Sunday, February 15, 2015

Welcome to Barbara Early!

A very warm welcome to Beverly Allen, author of the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mysteries. FOR WHOM THE BLUEBELL TOLLS, the second book in the series, was just released this month!

Today, Beverly is giving away a copy of FOR WHOM THE BLUEBELL TOLLS to one lucky person. To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment. (Look for the word COMMENT at the end of the post and click on it.)

But don't miss her amazing recipe for Sponge Candy!

I was delighted to be invited today! Even though my current series isn’t a culinary mystery, I spend a good amount of time in the kitchen. I’m a bit of a down home country cook, more at ease at big family dinners and the occasional church potluck, than I am familiar with haute cuisine. But I love cooking for people, seeing friends and family gathered around the table.

Audrey Bloom, the amateur sleuth in the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mysteries, isn’t much of a cook, I’m afraid. She’s more at home in the flower shop she owns with her cousin Liv--or running around Ramble, Virginia, solving murders. Rather, she cooks up bouquets for brides, based on the language of flowers. It must work, since all of the marriages that have been blessed by her bouquets are still intact.

Still, she has a sweet tooth, and local baker Nick Maxwell keeps her supplied with all the carbs she needs to keep her energy up while finding clues and following suspects. Nick has inspired me to take a “baking break” more than once while writing.

When I was going through my recipes, deciding what to share today, I recalled this regional favorite. And the timing couldn’t be more perfect, just before Presidents’ Day. Kids might enjoy helping with this one--just be careful with the heat!

If you’ve never had sponge candy, don’t expect it to be spongy in texture or to taste of sponges. The name comes from all the bubbles in the finished candy, giving it the appearance of sponges. It’s actually quite crunchy under a layer of chocolate. And since that crunch is 99 percent sugar, it melts away on the tongue almost immediately, much like cotton candy.

Sponge Candy

Half recipe, half science fair project, this Western New York staple is almost as much fun to make as it is delicious.


1 cup sugar (sorry, the real thing only)

1 cup dark corn syrup (I use Karo)

1 Tbsp cider vinegar

1 Tbsp baking soda

Your favorite melting chocolate.

In a large saucepan (at least 2 quarts. Trust me, this stuff EXPANDS!) combine sugar, corn syrup and vinegar. Heat over medium heat until all the sugar dissolves and mixture begins to boil.

You’ll need a candy thermometer for this. Continue to heat the mixture until it reaches 300 degrees F. There’s no need to stir at this point. It will bubble pretty well on its own.

When the thermometer reaches 300 degrees, remove the pot from the heat, QUICKLY stir in baking soda, and then pour into an ungreased 9 x 13 baking pan. As soon as that baking soda mixes with the vinegar, it will bubble like those science fair volcanoes. Don’t over-stir it, or you’ll stir the bubbles right out. And don’t spread it out in the pan. Just dump it in and let it do its own thing.

Allow to cool completely. If the recipe is successful, the sponge candy should be crunchy, brittle, and with obvious holes. Break or cut into smaller pieces. If desired, coat with your favorite melting chocolate. Set on a tray lined with waxed paper or foil and put in refrigerator for ten to fifteen minutes, until the chocolate is well set. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Quick tips: Some plastics will melt at 300 degrees F, so use a metal spoon! And I recommend a metal pan over glass, because if the sponge candy sticks, metal plans can flex, helping with easier removal. You can melt your chocolate in a double boiler, in the microwave, or I prefer a slow-cooker on low.

And sponge candy is a seasonal food. (My grandmother always said you can only make sponge candy in months with an R in them.) Don’t try it in the summer months. Too much humidity in the air will cause it not to turn out. (It will absorb moisture and be soft or weepy.)

And yes, it’s basically sugar mixed with sugar and covered in chocolate. What’s not to love?





Beverly Allen (aka Barbara Early) writes cozy mysteries with a healthy dose of comedy and sometimes a splash of romance. The first two books in the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mystery series: Bloom and Doom and For Whom the Bluebell Tolls are now available from Berkley Prime Crime, with the third, Floral Depravity, set to release in October.

Barbara grew up in the suburbs of Buffalo, NY. When not reading or writing, she enjoys cooking, crafts, home-improvement projects, and spending time with her husband, daughter, and four naughty, but adorable cats.

Readers may friend her on Facebook, like her author page, and follow her on Twitter.

Book blurb (For Whom the Bluebell Tolls):

Everything is coming up roses for Audrey when her dazzling creations are picked to be featured on a wedding reality show. The hot series is filming an episode about a bride who’s bonkers for bells, and Audrey’s bouquets of campanulas, calla lilies, and Bells-of-Ireland are perfect for the bridal theme.

But Audrey’s debut quickly becomes a hothouse of trouble. Her ex, Brad, shows up as a crew member on the show, threatening her blossoming relationship with Nick the baker. To make matters worse, when one of the show’s hosts is found dead in the bell tower of a historic church, all the evidence points toward Brad.

Now Audrey needs to weed out the real killer before someone else’s chance at stardom is permanently nipped in the bud . . .