Why is Death by Chocolate a Favourite Fantasy?
In my family, we have a number of self-confessed chocoholics. There’s something about the complex, roasted flavours, the melt-in-your-mouth texture that’s addictive.
Studies have shown that chocolate can induce euphoria and have a calming effect. In fact, European pharmacies in the past used to dispense chocolate as a medicinal drug. Chocolate really can make you feel better (unless you eat an entire bag of Hershey’s Chocolate Kisses in one road trip).
But, if chocolate can be medicinal, can it also be toxic? Both sweet and bitter, delicious and deadly?
Death by chocolate may be a favourite fantasy, but death by poisoned chocolate is another matter entirely.
In Cover Art, Charley Scott is thrilled to be running a summer pop-up art gallery in cottage country. But, beneath the surface of this peaceful lakeside village, darkness lurks. Local chocolatier, Matt Thorn, is struggling with his father’s death and his legacy of deception. As Matt plans to expose his father’s secrets, a man is found dead, the result of eating Matt’s chocolates. Charley will have to see past the obvious, to find the killer.
The idea of writing a mystery, involving death by chocolate, was sparked years ago. My mom took part in a workshop run by a local chocolatier about how to make truffles and Belgian pralines. She came home with recipes covered in hand-written notes, samples, a chocolate-stained apron and a ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse into a chocolatier’s workshop. We tried out the recipes in our own kitchen, chopping blocks of chocolate and tempering it to a glossy sheen.
I still savour that moment. And isn’t that an interesting turn of the phrase?
Taste, emotion and memory are intertwined. A familiar flavour can recall a positive, or negative, experience and take you right back to that time and place. That’s why writers use sensory descriptions — taste, touch, scent and sound — to bring their settings to life.
In Cover Art, Matt’s workroom is at the back of his shop, called Chocoholic’s. You’ll see copper pots suspended from the track lighting. A twenty-pound crate of oranges, ready to be hand sliced and candied, shoved to one side. You’ll feel the air, chilled to a brisk eighteen degrees Celsius, kept constant by the PVC strip curtains hanging over the door. You might hear the crackle of tempered chocolate shrinking and releasing in the molds as it cools or the riff-heavy leads and gravelly vocals of vintage BTO, blasting through the overhead speakers. You’ll breathe in the scent of single origin Guittard chocolate — a spicy, heady aroma of tobacco, plums, and black cherries.
To be able to add those sensory details to my story, I read cookbooks, like David Lebovitz’s The Great Book of Chocolate: The Chocolate Lover’s Guide and Gale Gand’s Chocolate and Vanilla. I browsed confectioners’ websites and visited artisan chocolate shops.
Before writing Cover Art, I would have said that my favourite chocolate was dark. The darker, the better. I did not like white chocolate, at all. Then I visited Warkworth, Ontario’s Centre & Maine Chocolate Company and tried their Gin & Tonic bar. White chocolate and lime zest, laced with juniper essential oil, and coriander. It’s incredible. I infused this flavour into Cover Art — it’s the first chocolate Charley samples in Matt’s store. If you want to try the Gin & Tonic for yourself, you can order it online from Centre & Maine (https://centreandmainchocolate.com/ ).
Besides reading cookbooks and eating chocolate, I also tried my hand at some practical research. Below is my recipe for chocolate espresso truffles, combining both dark chocolate and white chocolate, along with that shot of caffeine that fuels my writing process.
Chocolate Espresso Truffles
Makes c. 70 truffles
300 g. white chocolate
300 g. bittersweet couverture or good quality bittersweet chocolate (70%)
1 tbsp espresso powder (or to taste)
3 tbsp cocoa powder
- Using a serrated knife, cut the white chocolate and bittersweet couverture into pieces, as small as possible (no larger than 1 ½ cm chunks). Place the chocolate and couverture pieces in a heatproof bowl. Set the bowl in a saucepan of simmering water and gently melt the chocolate, stirring with a spatula. Once melted, stir in the espresso powder.
- Line a loaf pan with baking paper. Pour the melted chocolate-couverture mixture into the loaf form and let cool at room temperature for 5-6 hours.
- Carefully remove the now firm chocolate from the loaf pan, by holding the edges of the baking paper. Remove the baking paper from the chocolate. Using a large, sharp kitchen knife cut the chocolate into rows, 2 cm thick. Then cut those rows into 2cm squares.
- Sift the cocoa powder into a small bowl. Use a fork to dip the chocolate squares into the cocoa powder, coating them evenly. Then place the enrobed chocolate squares into a strainer to shake off the excess cocoa.
- The chocolate truffles can be filled into plastic bags or stored in a tin—perhaps an empty coffee tin, for a fun twist.
These chocolate truffles will keep for 2-4 weeks in the fridge. If you can resist them!
Whip up a batch, grab a copy of Cover Art and indulge in murder and chocolate
Cover Art (A Charley Scott Mystery)
by Vanessa Westermann
About Cover Art
Cover Art (A Charley Scott Mystery)
1st in Series
Setting – Kawartha Lakes, Ontario, Canada
Cormorant Books (May 17, 2022)
Paperback : 440 pages
ISBN-10 : 1770866426
ISBN-13 : 978-1770866423
Charley Scott is thrilled to be running a summer pop-up gallery in cottage country. Returning to the lakeside village, not on vacation but as an artist, she’s determined to turn her hobby into a career.
But, beneath the surface of this peaceful town, darkness lurks. There’s a history.
Local chocolatier, Matt Thorn, is struggling with his father’s death and his legacy of deception. As Matt plans to expose his father’s secrets, a local is found dead, the result of eating Matt’s chocolates.
Luckily, art is all about perspective and Charley’s always had a keen eye. Can she see past the obvious and find the killer?
About Vanessa Westermann
An avid reader of mysteries, Vanessa Westermann is a former Arthur Ellis Awards judge, holds an M.A. in English Literature, as well as a Bachelor of Education, and has taught creative writing. Her debut mystery, An Excuse for Murder, was published in 2019. At the heart of all of Westermann’s stories are strong female protagonists inspired by the heroines in her own life. She currently lives in Ontario.
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