What a Lady Sleuth Needs: clues, corset…and dessert!


Lady (1)If one were to ask any proper late-nineteenth century lady what she would need in order to conduct a little unorthodox sleuthing, she might list the following:

1. a dark gown of quiet fabric, perfect for night-time reconnoitering;

2. a parasol, for defending oneself against a belligerent witness;

3. a petticoat (second-best, of course), for ripping into strips when preparing to break a window in an emergency;

4. clues: an eyebrow raised, a sigh, a startled flush…even the slightest of these will not escape her eye;

5. a bracing cup of tea, to fortify one’s courage before confronting a suspect in a lonely tower at midnight.

And finally:

6. a dessert table, where our lady sleuth can congregate with potential witnesses or suspects. Sweets are sure to coax even the most reticent to drop one’s guard.

Speaking of desserts, I’ve been asked by fellow mystery writer Nancy Lynn Jarvis to contribute to a mystery author cookbook she’s compiling. Squee!

When I thought about it, I realized that my Concordia Wells series really does have a fair amount of eating going on: dances, teas, picnics…wow, who knew?

And of course, Concordia has a special fondness for desserts. So I’m submitting two for the cookbook: a Charlotte Russe and a pumpkin creme brulee.

What’s a Charlotte Russe?

Charlotte Russe is a 19th century dessert, created by a French chef in honor of his Russian employer, Czar Alexander I (hence the “russe”). There is some disagreement about the “Charlotte” part of the name: some say it is for the czar’s sister-in-law, Queen Charlotte, and others say it is a corrupted form of charlyt, an Old English term for a custard dish.

There are many variations of the dessert, but most of them involve custard, lady fingers, liquor, and fruit. New York bakeries in the 19th century created a “to go” form of the dessert, with sponge cake, custard, and a maraschino cherry on top. It was put in a push-cup that folks could carry around and eat from.

You know I had to test it out, right? Here’s my version of Charlotte Russe:

Charlotte Russe (makes 8-10 servings)

All dessert pics by K.B. Owen



all pics from K.B. Owen

1 packet unflavored gelatin, mixed into ½ cup cold water
1 cup granulated white sugar
4 eggs, separated into whites and yolks
4-6 tablespoons of the liquor of your choice (bourbon, whiskey, sherry or grand marnier work well)
2 cups whipping cream
20 ladyfingers
Garnish: fresh fruit of your choice – strawberries, peaches, berries, orange slices, etc.


Cook gelatin and water mixture on low heat until gelatin is dissolved; remove from heat to cool a bit.

Meanwhile, beat sugar and egg yolks until incorporated and smooth. Whisk in liquor.

Whisk in gelatin until incorporated into the egg yolk mixture.

April2015Desserts 076In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff (don’t overdo it; you don’t want them to be dry). Fold egg whites into the egg yolk/gelatin mixture.

In a separate bowl, beat whipping cream into soft peaks. Gently fold into the rest.




Line a glass bowl (3 qt size) with lady fingers (split them first, nice sides facing out). Fill gently with the cream mixture, being careful not to dislodge the lady fingers.

…the first row of lady fingers. I put a second row on top of this as I filled the bowl.

Cover; chill overnight (at least 8 hours).

If desired, garnish with fresh fruit just before serving.

 April2015Desserts 087

I hope you’ll give Charlotte Russe a try! Do you have a favorite dessert from a novel you’ve read?  I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,


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12 thoughts on “What a Lady Sleuth Needs: clues, corset…and dessert!”

  1. Marcy KennedyMarcy Kennedy

    That looks absolutely delicious. Not my husband’s “cup of tea” so I’ll have to test it out when I have a group of ladies over 🙂

    • Paul OwenPaul Owen

      Marcy, you can tell your husband on my behalf that he doesn’t know what he’s missing.

  2. PatriciaPatricia

    Custard is good, but when you add alcohol into the mix, you have a bowl of deliciousness. I love the idea of this cook book.

    I have a cook book entitled “Presidential Cookies,” which contains the recipes of (supposedly) each President’s favorite cookie. Some of those early guys recipes had to be adapted of course because some of those ingredients aren’t available anymore. I’ve tried a couple of them and they’re pretty good.

    Fun fact – President Lincoln apparently loved gingerbread boys (men). They didn’t show that in the movie!

    Best of luck with the cook book. And with Concordia’s new adventure.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  3. Karen McFarlandKaren McFarland

    What a great idea for a cook book. And what a nice compliment being asked to contribute Kathy. That look delicious girl. I like custard and ladyfingers. And it doesn’t look too involved. I like it! Yummy!

  4. Sharla RaeSharla Rae

    Dessert should come first in a meal in my opinion. Your deserts are beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Deborah MakariosDeborah Makarios

    What every lady sleuth needs – I love it! Also mentally checking off the list as I read it…
    I’m very fond of chocolate self-saucing pudding (recipe contributed to a celebrity cook-book by the Wizard of Christchurch) but as my husband can’t eat too much chocolate I don’t have it very often. Not having too much of a sweet tooth I tend to go for dark chocolate – dark and mysterious…


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