Maia Chance writes historical mystery novels that are rife with absurd predicaments and romantic adventure. She is the author of the Fairy Tale Fatal and The Discreet Retrieval Agency series. Her first mystery, Snow White Red-Handed, was a national bestseller. Her latest releases are Cinderella Six Feet Under and Come Hell or Highball. Learn more about Maia and her books at her website.
Some people find solace in philosophy or religion. Others find solace in mashed potatoes or a bottle of gin. I find solace in my dog’s fluff. (All right—maybe I find a pinch of solace in tipply, trashy novels, and chocolate, too.)—Come Hell or Highball
When I wrote Come Hell or Highball, a 1920’s mystery caper set in New York, I knew I was going to adore researching and writing about the gorgeous period motorcars, fashion, houses . . . and the food.
My heroine Lola Woodby is an ex-Society Matron who’s a curvy lady in a swizzle-stick flapper’s world, and her sleuthing sidekick is her Swedish former cook, Berta. These characters love to eat, and I loved writing about them eating. Cinnamon rolls, smoked salmon sandwiches, roadside hash house fry-ups, tomato soup, Cracker Jack, and many chocolate bars make cameos in this mystery, and without giving anything away I’ll tell you that a snickerdoodle cookie is found at the scene of the crime.
What makes reading and writing about food so pleasurable? Sure, there’s the vicarious-living aspect—we can imagine shoveling in raspberry trifle doused in brandy without the carb-coma or the inconvenient buzz. But I think there’s more to it. Particularly with historical fiction, food serves to connect us on a very human (and literally visceral) level to characters who might otherwise seem more like clockwork historical puppets. We might not be wearing beaded Chanel dresses and rumbling around in Duesenberg Model A motorcars, but we all have to eat.
Food in fast-paced novels can provide a breather for the reader and the characters, too. I love the cozy mystery convention of the sleuth and sidekick talking about their case over a meal. And food can provide splashes of local color (another technique so many cozy writers do really well) and, in my own case, provide a dash of historical flavor to a scene. I mean, if the characters are going at the gin Rickeys or the Cherries Jubilee, you just know we’re not in 2015 anymore, Toto.
In honor of Come Hell or Highball’s heroine Lola Woodby and her chocoholic ways, I’d love to share with you my recipe for:
|Maia's kids help with the baking|
Chocolate Layer Cake to Die For
Note: This recipe incorporates three secret weapons for amazing chocolate cake: instant coffee powder, Valrhona cocoa powder, and Ovaltine in the buttercream frosting! (Any cocoa powder will work, but if you can get your hands on some Valrhona, you’ll never want to use anything else.)
For the Cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar (preferably cane sugar—tastes so good!)
3/4 cup cocoa powder (preferably Valrhona)
2 tsp. baking powder
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. instant coffee powder
1 cup milk
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup boiling water
For the Buttercream Frosting:
3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup cocoa powder (again, try Valrhona)
3/4 tsp. salt
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cups milk
3/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup Rich Chocolate Ovaltine
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and “PAM cooking spray with flour” (it’s a verb!) two 9-inch cake pans.
Mix flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and coffee powder. Add milk, canola oil, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture and mix on medium speed until well combined. Reduce speed and pour in boiling water. Beat on high for 1 minute. Pour into cake pans.
Bake 30-35 min. or until top is springy to the touch. Cool completely before frosting.
Cream the butter, cocoa powder, and salt. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the confectioner’s sugar, milk, and vanilla by turns. Beat till smooth.
Dissolve the Ovaltine in the heavy cream. Add slowly to butter mixture. Beat until creamy, about 1 minute.
Frost cake, eat, enjoy!
Come Hell or Highball
31-year-old society matron Lola Woodby has survived her loveless marriage with an unholy mixture of highballs, detective novels, and chocolate layer cake, until, her husband dies suddenly, leaving her his fortune...or so Lola thought. As it turns out, all she inherits from Alfie is a big pile of debt. Pretty soon, Lola and her stalwart Swedish cook, Berta, are reduced to hiding out in the secret love nest Alfie kept in New York City. But when rent comes due, Lola and Berta have no choice but to accept an offer made by one of Alfie's girls-on-the-side: in exchange for a handsome sum of money, the girl wants Lola to retrieve a mysterious reel of film for her. It sounds like an easy enough way to earn the rent money. But Lola and Berta realize they're in way over their heads when, before they can retrieve it, the man currently in possession of the film reel is murdered, and the reel disappears. On a quest to retrieve the reel and solve the murder before the killer comes after them next, Lola and Berta find themselves navigating one wacky situation after another in high style and low company.