Bookish Extras · Guest Posts

Recipe for Hope: Caramel Hearts by E.R. Murray | Guest Post

I’m so excited to share this guest post written by the lovely E.R. Murray, author of Caramel Hearts (read my review here!), and without further ado, here it is!:


Structuring Caramel Hearts around cake recipes wasn’t an immediate decision, though I did want food to feature from the start and I did consider including a handwritten cookbook. I love books and I love food and I think they complement each other perfectly, but it was a twitter invite to the National Library of Ireland to view some 16th century cookbooks that really sparked this element of the story.

These old recipe books were beautifully written, and at times illustrated, and they were full of amazing ingredients such as ‘frosted plums picked by moonlight’. The voice of each recipe was so strong, I couldn’t get them out of my mind.

Now, the strange thing is, I don’t particularly like cake. I love baking – the smells, rituals and alchemy – but I’m more of a savoury person. And yet, you can’t beat seeing someone’s face light up when you present them with a batch of warm cookies.

But Caramel Hearts is not about me; it’s the story of Liv Bloom, a teenage girl dealing with her mum’s alcoholism while trying to find her place in the world. I knew that she needed a bit of stability, with a sprinkling of understanding, praise and comfort. As I delved deeper into her heart and mind, her desires and fears, I realised over time that the solution was baking!

The recipes in Caramel Hearts function on two levels. They give Liv an insight into her mum’s character, a pre-alcoholic mum she hardly remembers, and they also give her the chance to be good at something. The recipes structure the narrative, but also mirror the story and emotions involved and provide an element of hope. I wanted the story to resonate with anyone experiencing the effects of addiction – and hope is the only weapon you have when you’re a teen trapped in this kind of situation.


Each recipe is carefully woven into the story, until the recipe book almost becomes a character in its own right. Here’s a sample of how one of the recipes made it into the narrative…

Recipe: Rocky Road

Why chosen? Title reflects Liv’s life and also, everyone knows it’s tasty!

Position: 7th recipe in Caramel Hearts

Dramatic tension: This recipe was originally positioned much earlier, but I moved it to a more tense moment in the book when I realised its full potential. This recipe comes at a point when Liv is trying to redeem herself after a series of bad decisions – only she doesn’t quite achieve the desired result. In fact, she only makes things worse and so the title ‘Rocky Road’ perfectly describes Liv’s life at this point in the book.

Origin: I started with a completely different Rocky Road recipe which was much more complicated and not as delicious. It contained biscuit rather than Turkish Delight, and had more stages involved during the cooking process. This was the most difficult recipe to pin down; I researched lots of recipes and tried playing with ingredients – this is the beauty of baking, the experimentation and alchemy – but I couldn’t get it quite right. I settled on a recipe that wasn’t quite up to scratch as a placeholder, but something still niggled. Then, one day, I tasted the Rocky Road in our local bookshop and begged the owner for the recipe. We were well into the editing process by this time, but the Turkish Delight swung it, and just before the final edits, this recipe was swapped in. It’s so much tastier as a result – sometimes, fate intervenes!


About E.R. Murray:
Elizabeth Rose Murray lives in West Cork, Ireland, where she fishes, grows her own vegetables and enjoys outdoor adventures. Her debut, The Book of Learning: Nine Lives Trilogy 1 is the Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read for 2016. Caramel Hearts is her first book for young adults. Elizabeth loves travel, and has taught creative writing in schools around the world, including Cambodia. While travelling, Elizabeth also parachuted out of an aeroplane, swam with sharks and stingrays, and ate lots of insects.
You can contact Elizabeth via her website, Twitter @ERMurray, instagram and Facebook.

About Caramel Hearts:

Liv Bloom’s life is even more complicated than that of your average fourteen-year- old: her father walked out on the family when she was young, her mother is in a recovery centre for alcoholics, and her older sister is struggling to step into Mum’s shoes. Structured around real cake recipes, Caramel Hearts is a coming-of- age novel about love, disappointment and hope, and discovering the true value of friends and family, no matter how dysfunctional they are.




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