HAPPY MURDER BLOG!
I will get to why this is a murder blog in a moment, but first and foremost I owe an apology to anyone who reads this blog: I swore that I wasn't going to have a bunch of half-written posts and not post anything for weeks or months on end anymore and then I went and did exactly that... and this post... I had this post written. It was long and I'd worked on it for ages, and I just needed to do some formatting and to put the pictures in the right places and I accidentally deleted the whole thing.
So I'm starting from scratch. As one does when baking goes awry. C'est la vie.
Murder blog, take two.
Do you like murder? Do you appreciate avian puns?
If you answered yes, you might love K.J. Charles. This is not my first K.J. Charles post, but I did start this one first, and I did bake this stuff first, and I did love this book first. And though this is one of very few K.J. Charles books that lacks homocide (you can even buy fan merchandise with a death toll infographic on K.J. Charles's Red Bubble page), the murder I love is specific to Band Sinister.
Band Sinister is one of my favorite K.J. Charles books, and it was the first one of hers that made me really truly love this fandom. I borrowed it from the library, and immediately ordered myself a paperback. Then the audiobook. Then a copy for my e-reader & phone. Band Sinister also immediately sent me down two fantastic research rabbit holes, made me dream of murder-themed-tattoos, and made me start doodling some truly nonsensical fan art.
Like this very glittery page in my journal:
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Those of you who haven't read Band Sinister are probably sitting around going, but what is this murder that isn't murder?
The Murder is a hellfire club full of rakes and reprobates, democrats and atheists, scientists and artists... a group in which members debate ideas freely, love in ways not sanctioned by their government, and generally support and protect each other. The Murder is led by the notorious rake, Lord Corvin, and his best friends, the scientifically-minded Sir Philip Rookwood, and the satirist and artist John Raven. They call themselves The Murder because they enjoy being scandalous and because it fits their names... like a murder of crows... get it? get it? I die.
Anyway, The Murder are not the romance in Band Sinister, Sir Philip (of the murder) and Guy Frisby (his innocent country neighbor) are. There's also an excellent plot involving a libelous Gothic novel about The Murder, and a lovely secondary romance which led me down my first rabbit hole about the history of civil marriage in English law. Because, if you don't know me personally and/or haven't picked up on this yet, I'm a massive nerd, particularly for history and law and romance novels. And, as the product of an interfaith marriage I have kind of a vested interest in the existence of civil marriages and was kind of stunned that I'd never delved into this before, so an extra special extra thank you to K.J. Charles for inspiring that, as well as, you know, creating the Murder. Whom I love. Deeply. Entirely. They live in my mind and heart and soul, rent-free. And have for a while now. I'd call it adverse possession but I'm so clearly not adverse. (That's a really bad little law joke for ya. Cuz... nerd.)
There is something just achingly beautiful about these three friends who form the core of The Murder, who have been friends since childhood, who grew up together with all their different broken bits and how they fit together and grow together and love each other (and love each other, if you catch my drift), but are friends. This isn't a friends-with-benefits-can-never-work-oops-we-fell-in-love story (not to disparage those, I love those) or a childhood-besties-secretly-pining-fell-in-love story (again, no disparagement, I extra love those): these are friends who love each other deeply, platonically and also physically, but not romantically. These are found family who love each other and care for each other and support each other in various ways without needing it to be romantic love.
And that's just not something you see represented much and I'm just kind of obsessed with this really lovely representation of how people can have familial love and platonic love and romantic love, and love can be emotional or purely physical, and the physical can be romantic or not, and all those things can be separate, or some of them can overlap and all those relationships are real and valid and can co-exist, though often not without complications, which the book handles beautifully. Philip loves Corvin and John and Guy, but he loves them differently. Similarly, the same physical act Philip might engage in with Corvin or John means something entirely different when he does the same thing with Guy. And all of that is okay. And I love it.
Band Sinister is charming and beautifully written and full of funny, witty things, but my favorite bit, my absolute favorite is Corvin saying to Philip, "Look at me." and Philip, after musing about how looking at Corvin is no hardship, says "What am I looking at?" and Corvin says "One who loves you." And then proceeds to have a meaningful conversation. But just the frankness of that is so lovely. The endearments they use with each other and the way they've completely shaped their lives around each other- Philip doesn't even have a cook, Corvin's just comes with them when they go to Philip's house, their valets are in what appears to be a monogamous romantic relationship. They all retreat to the country when John's latest satire requires getting away from London. It's just all kinds of lovely and I adore them. I'll admit, I kind of especially love Lord Corvin because I mean, who could possibly not when he is so super lovely and ridiculous and says things like, "Sarcastic allusion is my preferred mode of speech" and, "I like your prick, but I can do without it. I need your friendship."
My love of The Murder, hilarious gothic parodies, lovely and purposeful Jewish representation that actually deals with the issue of interfaith relationships with historical accuracy aside... there is a slight problem with in Band Sinister... which is a dearth of food. There is restorative beef broth and meals- breakfast and tea and dinner and sometimes there are descriptions but more about the conversation or longing looks than descriptions that make your mouth water.
What there is, though, is Sir. Philip Rookwood's plans to create a domestic British sugar industry by growing Silesian white beetroot to reduce the country's reliance on cane sugar which was grown and processed by use of slave labor, and which was also prohibitively expensive which makes it rather antithetical to The Murder's progressive political and social views. This, of course, was the second research rabbit hole, the results of which were better written before I accidentally deleted my prior draft, but the crux of it is Philip starts this in Band Sinister a little bit ahead of the times, but England really did develop a domestic sugar industry using white beets and what I didn't know, and I'm guessing you didn't either, is that about half the sugar consumed in either the U.S. or U.K. is actually beet sugar.
For this recipe, I specifically bought organic beet sugar because I wanted no doubt that what I was buying was beet sugar, which is kind of hilarious because I am perfectly well aware that it's just up-marketing the stuff that's usually cheaper. Basically, the way I see it, to get to 50% of U.S. sugar consumption being beet sugar, anytime you're buying sugar in the U.S. that doesn't explicitly say "CANE SUGAR" is probably beet sugar. The only big brand that I've seen that actually says its beet sugar is Pioneer (which I couldn't find so I went with the up-marketed stuff from Whole Foods.) In the U.K. it's easier because while lots of domestic farmers grow white beets for the purpose of making sugar, there is only ONE COMPANY that owns all the factories in the U.K. that turn those beets into sugar. It's called British Sugar, and if you're British you can probably tell me whether that is like, known, or what and how often you see British Sugar on the shelves, but anyway they apparently have a monopoly on the sugar game in the U.K.
Anyway, as I decided to make a recipe specifically with beet sugar for my Band Sinister blog, I decided to do sugar cookies, because what could better show off sugar?
Now, having deleted my post I'm trying to remember which recipes I used because I put that nonsense in here first to keep track. I am *pretty sure* I used this recipe from Molly Yeh for the cookies, because hers are adorable and beet-shaped, with some minor alterations for the cookies. Most notably mine were not shaped like beets but instead were inspired by my own silly Band Sinister fan art, which I mostly did on printer paper while frustrated during a collective bargaining session (sorrynotsorry) and then cut and pasted into my planner, like the one above, and these:
Get it? I really went all in on the bird puns.
|You know this one is V cuz of the red (not russet) feathers.
With that out of the way... let's get to the actual purpose of this post:
BEET SUGAR COOKIES
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup BEET sugar (THIS IS THE WHOLE POINT, REMEMBER)
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp almond extract (this is like, chef's kiss, perfection, really really lovely, if you (like me) love almond extract)
- 1 large egg
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or a large bowl with hand mixer), beat together the butter and sugar on medium high until pale and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Don't rush this!
- Reduce the speed to medium and add the extracts and egg and mix to combine. Don't over-mix this!
- Reduce the speed to low and then gradually add the dry ingredients and mix to combine. Again, don't over-mix this.
- Dump the dough out onto a clean work surface and give it a few kneads to bring it all together. divide it in half, wrap each half of it plastic wrap, and refrigerate for AT LEAST least 30 minutes (you can do it the day before if you plan out your baking).
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- Make your own cookie stencils (below!)
- On a clean, lightly floured surface, roll cookies to about a quarter inch using a floured rolling pin, cut, and carefully transfer to parchment lined baking sheets.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes (depending on cookie size) until lightly golden around the edges.
- Let cool about 5 minutes on the baking sheet before removing to a cooling rack to cool completely (I am impatient and broke a few by not waiting long enough)
- While cookies cool, make icing. Then decorate (ideally better than we did but ya know, we all have to start somewhere).
MAKE YOUR OWN COOKIE STENCILS!
I was thinking of buying like, crow and/or raven cookie cutters but my friend was like, uhm, you draw... I draw... why wouldn't we just draw them on parchment paper and make our own?
So we did.
I went with crows, ravens, a little non-specific bird that (in my mind) represents Guy, the gallows tree, fossilized trilobites, a canvas with John's portrait of The Murder, and some hearts cuz like, I had heart shaped cookie dough and was getting tired.
You'll notice, if you're paying more attention than any of you did to my secret Alligator Loki hidden amongst Rosaline's Pineapple Cookies, you'll see that my lovely friend who has the WORST sense of humor made extra punny "Crowba Fett" cookies. I begged him not to but whatever, it's just my house, my ingredients, my kitchen, my blog...
For the icing I wanted a recipe that didn't call for powdered/icing sugar though, because I wanted only to use my over-priced organic beet sugar and I didn't feel like scratching up my food processor to make it into powdered sugar, so I used this recipe. I had some issues with the consistency and with getting the colors I wanted, though it was DELICIOUS.
- 454 grams granulated sugar
- 4 large egg whites
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Splash of vanilla and/or almond extract (this wasn't in the recipe, totally optional, I'm definitely not pretending I measure it out, but if you're going to try and make black icing, like I did, you'll want more flavor than just sugar to balance out that weird aftertaste you get from food coloring.)
- Place the sugar in a high-powered blender. Blend until it is super fine, about 1 minute.
- Combine the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
- Beat on low speed until smooth, then, still on low speed, SLOWLY stream in the sugar.
- Once all of the sugar has been incorporated, increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until it's all shiny and frosting-looking, about 4 minutes. (Mine definitely needed longer) You can add water or extracts or rum if you need to thin it out, but be careful you don't over-thin and then need to over correct (not that I would ever do such a thing. Surely not.)
- To color the icing, divide the icing between small bowls. Add gel-based food coloring to each portion of icing and stir well to combine. Start with only a drop or two of each color, adding more as desired.
NOTE: if you want to make BLACK icing, you need A LOT OF BLACK FOOD DYE. I used up my black gel and it was still grey and so I added like, purple and blue and red and tried to just like, make it darker and darker until it was black and it did eventually get black, but then it tasted kind of like food coloring so I added more extract and then it needed more sugar because it was too liquid and you get where i'm going with this? So, a little frosting at a time, a lot of color and some extra extract, and just like, keep going until you're happy with it? Mine was too liquid-y which you will absolutely see in my decorating, and I added more something or other to the white frosting which meant some of it just like.... did not dry. It was marshmallowy and delicious but I had wanted to like, paint on it and like, have it not stick to other cookies in transit and... well... that worked less well.