Murder with Macaroni and Cheese“Those look divine,” I say to Momma as she starts popping chocolate cakes out of their pans. She’s been at Sweet Tea since five this morning.

Raynell’s husband (at least Raynell said it was her husband) loved Momma’s chocolate marshmallow cake so much that Raynell asked. . .well, more like insisted, that we serve it as the featured dessert for the reunion.

Momma has twelve layers of chocolate cake cooling on the counter—enough for four cakes. As the smell of rich cocoa reaches my nose, I have to fight the urge to press my hands on them just to feel their warm velvety texture.

“Let me get started on the frosting while they cool. Wavonne, start opening those jars of marshmallow cream, would you?” Momma calls over to Wavonne, who couldn’t have been any less helpful since she arrived with me a few hours ago. She’s currently sitting on a stool with her head against the wall and her eyes shut.

“Wavonne!” I call to wake her up.

“Huh?” She slowly opens her eyes.

“Help Momma with the frosting, please.”

“I’m so tired.” She sluggishly lifts herself from the stool and grabs the jars.”

Momma takes the jars from Wavonne and scoops their contents in a large metal bowl she’s already filled with softened butter, secures the bowl into one of my favorite kitchen gadgets, my five-quart stainless steel Hobart N50 mixer. I just upgraded to it a few months ago. It cost a mint, but it works beautifully.

Momma starts the mixer and begins to whip the frosting. As the butter and marshmallow cream blend together she slowly adds powdered sugar to the whirling bowl. When the icing has creamed together nicely, she adds a touch of vanilla, gives it a final mix, and voilà, we have Momma’s famous marshmallow frosting.

I grab two serrated knifes from the knife block, hand one to Wavonne, and we both help Momma slice the small domes off of the tops of the cake layers, so they will lay smoothly on top of each other.

“My knees are not what they used to be. Give them an eye-level look and make sure they are even,” Momma asks me.

“Let me do that for you two old hens,” Wavonne says. “Drop it like it’s hot,” she says as she squats down to get her face level with the cakes. “Perfect.”

We’ve helped Momma enough with her baking to know the drill from here. We take four circular pieces of plywood that I’ve already covered with decorative purple foil and lay them on the counter. These will function as the serving platters. We place four strips of parchment paper on each platter, so they lie just underneath the edges of the cakes to keep icing off the foil while we work. We then place a dollop of frosting on the center of the boards to anchor the cakes before we flip a moist chocolate layer onto it.

“Now, you girls be careful,” Momma says as she goes down the line with a pastry brush and sweeps away any loose crumbs so they don’t get in the frosting.

“That’s too much, Wavonne!” Momma calls as she watches Wavonne haphazardly plop a glob of frosting onto one of the layers. “These are for Halia’s former classmates. We want them to be perfect.”

Wavonne removes some of the icing with her spatula and starts to spread it around. “I wanna slice up one of these for breakfast, Aunt Celia,” she says as we begin on the second layer. “Girl, hook me up with a slice of this cake and maybe a caramel flan latte, and I’d be like a pig in—”

“Don’t even think about it, Wavonne. We need four for the reunion, and that’s all Momma’s made.”

“‘Bring me those jars.’ ‘Too much icing.’ ‘No cake for you,’” Wavonne mutters under her breath, mimicking Momma and me. “That Russian woman who runs the prison kitchen on TV barks fewer orders.”

Momma and I ignore her as we continue to pull the cakes together. When we finally get all three layers assembled and frosted, Momma, ever the perfectionist, slips a thin spatula in hot water, quickly dries it, and uses the heated tool to carefully smooth out the cakes.

“You can tell people you made them, Halia,” Momma says as we stand back and admire our finished work. “If these cakes can’t land you a man, nothing can.”

Celia’s Chocolate Marshmallow Cake

Chocolate Cake Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
3 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup strong hot coffee

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Generously grease and lightly flour two 9 inch round cake pans.
  • Sift flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and cocoa into bowl. Mix on low speed until combined.
  • In another bowl, combine milk, sour cream, butter, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet until well combined.
  • With mixer still on low speed, add coffee, and mix until well combined.
  • Pour batter into the prepared pans and bake for 25-35 minutes, until a tooth pick comes out clean.
  • Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn out onto rack and cool completely.

Marshmallow Icing Ingredients
4 sticks of butter, softened (2 cups)
2 cups powdered/confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 jars marshmallow crème (14 ounces total)

Chocolate Marsh Cake

  • Cream butter in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft and fluffy.
  • Gradually beat in powdered sugar.
  • Beat in vanilla extract.
  • Add marshmallow crème until thoroughly incorporated.

Murder with Macaroni and Cheese is the second book in the Mahalia Watkins mystery series, published by Kensington, August 2016.

Mahalia’s Sweet Tea is known for serving the best soul food in Prince George’s County, Maryland. But owner Halia also likes to indulge in some à la carte detective work. Can she solve the murder of a former “mean girl” when a high school reunion takes a deadly turn?

When the organizing committee for her upcoming high school reunion desperately needs a caterer, Halia agrees to help out. Soon she’s serving up her signature macaroni and cheese and famous chicken wings to a host of appreciative ex-classmates. Some folks have blossomed since graduation. Others, like manipulative Raynell Rollins, currently married to a former football star, haven’t changed nearly enough.

When Raynell is found dead the morning after the reunion, the roll call of possible suspects could fill the school gymnasium. Extra-marital affairs, mega-church scandals and sports secrets. . .Raynell had her perfectly manicured hand in a lot of sticky situations. With her cousin Wavonne’s bungling assistance—and a helping of unwelcome dating advice from her mother, Celia—Halia is on course to track down the killer, before she becomes the alumna most likely to meet an untimely end. . .

Features delicious recipes from Mahalia’s Sweet Tea, including Double Crust Chicken Pot Pie and Chocolate Marshmallow Cake!

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Meet the author
A.L. Herbert grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland and is the author of Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles and Murder with Macaroni and Cheese. Connect with A.L. on Facebook. You can e-mail the author at alherbert123@gmail.com.

Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win a print copy of Murder with Macaroni and Cheese. US entries only, please. The giveaway will end September 1, 2016 at 12 AM (midnight) EST. Good luck everyone!

All comments are welcomed.

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