Showing posts with label Chocoholic Mystery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chocoholic Mystery. Show all posts

Friday, May 16, 2014

Pistachio Cake

by Sheila Connolly

For the past few years, at the Malice Domestic conference I’ve shared a room with the delightful author of the Chocoholic Mystery series, JoAnna Carl.  She usually arrives in Bethesda a few days early in order to enjoy the museums and other historic sites of Washington, and I’m happy to tag along, since I’ve never visited many of them, and others only briefly and long ago.

This year we decided to take the tour of Ford’s Theater, which was sad and impressive (if you could see past the crowds made up mainly of school groups—but at least they’re learning something about their history!). We followed that with a brief stop at an extraordinarily elegant chocolate shop CoCo nearby, where we each indulged in a few carefully chosen candies, and then we had lunch at a pleasant restaurant on the corner.

For dessert I ordered their pistachio cake, and it was excellent—nice flavor, and moist. I’m usually not a fan of nut-based desserts, but I enjoyed this one. So I decided to try to recreate it.

Oddly enough, the recipes on the Internet seem to have been shanghaied by a modern version involving a box of cake mix combined with pudding. I’m sure it’s tasty and easy, but I like to make things from scratch (maybe I’m a throwback). Finding a recipe for that was a bit harder, but I located a couple, which I kind of combined for this cake.

A couple of notes: First, I cheated and bought my pistachios already shelled, since this recipe calls for a total of a cup of nut meats.  I confess: now and then I get lazy. Second, the restaurant served their version as small cakes, maybe four inches across. Believe it or not, that’s one size of pan I do not have, although I may have every other size known to humankind. But this works just as well in a baking pan—it’s just not as refined a presentation. It still tastes good!

Pistachio Cake

3/4 cup (4 oz.) natural pistachios, shelled
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract
1-1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs

(If you really want this to look green, you can add a few drops of food coloring.)

1 cup pistachios (yes, another batch) for topping

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Butter a 13" x 9" metal cake pan, then line the bottom with wax paper. Butter the paper and dust the interior of the pan with flour, knocking out the excess.

Pulse the pistachios in a food processor until finely ground (do not let them turn into a paste!).

Combine the finely-chopped pistachios, flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt and mix.

Combine the milk, sour cream, vanilla and almond extract (and optional food coloring) in a small bowl.

With an electric stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition.

Alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk in batches, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, and mix only until combined.

For the topping, chop the second batch of pistachios in a food processor until the pieces look like large gravel (about 1/8-1/4"). I suspect this works better if you hand chop the nuts, since the food processor gives kind of a random result (but see confession above).

Spread the batter evenly in the cake pan. Sprinkle the chopped pistachios evenly over the top.

Bake in the middle of the oven about 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cake and invert it onto the rack. Remove the paper on the bottom and flip the cake onto a serving platter.

Serve warm or at room temperature. If you insist you can dress it up with whipped cream, but it’s very light and moist as is.

Oh, that's right: there's a book coming out in June:

A big-city developer with big bucks, a Revolutionary War monument, and a body floating in a pond--what more do you want? (How about Nell Pratt's relationship with my favorite FBI agent, that's heating up fast?)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Featured Guest - Joanna Campbell Slan

Mystery Lovers' "Christmas Cookie Week" resumes Monday.
For our Sunday Guest Blogger, let's welcome Joanna Campbell Slan. She is the author of a mystery series featuring spunky scrapbooker Kiki Lowenstein. The first book in the series—Paper, Scissors, Death—was nominated for an Agatha Award. Photo, Snap, Shot, the third book in the series, will be released May 2010.
For today's special blog, Joanna wants to share: Christmas at Mount Vernon.

Take it away, Joanna!!

Hi, folks. Have you recovered from your Thanksgiving guests? Our house is still a bit topsy-turvey. As I write this, my washer hums merrily along, cleaning the sheets and towels. The refrigerator is as stuffed as I am. My Weight Watcher Points and I won’t catch up with each other until Spring 2010.

But I don’t want you to misunderstand! I love having company. I love readying the guest room. When we moved house in September, we tossed most of our old, well-worn bed clothes. That gave me the perfect excuse for buying new quilts, linens, blankets, and towels for our guest room. While I’d never lay claim to Martha Stewart’s crown, I certainly enjoyed my mini-decorating spree.

Of course, two overnight guests and a son home from college count for very little when you compare my entertaining efforts to those of our nation’s first Martha, Martha Washington. On a candlelight tour of Mount Vernon last week, I learned that the Washingtons often had as many as 650-plus houseguests per year! (That’s a photo of me peeking at the music being sung by carolers at the site.) Since the Washington home was rather isolated, we aren’t talking about people dropping by for pizza. Oh, no. These were folks who settled in for a long visit. In fact, I wonder if Ben Franklin and Martha were commiserating when Ben penned his famous line, “Fish and visitors both stink after three days!”

The docent portraying Mrs. George Washington assured us otherwise. “Mr. Washington and I do so enjoy having visitors,” she said, as she clapped her tiny hands together and smiled. “I wish I had known so many of you are coming because I would have baked another cake!”

Martha Washington’s Great Cake was traditionally served at Mount Vernon on Twelfth Night, January 6, which was also Martha and George’s wedding anniversary. The original recipe called for 40 eggs, 4 pounds of butter, 4 pounds of sugar and 5 pounds of “flower” (sic). This recipe has been reduced to more modest proportions.

Martha Washington’s Great Cake (Adapted)

10 eggs (separated)
1 lb. sugar
20 oz. flour
1 lb. butter
20 oz. assorted fruit & nuts*
2 ½ tsp. ground mace
2 ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
2 oz. French brandy
2 oz. wine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat egg whites to a soft peak. Cream the butter. Slowly add the beaten egg whites, one spoonful at a time, to the butter. Slowly add the sugar, one spoonful at a time to the egg white/butter mixture. Add egg yolks. Add flour, slowly. Add fruit.

* 5 oz. pear (peeled, cored, diced)
9 1/2 oz. apple (peeled, cored, diced)
3 1/2 oz. raisins
2 oz. sliced almonds

Add ground mace and nutmeg, wine, and brandy. Lightly grease and flour a 10-inch spring-form cake pan. Pour batter into pan and bake about 75 minutes. Allow cake to cool after baking.

Modern Adaptation of 18th Century Icing

Beat 3 egg whites and 2 T. powdered sugar. Repeat additions of sugar until you have used 1 ½ cups in total. Add 1 tsp. grated lemon peel and 2 T. orange-flower water. Beat until icing is stiff enough to remain parted after a knife cuts through it. Smooth it onto the cake. Let it dry and harden in a 200 degree oven for one hour.
thank you, Joanna!! What a ton of fun. To learn more about Joanna, the series, and about scrapbooking go to Joanna blogs every Monday at

And don't forget about our latest Mystery Lover's Kitchen Contest! This is our last week for suggestions for our January Iron Chef competition. If you enter, you could win a Junior's Cheesecake. Get those suggestions in soon. Click on the cheesecake on the right for more details!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

JoAnna Carl Bakes A Cookie Sheet Chocolate Cake!

A very special welcome to JoAnna Carl, author of the Chocoholic Mysteries. The series takes place in a fictional town with a Victorian atmosphere on the shore of Lake Michigan, and features (oh, yum!) a behind-the-scenes look at making fine, luscious, luxurious European-style truffles and chocolates!

If cooking were hereditary, I’d be Julia Child. Or at least a fry cook. My family is full of wonderful cooks.

Food is important to us all. I can remember laughing, as a dumb kid, because my female relatives never got up from lunch without discussing the menu, supplies, and time schedule needed for dinner. My grandmother saw nothing funny about this. “You have to plan ahead if things are going to be good,” she said.

My grandmother, Nettie, and her sister, Aunt Sula, are the models for Aunt Nettie, the owner of Ten Huis Chocolade and a major character in the Chocoholic books. But neither of them, as far as I know, ever made a bonbon or a truffle. They were too busy baking cakes for church and family, frying chicken-fried steak (Oklahoma’s official state entrée), producing the best piecrust in town, or chopping salad (that’s another blog).

And despite having written ten books about a chocolatier, I can’t make truffles or bonbons either. This is a skill that takes lots of equipment and practice. I’ve never even tried.

But I can make good brownies, and I can bake the family’s favorite chocolate cake. And how this cake came into the family always struck me as funny and very typical of my family.

I first ran into this cake at a convention I attended with my husband. No, it wasn’t served, but the wife of another convention-goer mentioned it to me. She gave me the recipe, just out of her head, and I wrote it down on the back of the envelope I’d gotten my name tag in. I still have that envelope, now all stained with chocolate.

When I got home, I made the cake, and it was great. So I wrote the recipe out neatly and sent it off to my mother, asking her to share it with my grandmother and great-aunt. I felt that I’d made a real contribution to the family archives.

I never had any response to the recipe, however, and eventually I almost forgot sending it.

Then we – me, my husband, and our three kids – went to visit my parents in Wichita. When we arrived, Mother had dinner ready, and as she served it up she said, “Save room for a piece of this new chocolate cake. Someone at church gave Aunt Sula the recipe, and it’s wonderful.”
You guessed it. It was my cake.

None of them had even tried Little Eve’s cake recipe. I might be thirty years old and the mother of three, but I was just an inexperienced cook to those ladies. It was only after the same cake turned up at a covered dish dinner that it won the acclaim it deserved.

I’d have had my feelings hurt if I hadn’t been occupied with stuffing down chocolate cake. Instead I thought it was funny, because I knew those ladies loved me very much, even though they snubbed my cake recipe.

The cake is still our family’s favorite. We call it Cinnamon Chocolate Cake, because of that special ingredient, or Cookie Sheet Chocolate Cake, because it’s baked in a jelly roll pan or another flat pan with a rim. The cake is thin; the icing thick.

A few years ago I took this cake to a covered dish dinner at a family reunion in Michigan, where the Chocoholic books are set. I didn’t know all the people there well – they’re distant relatives of my husband’s grandparents – so I was horrified to see that someone else had brought the same cake.

Covered dish etiquette varies from locale to group to family. I was afraid this was someone’s special annual contribution. I might have inadvertently stepped on her toes.

But the other cake maker came over and smiled. “I see you brought a Texas Sheet Cake, too,” she said.

I did? It was the first I’d known about it. I’d never run into the cake under that name. After I got to a computer, I looked it up on-line, and, sure enough, there it was. “Texas Sheet Cake.” There’s a white version, too, but I never waste calories on white cake, so I haven’t tried that. Yes, I’m a genuine chocoholic. Anyway, here it is. Easy to make and awfully easy to eat.

Oh, one more story. When my older daughter was nine or ten, I was cutting a piece of the sheet cake for her and a friend. She watched me seriously, then she turned to her pal. “My aunt,” she said, “gives me a great, big piece of that cake.”

How’s that for a hint? Since then I’ve remembered that the cake is thin, so the it must be served in “great, big” pieces. At least to nine-year-olds.


Mix in large bowl: 2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Bring to a boil: 1 stick margarine
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup water
½ cup shortening
Mix the two mixtures.
Add: ½ cup buttermilk
2 eggs, well-beaten
Pour into greased and floured cookie sheet or jelly-roll pan or other large cake pan. Bake 15 to 20 minutes in 400-degree oven.


6 tablespoons milk 4 tablespoons cocoa
1 stick margarine 1 teaspoon vanilla
1 box powdered sugar 1 cups nuts
Bring cocoa, margarine, milk, and vanilla to a boil. Add powdered sugar and nuts. Pour over warm cake.

JoAnna's most recent book, The Chocolate Cupid Killings, was just released!

Lee McKinney Woodyard and her aunt, chocolatier Nettie TenHuis Jones, are cautious helpers in that mysterious underground railway which assists abused women to escape to new lives. The appearance of a private detective looking for the woman they’re sheltering sends up alarms – especially after the private eye is found dead, with Aunt Nettie is standing over him brandishing an empty Amaretto bottle.

Thanks so much for joining us today, JoAnna!