Under His Touch by Jeffe Kennedy is a May-December boss-subordinate office romance, a setup that is complete catnip for me that nevertheless has epic potential to go really far wrong. I love huge age gaps in my romance (my husband and I are ten years apart) and I love the realism of office romances. But often neither of these storylines work so well. In any office romance, especially a boss-subordinate romance, and even more so with an age difference, there’s a fine line to walk between hella hot and hella creeptastic. Kennedy manages to walk the line with room to spare, creating a delightful story of a precocious, ambitious young woman and her older, more experienced lover that worked for me on every level.
Amber Dolors is a bright, ambitious young woman who knows just what she wants, but not how to get it. Not quite yet anyway. She’s had no trouble attracting harmless young men, but what she wants is a relationship that’s quite different from that. Amber has developed an interest in BDSM and is eager to explore it with someone attractive, experienced and willing to teach. Her nascent kinkdar tells her that her boss, Alec Knight, might be her ticket into the world of dominance and submission. Maybe her only ticket since her local NYC kink scene is portrayed as being difficult for a youngster such as herself to break into.
Alec Knight is Amber’s boss, many rungs above her in the corporate hierarchy. This presents a huge problem for him because not only is he in fact a dominant with a ex-wife in his past whose kinky standards he couldn’t live up to, he’s also a really good guy. He’s painfully aware of the fact that getting involved with Amber could ruin his career, but mostly that it would open her up to accusations of having slept her way to the top, which is horrifically unfair because she’s super bright and fully capable of getting there all on her own. After much resisting though, he finally gives into her pleas to teach her the, ahem, ropes.
One little fun thing for me was that Amber is also just a little bit geeky. She makes all these references to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic series, which is the series that got me into comics and which hasn’t ever been replaced in my affections. Seeing the myriad Sandman references just tickled me silly and probably significantly influenced my affection for this book. But they’re not just Easter eggs for Sandman fans. Amber tries to share the series with Alec, who is fairly dismissive of them. It’s a problem that isn’t unique to May-December romances, but a lot of the time such issues signal death in them. Despite the relative youth of one partner, there still needs to be mutual respect and Alex spends much of the novel struggling with the fact that Amber is just so young.
Together the two of them eventually stumble their way through the minefields of all their various power dynamics (including the boss-subordinate one) in a way that felt believable to me, even given current human resource realities. It’s mainly Alec’s reticence to ruin Amber’s career and her insistence on a sexual relationship that made this work for me. Alec really has a rough time trying to decide the best course of action. He veers a bit into over-protectiveness, which Amber neither needs or wants and which she makes very clear. I think it would be easy to say, “Nope, no way, always wrong” when confronted with a scenario like this. But I remember being a young woman eager to make my own decisions (even if they turned out to be wrong ones, against the wisdom of my friends and family) and sometimes big gambles pay off. It’s part of growing up. And definitely makes Under His Touch one for my keeper shelf.
Jeffe Kennedy is a writer who keeps her characters very well fed. It’s an aspect of her work that I very much appreciate. Her smoking hot erotic romance Ruby really belongs on every foodie romance lover’s keeper shelf. The hero is a chef and, well, I reviewed it here so you can just go look at that if you’re interested. Her latest effort is no exception. Even when her characters order in, they do it in style. When the hero and heroine get delivery, cannoli, an Italian filled pastry, is on the menu.
I made several batches of cannoli while testing out what might work best. At first, I thought I wanted the most traditional cannoli possible as Italian restaurants in New York City do not mess around. But sometimes what’s possible in a restaurant isn’t possible for the home baker. I suspect Italian pastry chefs likely roll this very stiff dough through a pasta machine. Just guessing since following a very traditional recipe, I was presented with a cannoli dough that was far too stiff to roll as thin as I’d have liked (and I have a MONSTER of a solid maple rolling pin). But adaptation is the name of the game.
I had made several pie crusts recently and the current trend in getting flaky, tender crusts is to use vodka in place of some of the water. The alcohol inhibits gluten formation. And well, this is basically pie crust dough. The proportions are almost the same. So I decided that rather than go completely toward the traditional Marsala, I’d replace some with vodka for a higher alcohol content. And OMIGOSH. Did that ever make a huge difference. They look like cannoli shells, they taste like cannoli shells, they get all blistered and crispy like cannoli shells. Teensy tiny little change, big damn result. I was pretty pleased with myself for figuring that out.
Anyway, once I’d added vodka, there was no looking back. Ricotta filling is a pretty traditional choice for cannoli and I did like this one just fine. I cut this filling recipe in half in case you want to do more than one filling. I also happened to have made a milk chocolate chantilly for a recipe over Christmas and thought it might be excellent as cannoli filling. Spoiler: it was. And I used the same technique to make a Nutella version. Make these two whipped ganache fillings a day ahead as they need to rest in the fridge overnight. You can double the recipes with no problem if you only want to make one type of filling. Otherwise, these are sized to fill 12 shells each and the shell recipe makes 24 so just pick two.
I stored the pre-fried, unfilled shells for 48 hours before filling and they were fine. Filled ones didn’t last 4 hours in the fridge before they started to get a little soft and not as crispy. So it’s best if you can fill them as you need them. I know I say this twice a month, but these cannoli are the best
thing I’ve ever made for the blog. It’s one of those horrible projects that takes forever and requires dipping molded baked goods into vats of
boiling oil, but it’s sadly completely worth the effort. Also, because it’s a trifle complicated, I’ve included a dozen more photos of the process here.
I’m legendary among my friends for being able to resist my own baked goods, but I might have eaten a couple of these for breakfast. Okay, a few. And I maybe did it three days in a row. So there’s that.
- 250 grams heavy cream
- 90 grams Nutella
- 2 tablespoons chopped, toasted hazelnuts
- 250 grams heavy cream
- 90 grams milk chocolate, chopped into small pieces
- 1 cup ricotta cheese (full-fat)
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon allspice
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream, whipped stiff
- 4 tablespoons of miniature chocolate chips, divided
- 2 cups all-purpose flour + more for work surface
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons butter, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 egg yolk + 1 egg white, separated
- 5 tablespoons dry Marsala
- 3 tablespoons vodka
- 4 cups vegetable oil (or other neutral high heat oil like canola--do not use olive oil)
- Boil the cream and pour over the milk chocolate. Stir until the chocolate
- has melted. Cover with plastic wrap adhering to the surface so it doesn't form a skin.
- Let ganache rest in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Whip it as whipped cream.
- Spoon into piping bag or ziploc bag with a corner cut off and use to fill cannoli shells. Sprinkle ends with chopped hazelnuts.
- Boil the cream and pour over the milk chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted. Cover with plastic wrap adhering to the surface so it doesn't form a skin.
- Let ganache rest in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Whip it as whipped cream.
- Spoon into piping bag or ziploc bag with a corner cut off and use to fill cannoli shells.
- Mix together the ricotta, powdered sugar, cinnamon and allspice. Gently fold in the whipped cream, then fold in 2 tablespoons of the mini chocolate chips. Use immediately to fill cannoli
- Spoon into piping bag or ziploc bag with a corner cut off and use to fill cannoli shells. Sprinkle ends with remaining mini chocolate chips.
- Combine flour, sugar and salt in a food processor, about 6 pulses. Add butter and combine, about 10 pulses. Add egg yolk, Marsala and vodka and process until the dough starts to come together, about 15-20 seconds.
- Form into a ball and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Heat 4 cups of vegetable oil to 365 degrees Fahrenheit. Flour a work surface and roll out dough to about 1/16th of an inch. Shells will puff while cooking and thinner shells will cook more evenly. Cut circles using a 3" or slightly smaller biscuit cutter.
- Working four at a time (or however many cannoli molds you have) wrap each circle around a cannoli mold and coat one edge with egg white. Press together VERY firmly and then flair the ends. This is the most important step because otherwise your cannoli shells will unmold themselves in the oil and look more like taco shells than cannoli tubes.
- Once the oil reaches the proper temperature, fry each cannoli one at a time, about 2 minutes each. I used metal tongs to hold each cannoli suspended in the oil. If you let them rest on the bottom of the pan, they brown unevenly. If I did this again, I might rig up a way to fry more than one at a time because this step was very time-consuming.
- When removing hot shells from the oil, using a clean kitchen towel, gently remove the mold from the shell and set both aside to cool. Repeat until all shells are fried. Fill as desired and serve.
- You will need cannoli molds for this recipe, which can be found in any specialty cooking store.
- For more photos of the process, visit the cannoli album on my Facebook page.