A recent trend in the book industry features books with additional content, like tacking a recipe or two to the end of a book that’s not a cookbook. I like the idea because they add a certain flavor to the books and make the experience more immersive, but I’ve often wondered how good any of these recipes are. Naturally, that meant I had to test some out, so I’ll be reviewing the recipes that I picked and the books that they came from.
For better or for worse, most books with recipes tend to be cozy mysteries. Cozy mysteries are a mixed bag. Done well, they’re a fun way to pass the time, and I’ve brought a lot of them on holidays for quick reads. Too often, though, they’re cookie-cutter stories with recycled characters and way too much time spent on the hobby or gimmick featured in the series. Even if a reader enjoys books and a certain hobby, that doesn’t mean that person will automatically like books about that hobby. Lots of cozy mysteries overlook that fact and lean into the hobby aspect of the novel while sacrificing writing quality. I intentionally mixed up my book selection here and picked out three cozy mysteries and three other books that meet my criteria of being non-cookbooks that contain at least one recipe.
For copyright reasons, I won’t include the full recipes for any of these except one that the author already posted online. If you want to try the rest, you can buy the book or borrow it from your local library or find a similar recipe online. (Most are very similar to lots of other foods already out there.)
Below, we’ll cover:
- Emoni’s “When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemon Verbena Tembleque” – from With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
- Fazbear’s “Twisted” Pizza Recipe – from Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Freddy Files by Scott Cawthon
- Jell-O Cake – from Sugar Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke
- Rosemary Butter Biscuit Cookies – from The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
- Sally Pyne’s Summer Pudding – from Aunt Dimity & the Wishing Well by Nancy Atherton [recipe included]
- Theodosia’s Tea-Marbled Eggs – from Death by Darjeeling by Laura Childs
Emoni’s “When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemon Verbena Tembleque” - From With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
This is a pudding with a consistency like heavy Jell-O. The primary flavors are coconut and lemon with a little sugar and vanilla and then some cinnamon on top. The book suggests that it is “Best eaten cold while daydreaming about palm trees and listening to an Héctor Lavoe classic.”
It’s a young adult novel that hits all the expected beats. The main character has a special talent (in this case: cooking). She wants to use that gift to pursue her dreams, but she can’t because of her family circumstances. Later she decides that she can and should. She’d been burned by a guy before, but now she finds love along the way with someone who supports her dreams. It’s a popular formula for a reason, and I’ve even enjoyed a few similar stories in my time. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that stands out about this one, and it drags on way too long. Given the subject, it makes sense that the author included some recipes, and the recipes were at least thematic to the story, even if the actual foods themselves didn’t feature in the book.
This is where we run into some problems. Emoni, the main character, says she cooks with “no actual measurements, only ingredients and partial directions.” That means the recipe we get isn’t very precise. My handful of sugar was definitely smaller than Emoni’s handful, and I was far too conservative with my four shakes of cornstarch. That meant I had to add more cornstarch later into the recipe so that it could thicken, but not all of the cornstarch dissolved. Maybe these imprecise measurements would be okay if you had an idea of what the dish was supposed to end up like, but I had no idea going in. Two of the ingredients were hard to find. I couldn’t find any lemon verbena leaves at the grocery store, and the vanilla beans they had there were prohibitively expensive, so I substituted lemon juice and vanilla extract. That part turned out okay, and it was in the spirit of the book, since Emoni is all about substitutions and flying by the seat of her pants in the kitchen.
If the dish had turned out right, it probably would’ve tasted better. I might try it again sometime, but I’m grading everything on the results of my first try. In this case, it wasn’t sweet enough, and there tiny lumps of cornstarch peppering the whole thing. When I picked out the cornstarch lumps and put it on top of the strawberry pudding I talk about below, it wasn’t that bad.
Fazbear’s “Twisted” Pizza Recipe - From Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Freddy Files by Scott Cawthon
The premise here is that you take two rectangles of pre-made pizza dough, put pizza toppings between them, cut them into strips, twist them, season them, and bake them. You can probably take this in all kinds of directions, but I did it the book’s way, even dipping them in extra pizza sauce, as suggested.
This is a guidebook to the FNaF videogames. It has game strategy, extra graphics, and a few fun inserts like this recipe. The book will probably not be of any interest unless you’re a fan, but if you’re into the franchise, getting the inside scoop from the games’ creator is a good way to go. It’s helpful, colorful, and well laid-out. (There’s also an updated version of this book, made after more games came out.) Having a pizza recipe makes a lot of sense in-universe, because a lot of the events in the franchise take place at pizzerias. If you’re interested in FNaF but like books more than games, there’s a good young adult trilogy plus a series of anthologies that I started to discuss in my 2020 Book Reviews. That series is ongoing, and I plan to review the next batch at the end of this year.
It was hard keeping the sticks together while twisting them. I also couldn’t find mini-pepperonis in the grocery store and had to use regular-sized ones. Otherwise, everything went fine. The book doesn’t give brands or many specifics on the ingredients. I feel like Freddy Fazbear’s pizza would generally use the cheap stuff, but that’s up to you. One of the short stories (“Gumdrop Angel” from the book of the same name) mentions that their sauce tastes strongly of basil, so you might want to include a little extra to get the authentic experience.
I would, as the recipe recommends, include the Italian seasoning topping and dip the sticks in more pizza sauce. Otherwise, they’re a little on the plain side. It’s hard to complain with a classic pizza taste, though. These sticks would make a great game-day snack or just a fun treat.
Jell-O Cake - From Sugar Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke
To get this cake, you make or buy a plain white cake. Use a fork to poke holes in one direction, dump some Jell-O water over it, and let it cool in the fridge. Then poke holes in the opposite direction and repeat with another color. Refrigerate it more and frost with whipped cream. The recipe suggests that you can also divide everything to make a layer cake with more whipped cream between the layers and around the sides.
I can’t stand this book series or its protagonist, but I had to include an example from it, since it seems to be the most popular in the “cozy mystery with recipe” genre. This is one of those series where the protagonist goes beyond harmless meddling and actively tampers with evidence at crime scenes, tells suspects things the police don’t want them to know, and so on. Also, the people have their priorities really, really skewed. When they find or hear about a murder victim, they’re a little sad for a bit then go right back to contemplating how wonderful their food is. Usually there’s a recipe or two after a full-length novel. In this case, since I wasn’t sure what I wanted to make, I picked an anomaly in the series, which had a large collection of recipes after a Christmas novella centered around a recipe-tasting pot luck. Most or all of the recipes were mentioned in the book, so I picked one that was mentioned a few times (and was made by a character named Andrea). I used red and blue Jell-O so that I could bring a red, white, and blue dessert to an Independence Day party. (I also made strawberry bread from this book because I’d recently been strawberry picking. It also turned out well, but I didn’t use that recipe here because it wasn’t really featured in the story.)
If you make a layer cake, the top layer might slide a little in transport as it did for me. (It was easily salvageable.) That’s my only real complaint. I should also include a warning (as the book did) that the top will look messy, even if the inside is great. That’s what the whipped cream is for. As I flipped through this book, I found that in general, the recipes were written very clearly, with plenty of hints.
Everyone who tried it liked it. It’s a simple combination of a few classic desserts. I wouldn’t have thought to pair Jell-O and cake, but it works.
Rosemary Butter Biscuit Cookies - From The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
This simple cookie has four ingredients: rosemary, butter, sugar, and flour.
Since this book came out this year, I’m going to review it in more depth in my end-of-the-year book reviews (link to my 2020 Book Reviews here and above), but I’ll give a brief overview now. Part of the book, set in the 1700’s, is about an apothecary that killed men on behalf of women. The other part of the book, set in the present, is about a woman researching that apothecary. The historical parts were a lot more interesting than the contemporary parts, and the book was a little long-winded in general. The parts I liked made up for some of the rest, so it was okay overall. The recipe was part of a collection of miscellanea at the end that seemed to be added for atmosphere. There wasn’t really a connection between the biscuits and the book other than the fact that they use herbs, and the apothecary also uses a lot of herbs.
Everything went smoothly. Chopping the rosemary is a little tedious, but that’s barely a complaint. (I also topped half the cookies with extra rosemary, so it’s partly my own fault.)
These are both savory and sweet. If you like strong flavors, you can top your cookies with extra rosemary as I did, but the taste comes through either way.
Sally Pyne’s Summer Pudding - From Aunt Dimity & the Wishing Well by Nancy Atherton
Recipe: Serves 6
- 7 slices white bread
- Soft butter (do not substitute margarine!)
- 3 cups berries (raspberries or blueberries or blackberries work well)
- 1/2-2/3 cup sugar (adjust according to the sweetness of the berries)
- 1/3 cup water
- Heavy cream (optional)
- Butter each slice of bread lightly on one side. Set one buttered slice aside. Line a 3- to 4-cup bowl with the remaining slices, butter side out. Fill the gaps with buttered bread trimmed to fit so the bowl is completely lined.
- In a medium saucepan, cook the berries with the sugar and 1/3 cup water for 10 minutes. Pour cooked berries into the bread-lined bowl.
- Place the reserved slice of bread on top and fold the edges of the outer slices over to meet. Place a saucer on top and press down, to infuse the bread with the berry juice. Pour off excess juice to serve with the pudding
- Chill at least 6 hours before serving.
- Serve in a bowl with heavy cream and a drizzle of the excess juice. (The heavy cream isn’t required, but it’s highly recommended.
You can visit the author’s website for a printable version of this recipe.
This cozy mystery series has a mildly supernatural element. The main character moves to England after inheriting a house there, and she communicates with the spirit of her deceased godmother through an old diary. It’s otherwise surprisingly grounded in the real world. I enjoy this series overall and I picked this book from the pile because, as previously mentioned, I had some strawberries to use up. It’s not actually the best book in the series. It still has memorable and interesting characters, and I liked the message of the story, but it wasn’t much of a mystery. It was obvious what was happening, and the main character did very little investigating. The book started with a whirlwind tour of everyone in the village, which was unfortunate but necessary given that the book was about the villagers, and it ended with a similar wrap-up of everyone’s storylines. Either of those could’ve been done more naturally. I’d recommend starting with other books in the series. Incidentally, if you do plan to start this series, you should know that early books start with more murder mysteries and gradually slide into village events with mysterious happenings. You may enjoy one, the other, or both.
I think I should’ve pressed harder on the pudding so that the strawberries would soak through everything. It wasn’t too clear to me at first whether it was supposed to be like that, or be more of a layered dessert.
Strawberries and breads are two of my favorite foods, so I thought this would be my favorite recipe in the batch. Unfortunately, it turned out a little too bitter and a little too soggy. If I make it again, I’ll add more sugar. I sweetened this batch with other things, mainly the heavy cream. (I took the above picture before I took a bite, so you can’t see much, but afterwards, I ended up drowning the pudding in cream.) I also tried the pudding in combination with other fruits and desserts. Since it’s been really hot lately, I was also able to overlook the sogginess enough to enjoy a cold dessert.
Theodosia’s Tea-Marbled Eggs - From Death by Darjeeling by Laura Childs
If you hard-boil eggs, partially crack the shells, and boil the eggs further in salty tea water, you can peel away the shells and find some interesting patterns inside. (The tea stains the cracked parts.)
This book leans into all the worst tropes of cozy mysteries. It stars a protagonist that’s supposed to come across as talented and charming but is actually pretty insufferable. The worst was the way she was repeatedly impatient with traumatized people and thought they should just get over their fear. As for the rest of the book, the author clearly did a lot of research on both tea and the area but used way too much of that research instead of sprinkling it in for background flavoring. Plus, everyone enthuses over the tea, food, and prerequisite animal companion in a way that is probably supposed to elicit warm and nostalgic feelings in readers but tries too hard. Speaking of food, although there was a lot being prepared and consumed and drooled over by characters, I didn’t see any mention of the tea-marbled eggs featured in the recipe.
It’s an easy recipe, though the eggs started to stink up the kitchen towards the end of their tea bath. It’s probably not worth it to do this frequently, but it’s a fun novelty for tea lovers. The end result was very pretty. You can see the tea-stained eggs and their shells in the picture above. (The eggs started out white.)
These hard-boiled eggs tasted a little salty but otherwise normal. I didn’t taste any tea.
Let me know in the comments below if you’ve ever made a recipe from a book other than a cookbook, and how it turned out.