Being a pastry chef is a pretty fabulous job, despite the early morning hours and long days spent on my feet and in front of a hot oven. As is life in my charming and somewhat quirky hometown of Ashland, Oregon. Since Shakespeare and the theater company play a starring role in our English-style village tucked into the southernmost corner of Oregon there’s always something going on around town. From productions of Hamlet to jugglers and musicians busking on the sidewalk Ashland is alive with creative types and festive energy.
Lately the excitement hadn’t centered around the theater though. Instead everyone was talking about chocolate. That’s right chocolate. Ashland hosts one of the Northwest’s largest and most decadent chocolate festivals every year and locals were buzzing with preparations for this year’s fest. The chocolate festival ran for a long weekend and featured every kind of chocolate you could imagine including chocolate slushies, a seven-course chocolate dinner, chocolate beer, chocolate and sea salt pairings, and of course plenty of chocolate fudge, truffles, cakes, and cookies. Guests could sample and taste their way through the event and take in demonstrations and workshops offered by some of the most revered chocolatiers this side of the Mississippi.
Torte, our family bakeshop, had been named one of the festival’s showcase vendors which meant that in addition to providing hundreds of samples to chocolate lovers would we also be responsible for a variety of technical demonstrations, like cake decorating and chocolate modeling. Our team had been working around the clock baking Mom’s world famous chocolate spice cake with mocha frosting, chocolate pasta that would be served with white chocolate sauce and topped with chopped pistachios and fresh berries, and an assortment of rich dark chocolate truffles infused with almond extract and orange liqueur and coated in coconut and cocoa powder. Additionally, I was constructing three unique chocolate wedding cakes that would serve as our display at the festival and hopefully attract some new clients.
While Mom and I worked at the festival the rest of the team would stay behind and begin renovations at the bakeshop. We had saved up for shiny new ovens for months and they were finally ready to be installed. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. With the festival in full swing everyone in Ashland would be consumed by chocolate.
I never considered that things could go terribly wrong as Mom and I draped our tables at the stunning, historic Ashland Springs Hotel with yards of espresso colored fabric and placed the tiered chocolate wedding cakes that I had meticulously hand-pipped with French buttercream frosting on rustic log slices and adorned them with evergreen branches and blood red winter berries. Our table looked as if it had been dipped in chocolate and like an elaborate sweet feast. As the first guests arrived we offered them tastes of our labor and beamed with pride when they gushed about our cake designs. But then things took a nasty turn.
Evan Rowe, a master chocolatier and owner of Confections Couture, wandered by our booth under the pretense of introducing himself. I had a sneaking suspicion that the self-described chocolate diva was really trying to size-up his competition. He appraised our “homey” display with a sneer and look of condescension. Before I had a chance to come up with a witty response he popped a piece of our signature chocolate cake in his mouth and then seconds later clutched his throat and dropped to the floor. Could someone have tainted our cake, or had one of our fellow chocolate purveyors intentionally bumped off the five-time festival champion? I wasn’t sure, but I did know that I was going to have to figure out who killed Evan in order to save Torte’s reputation and return to my happy place—chocolate.
FUDGE AND JURY is the fifth book in the Bake Shop mystery series published by St. Martin’s Paperbacks, January 2017.
Welcome to Torte―a friendly, small-town family bakery where the pastries are delicious. . .and, now, suspicious.
It’s almost spring in Ashland, Oregon, and the town is preparing for the Shakespeare and the annual Chocolate Festival. Business is cookin’ at Torte, and the store is expanding as Jules’ team whips up crèpes filled with mascarpone cheese and dark chocolate. Torte stands a chance of being this year’s confectionery belle of the ball! Life couldn’t be sweeter―unless murder taints the batter.
Evan Rowe, of Confections Couture, makes a chocolate fountain that would put Willy Wonka to shame, and his truffles are to die for―literally? Yes, the world-renowned chocolatier has just turned up dead. . .right after sampling a slice of Jules’ decadent four-layer chocolate cake. Now all eyes are on Jules as she tries to find the mysterious ingredient in her own recipe. Can she sift out the truth before another contestant bites the buttercream?
# # # # # # # # # # #
About the author
Ellie Alexander writes the Bakeshop Mystery series for St. Martin’s Press, set in the Shakespearean town of Ashland, Oregon and featuring a romantic, artisan pastry chef, Juliet Montague Capshaw.
Ellie is a Pacific Northwest native who spends ample time testing pastry recipes in her home kitchen or at one of the many famed coffeehouses nearby. When she’s not coated in flour, you’ll find her outside exploring hiking trails and trying to burn off calories consumed in the name of research.
All comments are welcomed.
Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win a print copy of Fudge and Jury. US entries only, please. The giveaway ends January 8, 2017. Good luck everyone!