Authors in the Kitchen: Sandra de Helen

Illustrious Client Cover Only CompliantMy guest today is Sandra de Helen, author of the Shirley Combs/Dr. Mary Watson series, inspired by some Arthur Conan Doyle characters with whom we are all very familiar! Sandra is also offering a signed copy of her book, The Illustrious Client, to one of the commenters today. If you drop into the kitchen with a few words in the comments, be sure to include a way that Sandra can get in touch with you. In the meantime, check out this recipe:

Thank you so much for having me in your kitchen today, Rosie! I’m sharing a family recipe with you. This is easy to make; you don’t even have to use a mixer if you don’t want to. It’s not the prettiest cake, but it tastes so delicious everyone will want more than one piece. I take it to potlucks frequently. You can make it in a 9x13 pan and cover it, so it’s also easy to bring along. Believe me, my heroine Shirley Combs wouldn’t touch this cake. She’s way too pure for that! But Dr. Mary Watson might allow herself a small piece. She’s a naturopath, but she’s also a bit more human than Shirley.



1 cup butter

2 3/4 cups sugar

5 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3 cups flour

 Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes

Tips:  Cream the butter and sugar together; whisk the eggs in a separate dish, then slowly add the eggs to the creamed mixture, beating at med-low speed just until mixed. Add the buttermilk, again mixing at med-low speed. Add in the baking soda and the flour 1 cup at a time, mixing at low speed just until blended. Do not over beat; you are trying to maintain the air in the batter so the cake will rise properly.

Cool the cake on a rack for a few minutes while you prepare the Ole Southern Butter Sauce (recipe follows).


 1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cook the butter, buttermilk and sugar together at hard boil for 2 minutes. Add in the vanilla and beat until cool. Spread on the still warm cake.

Sandra de Helen’s The Hounding and The Illustrious Client are available in paperback, eBook, and audio book. These Shirley Combs/Dr. Mary Watson mysteries can be purchased in bookstores or online. She has been a produced playwright for many years. Her short play Two Pros was produced in New York in May, 2013 by {Your Name Here} A Queer Theatre Company. Samples of her work are available at de Helen is a proud member of GCLS, Sisters in Crime, and the Dramatists Guild. She lives and writes in Portland, Oregon.