get on a ladder to turn off. That one.  And there was the mysteriously empty but new containers of ginger and cloves.  So let’s not doubt that something’s afoot, my friends.  Before you know it, your icing may begin to drip and run away too.  Be very afraid.  


We can help get rid of the cookies. We're not afraid of chocolate.

But back to business at hand.  We’re very keen about Halloween around here. All of us. Including the dogs, who have asked to make cameos and are insisting that they’re better looking than the cookies. Who am I to argue? 



1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup molasses
1 egg, room temperature
2 tablespoons water
2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp fine lemon zest

In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in molasses, egg, vanilla and water. Combine flour, ginger, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and lemon zest; add by thirds to your creamed mixture and mix well. Divide the dough in half. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350° (I used 335 for Convection) .
On a lightly floured surface, roll out each portion of dough to 1/8-in. thickness. Cut with cookie cutters. 

My heart was in my mouth as I wondered if the ancient curse would continue with these: 

Bake 8 minutes or until edges are firm. Remove to wire racks to cool completely. Decorate as gruesomely as you can.  

Keep away from children, if you don't want them to cry.

Victoria Abbott is a spooky collaboration between Victoria Maffini and her mother, Mary Jane.  They'd like you to know that there are some very scary scenes in their latest book collector mystery: The Wolfe Widow. Just ask Walter the Pug.   Too frightening.

But why not see for yourself?  

Treat yourself: ORDER IT HERE!   That's no trick.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Spooky Graveyard #Cupcakes #Recipe for #Halloween

 LUCY BURDETTE: Hooray for Halloween, when we get to wear funny clothes and eat wonderful sweets!

This batter may look familiar and that's because I used the same recipe for raspberry cake day. In this case, I wanted to serve the cupcakes with two kinds of frosting and also spend more time on the Halloween decorations. And besides that, I'm crazy, crazy for this yellow cake:).

Ingredients for the cupcakes

1 and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 and 3/4 cup cake flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
2 cups sugar
3/4 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 cup milk 
4 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two cupcake pans with liners.

       Mix all the dry cake ingredients in bowl of electric mixer at slow speed. Add cool cubes of butter, a few at a time, and continue beating on low for about 1-2 minutes. Beat the eggs in one at a time, mixing well but minimally after each.

 Mix the milk with the extracts.

    Add 1/2 cup of milk mixture to flour mixture and beat until combined. Add remaining 1/2 cup of milk mixture and beat for about 1 minute.


  Distribute batter evenly into the two prepared cupcake pans.

Bake at 350 until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and cake springs back when touched, about 20-22 minutes. (check for done-ness with a toothpick or wooden skewer.)

Cool for ten minutes in the pans, then remove the cupcakes to a plate to cool completely.

For the mocha icing:


4  ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1 to 2 tablespoons strong coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 to 2 cups confectioners' sugar

Beat the softened butter with the cooled chocolate until smooth, and add in the vanilla. Next beat in the confectioners' sugar, starting with one cup and tasting for the level of sweetness you prefer. Use 1 to 2 tablespoons of coffee to bring the icing to spreading texture

for the raspberry cream cheese frosting

4 ounces unsalted butter
4 ounces cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
one or more cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 pint raspberries

Beat together the cream cheese and the butter. Add the vanilla. As with the mocha frosting, beat in the sugar half a cup at a time until you obtain the texture and sweetness that you prefer

For the graveyard decorations:


Chocolate graham crackers
white decorative gel
green sprinkles

On the cupcakes with most mocha icing, mound a little extra icing in the center of the cupcake. Trim off the graham cracker gravestones to the shape that you like, then use the white gel to engrave your favorite spooky saying. Sprinkle the cupcakes with green "grass." Then insert the stones into the mounded icing. Add cats or other creatures as desired. Boo!

And just for fun: one of the amazing ways we get to celebrate Halloween in Key West is with the zombie bike ride. Thought you might get a kick out of my zombie look:)

 And Yoda says to remind you that today is National Cat Day!

DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS will be out on December 2, just in time for Christmas stockings!

Pre-order it here

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Candy Apples for Grown-Ups + a SCREAM POLL and Giveaway for Halloween via Cleo Coyle

Comment-to-Win Cleo's Prize Package
for Halloween. Scroll down to learn more.

There’s nothing like a really good scream.

A scream is a cleansing experience. It allows you to purge your pent-up tension and hurl your voice into the cosmos. True, it's not a very adult thing to do, but it is fun. And why should kids have all the fun? I mean, have you noticed how often they get to scream?


Some of my best screams came from riding the old, wooden roller coasters at Kennywood, a beautiful, little amusement park in Western Pennsylvania, one that dates back over 100 years.

Several of its coasters are ranked among the top classic coasters in the country by the ACE, American Coaster EnthusiastsAnd my favorite of the bunch was even given landmark status.

Built in 1920, Kennywood's JACK RABBIT is one of the oldest still-running coasters in the world. Come with me now for a fantastically fun virtual ride...

Click the arrow in the window below to take
a short hop with me on the Jack Rabbit...

If you do not see a video window above, click here 
to watch on YouTube. Use your full screen for the best effect!

Did you scream? 

No? Then try a virtual ride on the Thunderbolt here, the Racer here, or even the steel Phantom (a more modern, nose-bleed-high coaster) here.  

True, these are only videos. But since this is Halloween Week, screaming is allowed. Of course, if coasters can't get you screaming, something else may. And that's what I'd like to know...


Take my SCREAMS poll below to tell me.

If you also leave a comment on this post,
letting me know at least 
one of your answers,
you are automatically 
entered to win my

Halloween "Treat" Prize Package 

(see more at the end of the post).


If you do not see
the poll above,
click here to take it.

And now today’s Halloween treat!

Cleo Coyle has a partner in 
crime-writing—her husband.
Learn about their books
by clicking here or here.

Cleo Coyle's
Candy Apples
for Grown-Ups

While typically a children’s treat, candy apples make a nice novelty dessert for an adult party.
In fact, my readers may remember the "baby billionaire" candy apples served on a dessert tray of an exclusive club in Billionaire Blend.

Granted, one can act only so sophisticated when consuming a carnival treat, of course, that just might be the fun of it. (Camera phones ready?) On the other hand, you can always de-stick the apple, slice it in half, and serve it to the smart set as "glacéed pommes."

As for today's recipe, I experimented with a combination of ingredients until I was happy with the end product, which is why there is no corn syrup in this recipe. Instead, I used honey, which lends a lovely flavor. I’m also sharing a fun (spiked) version that’s even more grown-up. It swaps out the cinnamon sticks for cinnamon schnapps. (More on that below.) 

Whether you eat your apples with spirits or without, I wish you a very Happy Halloween! ~ ~ Cleo
To download this recipe
in a free PDF, click here.

To download this recipe in a PDF document you can print, save, or share, click here.

Makes about 6 medium (to large) or 8 smallish apples

You will need: * Wax paper or parchment paper; * Non-stick cooking spray; 
* Non-stick medium size saucepan;  * Wooden spoon or silicone spatula (one for high-heat cooking); * Wooden skewers or Popsicle/Craft Sticks or Chopsticks; * (Optional) A candy thermometer; it's optional because I often make these without a thermometer; so if you don’t have one, just follow my tips for knowing when the candy is done cooking.


8 small or 6 medium (to large) apples (What type? See below...)**

2/3 cup water

1 tablespoon honey 

2 cinnamon sticks (or a few more, but do not use
   ground or powdered, it will cloud the mixture)

2-1/2 cups white, granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon + 4 or 5 extra drops red food coloring

**TIPS on picking apples: I like to use small apples for this recipe and in my photos today you see organic Fuji apples. For more suggestions on what types of apples are best to use for this recipe, read my tips in the PDF version of this recipe. Download it by clicking here.


Step 1 - Prep the apples: Cover a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper and generously coat the paper with nonstick spray or you can brush it with oil. This is a must to prevent the apples from sticking to the paper. Remove stems from the apples and insert skewers, Popsicle sticks, or chopsticks as shown. 

Step 2 - Make the candy coating: Combine sugar, water, honey, cinnamon sticks, and food coloring in a nonstick saucepan. (The red food coloring will darken as the candy cooks, so don't go too heavy on it. I suggest 1/4 teaspoon and 4 or 5 extra drops, not much more than that.)

Stir the mixture over medium-high heat only until the sugar is completely melted. Once it’s melted, you’re safe to boil it. DO NOT STIR AGAIN AT THIS POINT. Turn the heat up and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. After about 10 minutes of a continual, rolling boil, the candy should be ready or very close. 

Testing candy for doneness (no candy thermometer?): To check without a thermometer, dip a spoon into the mixture and drop some of the liquid candy into a glass of ice cold water. Does it harden up quickly into a crunchy, brittle substance? If it does, you’re ready to make candy apples. If not, keep cooking but check frequently to prevent burning. 

Testing candy for doneness (with a candy thermometer): If you're using a candy thermometer, look for a temperature from 280 to 300 degrees F. Don’t go much beyond that or you’ll risk burning the candy. 

Candy-Making Temperatures Grid: For a handy grid of of temperatures attached to each stage of candy making, see the PDF version of this recipe. To download the document, click here.

Step 3 - Coat the apples: BE CAREFUL with this step because the candy-coating is very hot and will hurt like the dickens if it splashes on you. Turn the heat off under the pan and allow the boiling to stop. Tip the pan slightly and dip a skewered apple in the coating. Twirl the apple for an even coat. Lift and allow the excess to drip back into the pan. Place your newly dipped candy apple on the greased wax or parchment paper.

COATING TIP: Do not double-dip or be concerned with applying a super-thick coating. Take it from me, if the candy is too thick, your teeth will not be able to penetrate it. Simply dip once for a thin candy-coating. As it cools, it will harden prettily (similar to the hardness of peanut brittle).

As the candy in the pot cools, it will thicken and become more difficult to work with so don't let the candy sit around. Be sure to dip all of your apples relatively quickly after the candy is finished cooking. If the liquid candy does begin to thicken up on your, then turn the heat on again under the pan and warm the mixture until it loosens up.

CLEAN-UP TIP: Do not pour any leftover liquid candy into your sink. Instead, pour it into a disposable container (like an empty milk carton or soup can) and toss it into the garbage. As for cleaning any encrusted candy on your pan or utensils, simply fill your saucepan with water, place the utensils inside, and boil the water on the stove to melt the crusted candy off the sides and bottom of the pot. 

Cinnamon Schnapps 

Spiked Candy Apples

To make an even more grown-up version, you can spike the candy apples with cinnamon schnapps. Here's how I do it. Follow the recipe exactly as you would above with these changes.

1 - Leave out the cinnamon sticks and make the candy coating without them.

2 - After the candy is finished cooking and you are ready to coat the apples, turn off the heat under the pan. WAIT for the boiling to stop. Measure out 2 tablespoons of cinnamon schnapps** and CAREFULLY pour the schnapps into the liquid candy. The hot candy will JUMP and sizzle as you add the alcohol so please watch for that and do not get burned! The reason you are adding it at this late stage is to preserve the alcohol and flavor of the liqueur. Lightly stir the mixture with a wooden skewer and immediately begin dipping your apples. If the liquid candy cools and begins to thicken on you, turn on the heat and warm it until it loosens again, and...
Follow the rest of the recipe as written.

**Cinnamon schnapps is a fun liqueur to play with, especially in the fall and winter. Add a generous splash of it to a glass of cold apple cider, for instance, and you've got a drinkable "Apple Pie"--delicious! For more drink ideas using cinnamon schnapps, click here or here. (We use Goldschläger.)

Looking for More
Halloween Recipe Ideas?
We've got them! 

Visit our EAT, DRINK, AND BE SCARY page to see past recipes we've posted here at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen and check back because we'll have more recipes all week long!

Cleo's Halloween "Treat"
Prize Package

* A personally inscribed copy of Billionaire Blend

* A signed set of Cleo's glossy Coffeehouse recipe cards

* A package of Billionaire's Blend coffee, an amazingly delicious
premium coffee created by the One Good Woman company
to celebrate Cleo's Coffeehouse Mystery...

* This custom-designed Coffeehouse Mystery
coffee mug with one of Madame's favorite sayings...

To enter the random drawing, simply take 
Cleo's fun Scream poll (above or here) and
leave a comment on THIS POST, telling me
at least one of your answers in the poll

This contest will remain open until
Saturday at 12 Midnight!
 Winner's name will be posted here.

Good luck and...

~ Cleo Coyle

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Friend me on facebook here.
Follow me on twitter here
Learn about our books here.

To view the
Coffeehouse Mystery
book trailer, click here.

Billionaire Blend
A Coffeehouse Mystery a culinary murder mystery that features
more than 30 delicious recipes, including
secret "off the menu" coffee drinks.
Read (and eat) with joy!

See the Billionaire Blend
Recipe Guide 
by clicking here.


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