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Friday, June 9, 2023


Today we’re thrilled to have a return visit from author Nancy J. Cohen. Nancy writes the award-winning Bad Hair Day Mysteries featuring South Florida hairstylist Marla Vail. She’s also the author of Writing the Cozy Mystery and A Bad Hair Day Cookbook. When not busy writing, she enjoys reading, fine dining, cruising, and visiting Disney World. Learn more about Nancy and her books at her website and blog where you’ll also find links to her other social media.

Root Beer—in History and Cake

My latest book, Star Tangled Murder, takes place at a living history village in South Florida. This attraction represents pioneer life in the late 1800s. If they had access to root beer in this early settlement, it would have been a popular summer beverage.


Root beer originated in Europe in the seventeenth century. European settlers brought it to the United States during the colonial period. The drink was traditionally made from the root and bark of the sassafras tree. Sarsaparilla was a similar drink, made from a vine of that name. 


These brews, called small beers, were flavored with various herbs, barks, and roots. It was originally carbonated by fermentation. As technology improved, carbonated water was used. The foam on top is due to the properties of sassafras. 


Safrole was the aromatic oil in sassafras that gave the drink its distinctive flavor. However, this element was banned in 1960 due to its carcinogenic properties. Since then, most root beers are flavored with artificial sassafras or with a safrole-free sassafras extract.


In 1876, Pharmacist Charles Elmer Hires debuted a commercialized version of root beer at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Hires began to bottle the beverage in 1886. By 1893, root beer was distributed widely across the United States. 


Not all root beers are based on sassafras. Barq's began selling a sarsaparilla-based root beer in 1898. In 1919, Roy Allen opened a stand to sell root beer in California. This led to the development of A&W root beer. IBC is another brand. Most brands other than Barq's are caffeine-free.


Commercial root beer is now produced in Canada and the U.S, as well as some other countries. The drink usually includes filtered water, sugar, and safrole-free sassafras extract. Other flavors may be added. Soybean protein, cassava or yucca create the foamy quality, and caramel coloring makes the beverage brown.


Root Beer Cake

This is an amazingly easy cake to prepare. It is not advisable to use a diet soft drink as a substitute for the root beer. Guests will want seconds of this moist chocolatey cake. It’s best served slightly warm with whipped topping or vanilla ice cream.





15.25 oz. box German chocolate cake mix
1-1/4 cups root beer
2 large eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil


1/2 cup unsalted butter
7 Tbsp. root beer
3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
16 oz. package powdered sugar 
1 tsp. vanilla


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the German chocolate cake mix, 1-1/4 cups root beer, 2 large eggs, and 1/4 cup vegetable oil. Beat with mixer until blended. Pour mixture into a greased and floured 9x13x2 inch baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool on rack. 


Meanwhile, melt 1/2 cup butter in saucepan over medium high heat. Add 7 Tbsp. root beer and 3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa. Blend and remove from heat. Add 16 oz. package powdered sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla. Mix to blend. Spread frosting over cake. Serves 12.


Star Tangled Murder

A Bad Hair Day Mystery, Book 18


Hairstylist Marla Vail and her detective husband Dalton are having a blast visiting a Florida living history village over Fourth of July weekend. But when a battle reenactment turns up a real dead body, it sets off fireworks among the villagers. One of the cast members has gone off script to murder the town marshal. Instead of spending the holiday chilling and grilling, somebody’s mind is on killing. Marla needs to find the culprit before she becomes the next victim. 


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Nancy J. Cohen said...

Thanks for hosting me here!

Lois Winston said...

You’re always welcome, Nancy!

Ann Fuller said...

Thanks for recipe for root beer cake - can hardly wait to try it.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

I hope you like it, Ann. This might become your new family favorite dessert. It's so easy to make.