What got you into cookie decorating?
My mom and I have collaborated on cookie projects for years.
Frosted sugar cookies are a classic Christmas tradition in my family (like many others!). From the beginning, I embraced it: rolling out dough, selecting shapes, working elbows deep in flour, covering each cookie with a little lake of frosting, and placing sprinkles precisely where I wanted them. And even when they looked bad, they tasted like buttery-sweet heaven. What’s not to love?
Once, someone gave my mom a Halloween cookie with frosting that had been piped with a piping bag and tip rather than spread clumsily with a knife. It was a detailed design with three different colors and we were impressed. My mom and I thought, “We could do that.” We had the supplies, the recipe and were only a few YouTube videos away from sinking into cookie world.
Our first big project was part of a fundraiser for a family friend with breast cancer. We made dozens of ribbon cookies with pink royal icing. Some had tiny, hand-piped messages of thanks. People were delighted by them and I think it’s that kind of response that motivated us to keep going. We have created cookies for themed parties, baby and bridal showers, graduations, birthday parties, and of course, holidays.
What is the favorite cookie you’ve ever decorated?
One. You want me to pick just one cookie?
This is cheesy, I know. I got married last July and my mom and I made cookies for all of our reception guests. We didn’t count the sticks of butter or the hours it took to finish it all, but there were many. After a day and a half of piping flourishes onto cookies, I made one for Casey. While it’s not as clever as the margarita glasses with sugar rim cookies or elegant as an all-white wedding dress cookie, it was a privilege to give him something homemade with love. Plus, he’s my biggest fan and offers to taste-test for me. Win-win.
How is decorating cookies like graphic design?
- Both are creative processes. Every step involves small decisions that contribute to a complete end product. There’s also a lot of ongoing incremental refinement to the process. In cookie world, we’ve edited the sugar cookie recipe so it holds its shape during baking and still tastes good. I’ve tried most types of cookie cutters available and have learned that metal work the best.
- Principals of design matter. What makes something beautiful and functional? Contrast, color, balance, rhythm, etc.
- The process is messy! The kitchen, my desktop, even my Illustrator pasteboard can be a mess in the middle of a project.
- In every batch there’s a sad failure. Broken cookies, poor quality photos, a botched idea. Mistakes happen and it’s part of learning and getting to a great final product. (Note: Cookie mistakes are tastier than design ones.)
- Beauty and function work together. A brochure about cataracts can look great and incorporate interesting images and illustrations, but the true test is when it’s in the hands of a patient, learning about cataract surgery. Cookies are the same. I’ve been told “It’s too pretty to eat!” which is beyond flattering, but the cookie’s real purpose is to be eaten. And to be delicious.
- It’s about people. I love being able to bring something beautiful into someone’s day or help them do so for others.
How is it different?
- Ctrl+Z (the shortcut for delete) is so helpful in design work. It does not, however, translate to spilling an entire bottle of sprinkles. Physical mistakes cannot be undone.
- Iteration is much faster in digital design. With a few clicks, I can try out options before making a decision. Cookies take much, much longer.
- Cookies have a clear purpose: look good, taste great. As a graphic designer, someone poses a problem and I have to design the solution. For example, the problem might be that potential LASIK patients are dissuaded by the cost of surgery. The solution might look like a brochure, a digital campaign about HSAs or a video testimony from a patient who thinks LASIK was totally worth it. I have not yet pursued cookie decoration with the intent to educate, but perhaps I’ll give it a shot.
- Cookies are perishable; design may last long after the project is complete. The lasting power of a logo or video that hits the mark might make the difference for a client. Because of that, the work we do has to be good.