If there are readers out there who don’t have a vague inkling of what this book is about, I’d be very surprised, so I’ll spare you the tedium of a detailed summary. Suffice to say that this murder mystery takes place during the maiden voyage of the Aurora, a super-luxury liner traveling through the fjords of Norway. It’s all about food and drink, spa treatments, with the occasional lecture about the aurora borealis, and rubbing elbows with the very rich, if not so famous. It put me in mind of Agatha Christie’s, Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. A murder has been committed – or has it? The only person reporting the murder is Lo Blacklock, a journalist for a travel magazine, who views this trip as a career-promoting opportunity to advance in her company. That is, if she doesn’t blow it. After an investigation by the Johann Nilsson, the ship’s security officer, it seems that Lo is the only one on the ship who saw and heard anything out of the ordinary. Nilsson reduces Lo to a modern- day Cassandra by intimating that a combination of the drugs she takes for anxiety/drepression, plus excessive alcohol consumption and a recent traumatic event at home, has rendered her an unreliable witness at the very least, and more likely, a full-out hallucinating, hysterical mess of a woman. Ware has laid out boldly, a mental health issue that women have been dealing with since way before the drugs to treat these conditions were invented. A pharmaceutical industry that ignores the condition and assigns blame to the individual on the basis of gender. Hallucination is not a side effect of depression. Just because a woman suffering from depression says she saw something that no one else has seen, doesn’t mean that the woman didn’t see it, it means, in this case, anyway, that the investigator in charge of security needs to ignore his underlying prejudice, and ask more questions, in short- do his job. There are twists and turns that set me off the trail of whodunnit, and that, aided by skillful writing, kept me reading non-stop, until I reached the conclusion. I wish all books did that for me.
It was so obvious that some image of the Norwegian fjords would be the image for beauty, that it’s almost embarassing how quickly I found and posted this image. I can feel my blood pressure going down as I gaze at it again. Now that’s powerful medicine.
I find it somewhat odd that in a book about luxury cruising, finding mention of specific foods would be so hard. The first multi-course dinner onboard the Aurora began with “beet-pickled razor clam with a bison-grass foam and air-dried samphire shards.” Not making that one! Samphire is a succulent associated with water bodies and is reported to be rather salty, so air-dried samphire, I’m guessing, would be very salty as well. Also mentioned was fugu, the pufferfish that when consumed might possibly kill you because of its toxins. Not making that one either. The third, specific food was a sandwich that room service left for Lo in her stateroom when she missed lunch in the main dining room. It was “prawn and hard-boiled egg on heavy rye.” Hmmmm. Not making that one either. So I was left with a dessert that the guests enjoyed in the lounge after their second dinner on the ship. Petit fours! I know. It’s ambitious, but I am always up for a culinary challenge, even if it is in my weakest area of expertise: baking.
Overview: The first step is to make the pound cake. After the cake has cooled completely flip it onto another piece of parchment paper. (Remove the baked parchment paper.) Cut it in half horizontally. This is called torting. You can find YouTube videos that will show you how to do it without expensive kitchen tools.
Once the cake is in two pieces, spread the bottom layer with raspberry or any other jam.(Ingredients in bold print are not listed in the ingredients, so you will have to lan to buy them if you plan to use them.) Then spread a layer of Buttercream Frosting on top and return the top layer of cake to cover the bottom layer. Frost the top layer, smoothing it out so that the fondant will cover smoothly in the next steps. Cut off the edges so that all of your squares will have smooth sides.
To prepare the now-assembled cake for freezing, lift it by the parchment paper and place it back in the sheet pan. Cover with another pan, and place in the freezer for an hour.
Prepare the Petit Four Icing and another baking sheet, lined with parchment paper. Place a cooling rack that is larger than the baking sheet on top.
Take the petit four sheet cake out of the freezer and slide onto a working surface. Cut it into squares, around 1.” Use a ruler to mark the edge of the cake and gently drag a knife on the icing to make cutting lines using a straight edge to get them perfect. Move the now cut petit fours one by one to the prepared cooling rack.
Butter Pound Cake
2¾ C sugar 3 C all-purpose flour
¾ C salted butter, softened 1tsp baking powder
¾ C shortening 1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract ¾ C evaporated milk
5 eggs ¼ C sour cream
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Cream together the sugar, butter and shortening until smooth then beat in
vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, until fluffy. In a separate bowl, whisk
together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, and salt). Add this flour
mixture and the evaporated milk to the original mixture alternately. Beat for
2 minutes on medium speed, then fold in the sour cream. Pour the batter
into a prepared half sheet pan. (Parchment on the bottom, spray sides with
Bake at 325°F until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean –
approximately 25-35 minutes. Check on it after 25 minutes.
For The Buttercream Frosting
Yield: 4.5 cups
1 C salted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
½ C Crisco shortening (just under 4 oz. on a kitchen scale)
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
2 lbs powdered sugar
1 T of vanilla extract
2-4 T of milk (add to get consistency to pipe or spread)
First, cream the butter and Crisco in a mixing bowl. Mix on low speed for a
couple of minutes until smooth and creamy. Add in the vanilla and cream
cheese and mix again until very smooth. Gradually add the powdered
sugar until it’s all combined. It will be very stiff. Then begin adding milk until
you reach the desired consistency for decorating (2-3 tablespoons.)
Petit Four Icing (Poured Fondant)
6 C powdered sugar, sifted
½ C water
2 T light corn syrup
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
¾ C white chocolate chips
Start by bringing water in the bottom of a double boiler to boil. In the top of the double boiler, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, water, corn syrup
Continue whisking or stirring the until the mixture becomes smooth and
consistent. It should be thin enough to drizzle from a spoon, but not so thin
that it all runs off the cake. When the temperature reaches 92° F, it’s good.
When it’s ready, add in the white chocolate chips and stir until melted. Turn down the heat but keep the water steaming underneath to keep the icing from setting up.
Put the frozen petit fours on a cooling rack set over a cookie
sheet that is lined with wax paper. Spoon the icing over the top to cover the
cakes. Decorate by piping icing in floral, or other shapes on each petit four,
or sprinkle edible mini shapes (stars, sprinkles, etc) on each one.
This recipe was way too much work, so I won’t be doing this again. The hardest part was covering the cut cakes with the poured fondant, even though I had watched several YouTube videos of people demonstrating how to cover them. I am not a confident baker, so my technique was wanting. Jim liked them better than me- they were too sweet. Also, I bought the fancy tool for torting, but couldn’t use it because my sheet cake wasn’t thick enough. I cut a couple of cakes in half and spread raspberry jam between the layers. Really made a difference, so don’t skip that step if you can help it.