Monday, October 14, 2013

The Poisoner's Cake: Serial Killer Supper Series, Part Two ~ the Blonde Borgia

While it is true that serial killers are statistically more likely to be men, women are perfectly capable of racking up an impressive body count, though the killing methods of the two sexes tend to differ. Typically male serial murderers gravitate towards performing violent and bloody atrocities against the (usually female) body; women, in contrast, have historically turned to the comparatively gentle, more hands-off method of poisoning.

Victorian England, in fact,  saw the rise of the woman poisoner as a cultural archetype. After all, poisons such as arsenic were easy to come by and forensic science was not yet adept at detecting such causes of death. To be fair, married women had little or no rights then, and poison often presented the only means out of an abusive marriage. I admit I have a something of a soft spot for women who poisoned out of self-preservation.

Anna Marie Hahn, however, a German immigrant who poisoned and killed at least five men in America in the 1930s, did not act out of necessity or desperation. Her motives were simple: She wanted her victim's money. Posing as a nurse, Hahn befriended (and likely seduced) elderly German-American men, under the pretense of caring for them. She beguiled them into giving her money, and once she bled them dry - or was put in their will - she poisoned their food, often with arsenic or croton oil,  and left them to die painful deaths.

After her arrest for the murder of George Opendorfer, she became a favorite of the press and was dubbed, variously, "Arsenic Anna," or the "Blonde Borgia." It took a Cinncinnati jury of mostly women a very short time to find her guilty, whereupon she was sentenced to death. On December 7, 1938 she became the first woman in Ohio to die by electrocution.

But before her execution, she invited the press to her cell for interviews, and according to some accounts, she served them cake and punch.
I haven't found out whether any of the press were brave enough to actually eat a cake offered them by a serial poisoner, nor have I found what type of cake Hahn allegedly served. And so I have taken a bit of poetic license and made what I imagine she may have served, a chocolate cake with cherry liqueur and a rose-scented chocolate ganache. A "Blood & Roses" cake, if you will ... If you'd like to make it, sans poison, of course, here is my recipe.

Poisoner's Cake

For the cake:
1 cup pastry flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup brewed coffee
1/3 cup softened unsalted butter
1 teaspoon fresh vanilla bean
1/4 cup cherry liqueur
1 egg

For the ganache:
Equal weight milk chocolate chips and heavy cream
dash corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon rose water

Line a 9 inch cake pan with parchment paper and lightly dust with flour.  In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine the dry cake ingredients. Add the other, wet, ingredients, except for the egg, and mix on low for 2 minutes. Add the egg and mix for another minute, scraping down the sides as needed. Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake in a preheated 375 F oven for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in cake pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, remove from pan, and allow to cool thoroughly. 

For the ganache, melt the chips in a metal bowl over a pot of boiling water. Whisk in the cream, add the corn syrup and rose water. Pour over the cooled cake and allow to set. 

Hahn maintained her innocence until the very end, though she wrote a full confession that was found after her death. Unlike the Dusseldorf Vampire, who took a morbid pleasure in the thought of his beheading, Hahn begged for her life. According to witnesses, as she was being led to the chair, she addressed the prison warden and screamed, "Mr. Woodard! Don't let them do this to me!"
This Poisoner's Cake also happens to be my entry for this month's Creative Cooking Crew Challenge, "Cooking with Spirits," hosted by Lazaro of Lazaro Cooks and Joan of Foodalogue. Visit Lazaro later this month for a full round up. 
In the meantime, if you'd like to learn more about Anna Marie Hahn, check out The Good-Bye Door by Diana Britt Franklin.


  1. What a wonderful post for Halloween (and the challenge). Love how you spun the tale and illustrated it. Great job!

  2. Enjoyable lunch time read. Far better than reading local news or even worse CNN...

    There is a woman named Anna at my job site who often makes desserts. I think I shall be wary of her cakes from now on...

  3. A cheery tale with some cherry chocolate cake! Your series here is certainly putting me in the holiday spirit my dear! Well, that, and that delicious cake topper!

  4. I'm giggling at the first part of Trevor's comment.:) What a fascinating article and that cake looks out of this world. I need to go back and read the first installment of the series. Hope all is well Trixie!

  5. Brilliant! Thank you so much for the story and the recipe.

  6. Love this series, Trix. She was quite a character. What did she look like, I wonder?
    The cake and photos are wonderful. Don't you love Halloween?

    1. Deana, I adore Halloween! She looked like this:

  7. Serial killer information on a food blog. Love it. Yes, I guess poison was a way out for women back in the day. Great lead in for blood and roses cake.

  8. Gives a whole new meaning to gold digger! A great cake but totally a poison free slice for me.

  9. I love the combination of cherries and chocolate, this cakes looks simply delicious. Great story too, always love these sorts of stories, I'm an ID channel addict! Nice job, Trix!

  10. scarily enough.... this woman was a relative of mine...NOT by blood!!