no drill bits needed ::::
There is something gnawing the house outside my bedroom window.
A few weeks ago, Sky-Girl and I lay quietly in bed after lunch, and I hear a deep and focused grinding coming from the corner of the room. Such a sound, I imagined, could only be heard when faced with a beaver gnawing a tree for building a dam, an army of termites, or a slow-moving, suspense-loving mass murderer digging into his victim’s hiding place. I snap out of my lucid sleep, Sky-Girl’s eyelids remaining heavy. And I wait. And listen more.
The raspy, persistent chewing continues. It’s a mouse, I thought. Or a rat. Again. After a short stint of rodent infestation last year, I am not ready to share my home with any rodent-like animal except our friendly (caged) guinea pig Pepper Lizzy.
Persistent and grating, the sound does not stop. I quickly open the window to catch the culprit in the act, but to no avail. There is nothing: no sudden scurry into a negligible hole in the exterior wall and no obvious damage.
The grinding does not resume that afternoon but lingers in my mind, with a rueful text to my landlord.
Bees, he tells me. The carpenter bees.
Carpenter bees are docile, with shiny black abdomens, gleaming like a sparsely haired black patent leather shoes. These bees have a penchant to bore perfect circular holes into wood, creating nesting tunnels. They seem to wobble and hover near me more often than a busy honeybee or bumblebee. I’ve been divebombed more than once. Frankly, compared to their honey-making cousins and the cute, furry-bottomed bumbles, they seem pretty unmotivated to do anything, save for the boring of holes in wood.
These cookies are to honor you, carpenter bees, with your raspy mandibles and predilection for destruction. Just go somewhere else to do it. Not the almost 100-year-old house. Perhaps take a cue from the fireflies: they blink at dusk, hovering like feathers in a breeze, then they go away.
NOTES before starting: Read up on royal icing cookie decorating. I’ve included links below in the recipe text. These are some of my first royal icing cookies. I’m gearing up for some really fancy ones — planning is important as well as timing. Good art takes time and patience. I think of these bee cookies as a prelude to much, much more. Think of the cookie as your canvas and the icing as your paint, consistencies ranging from stiff to very watery. You can create just about anything! (I can’t wait to post my lavender flower cookies, beach cookies, starfish cookies….)
One year ago: chocolate zucchini cake
- BLACK COCOA COOKIE DOUGH: ½ cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- ½ teaspoon almond essence
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ⅓ cup black cocoa
- 1½ to 1¾ cups flour (see note below)
- ROYAL ICING: 2 pounds (907 g) powdered sugar
- 5 tablespoons (about 50 g) meringue powder
- 2 to 3 teaspoons oil-free extract (I like vanilla)
- ½ to ¾ cups warm water
- yellow food coloring
- Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
- Add egg and almond essence and mix.
- Add baking powder and salt and mix again.
- Stir in the cocoa until well blended. Add flour ½ cup at a time. This will look like a ball of tar.
- Per Lila Loa's notes: IF YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE COOKIES RIGHT AWAY, add a total of 1¾ cups of flour. If chilling the dough, add only 1½ cups of flour.
- Roll out your black dough to about ¼-inch thickness and cut bee shapes. As the dough warms up, it will be harder to manage. You may need to chill it again as you cut more shapes.
- Bake for about 7 minutes, check to see if there is a matte finish on top if done. These cookies do spread a bit, so space them out accordingly.
- These cookies keep in an airtight container for a few days at room temperature.
- DECORATING: Do not decorate these cookies with royal icing the day of baking, even if totally cool. The butter leaches out and ruins the royal icing. When totally cool, wrap them well, store for a day at room temperature, in the fridge, or in the freezer for months. Allow to come to room temperature before using.
- TO MAKE ROYAL ICING: Stir the flavoring into half the water.
- Using a paddle attachment on a stand mixer, gently mix the sugar and meringue powder. No need to sift.
- With the mixer on its lowest setting slowly add the water/flavoring mix to the sugar/meringue. The icing will become thick and lumpy.
- Continue to add the remaining water, little by little, until the mixture reaches a thick, honey like consistency. You may not need all of the water, so watch carefully.
- Now, turn the mixer to medium speed and whip 2 to 4 minutes until icing is thick and fluffy. Mixing time can vary greatly so watch carefully and stop mixing when the icing forms soft peaks. This makes about 5 cups. You will not need to use it all; it keeps for a week well wrapped at room temperature. Make more cookies! Decorate more shapes!
- Scoop a bit of the icing out into a separate bowl and mix in a bit more water to prepare the royal icing to piping consistency but smooth enough to use paint brush to create wing pattern. (You might need to see some tutorials on this, as everyone has different ways to do this. Practice and get comfortable.) Add a speck of yellow coloring and mix. Using a piping bag or parchment cone and size tip #2 or smaller, create thorax stripes.
- Pipe the outline of the wings. Using a small paintbrush, pull the inside edge of the piping to the center of the wing, like a fading brush stroke. Clean brush well between strokes. Allow to dry overnight.
- These cookies keep well at room temperature for a few days, or in the fridge or freezer well wrapped for weeks. Allow to come to room temperature well wrapped before serving.
1. You can keep is well wrapped at room temperature. Just remix before using.There may be some water separation. HOWEVER, if you using a different recipe for royal icing with raw egg whites, you might need to refrigerate it for longer life.
2. The paddle attachment mixes royal icing better than the whip.
3. There is piping consistency and flood consistency, and everything else in between. Sometimes you don't need a piping consistency to pipe borders. Find what works for you. When I first started using royal icing this year, I hated this comment in all of my research. I wanted a hard and fast rubric, something I could follow to a T. Nope, that is the beauty of art, and that is exactly what these decorated creation are: trial and error and your preference.