Slowly, I twirled the cake on it’s turntable so I could inspect my work.
I thought to myself if this cake were to be enclosed in a time capsule and uncovered many years from now, it would still be identifiable. And without almost a single word.
The discoverers would see the candles and know it’s a birthday. The number and the name would tell them it was Olivia’s 9th.
They’d see cookies with white puffy pillows and a corner of the patterned covering downturned, which would tell them it’s some kind of bed.
They’d soon realize that ice cream sundaes were a part of the celebration.
And with all the sleeping bags punctuated by tiny little teddy bears, they’d soon realize that the little outfits were pajamas.
Then, they’d know, without so much as a whisper from me, that today was Olivia’s 9th birthday, and that she had a slumber party.
I snapped out of my little daydream, because it then struck me that it would, in fact, be terrible if this cake with all its cookies went into a time capsule.
Because then Olivia and her friends wouldn’t get to deconstruct and devour the cute chocolate cake layered with milk chocolate ganache. And they’d never realize the joy I took in making it and the many hundreds of other birthday cakes I’ve made over the years.
Happy 9th Birthday, Olivia.
Read More »
I don’t play golf. I don’t putt. I don’t drive balls or carts.
And, I certainly don’t watch golf, although I do get a chuckle out of hearing the analysts whisper their comments to the television viewing audience. I don’t listen to what they say, I just hear the whispering and wonder if they really think the players will be distracted if they speak normally, or scream when a player gets a bogey or an eagle.*
So, it’s not surprising, when golf is an element on the list for a biography cake (yes, I’m still bellyaching about that), that I take matters into my own hands, and twist it all up so that (a) the outcome is unexpected and (b) I’m entertained.
There are only so many cookies 8 inch and 6 inch round cakes can hold, no matter what the theme or subject matter is. On a biography cake, I start by assuming that all the elements are of equal priority, otherwise, they wouldn’t be on the list to make it to the cake. Then, how do I transform something into a cookie that will hold its own with the other cookies and tell the story, hieroglyphically speaking?
Back to golf. Golf clubs are problematic in that their handles are very thin. A cookie golf club is a cookie that’s destined to break easily. Balls are round and one dimensional.
And, don’t forget, the age of the birthday person is always depicted on the cake, too. If ever I needed a cookie caddy, it’s now. I do what I always do when I can’t think, when I’m failing, when I’m considering returning the deposit check. I search images and print them.
Suddenly, it dawns on me, and I figure out my way out of this sandtrap.
One set of cookies with two meanings aced it, don’t you think?
* I have no idea what these terms mean.Read More »
In the span of one week my projects can really run the gamut of subject matter. Even within one job, as I talked about in my last post, the images are so different from one another, that I barely had time to sit back and take a short breather after finishing one before moving on to another. I’m talking about starting off with rabbits being pulled from magic top hats (no photos due to time constraints), then onto chess pieces, running shoes, political party symbol, dogs and culminating with “The Titanic”.
Before you start thinking this project is about that movie, or that theme song, let me stop you. Not even close.
But these cookies are a gift to someone whose birthday happens to fall on the anniversary of R.M.S. Titanic’s maiden and only voyage. Someone whose avocation is that of a Titanic scholar. So, thankfully, there’s no mention of “I’m King of the World”, no blue glass necklace, no theme song that seemed to go on longer than that interminable movie, and lastly, no Billy Zane.
Every image I sent to the gift giver was rejected. Too juvenile, too cartoony. My heart didn’t go on, it sank. No matter how I do a cookie, it’s cartoony. It wasn’t the art that was being rejected, but the feeling. Instead of looking at sinking ships, I started looking at commemorative stamps. The direction and feeling is totally different. So I scribbled a little sketch and sent it off.
“That’s great, can you add an iceberg in there somewhere?
I started here:
Outlined in black. The ocean is turquoisey-teal with just a smidge of black to somber it up a bit. I’m using my boo boo stick swirl the lighter ‘highlight’ into the ocean. Blue sky (again, with a dab of black) went in after that.
Then, the fill in began.
Letters on, details finished.
The best news is that I’ll be doing another set next year for this occasion.
But I’m not listening to that damned song!
Read More »
will may make me very unpopular with those of you planning birthday cakes in the near future, but I’m willing to take that chance. Biography cakes give me a headache.
You know what biography cakes are, right? Cakes that are festooned with the birthday person’s favorite things in world, regardless of the fact that one image, invariably, has nothing whatsoever to do with any of the others. No connecting thread whatsoever, be it color, vegetable, animal or mineral. Oh, it’s wonderful for he or she who is being celebrated by all the friends and family familiar with what all the inside quirks and jokes. I’d probably love it, too, if I walked into a dark room suddenly coming alive with light and friends popping up screaming “SURPRISE”, and seeing a big cake celebrating me and my disdain for broccoli, my love of certain show tunes,tap dancing and, of course, Mitzi.
But for now, my eyes are crossed and are glazing over as I study this list before me. The beads of sweat spring up on my upper lip because my need for symmetry is not just being thwarted, but smashed to smithereens, and that makes me anxious, very anxious. Oh, the colors I’ll have to make, so many colors that aren’t a scheme or a palate, just colors. The joy I normally feel for my job is being sucked out of me before I even turn on the mixer.
I am not happy. There’s nothing here to keep me entertained for the time I have to invest in this project. And, if Mama ain’t entertained, NOBODY’S entertained.
And then, like a breakthrough after years in therapy, I look at my page of notes and have a breakthrough.
That’s right. Lobster roll. Apparently, the birthday boy is crazy about lobster rolls. What took me so long to think of this? I couldn’t see the rebus word puzzle right in front of my nose because I was so paralyzed with fear over how to make a cookie look like that iconic seafood salad in a buttered bun not look like sushi or something worse.
And so simple to do, too. With so many different ideas to get onto one cake, each cookie can’t be too detailed or involved, or else the party will be over with by the time I finish everything I need to do for this cake.
So, I found a nice image of a lobster and scaled it down to a size that would work on the cake. I cut it out and sketched what I think a hot dog bun would look with this lobster sunk into its middle. The cookie was cut and baked. With some red royal icing in a squeeze bottle fit with a No. 2 tip, and my rendering stuffed into my projector*, I started the cookie.
After a couple of hours drying time, I outlined the ‘roll’ with ivory icing, then filled the rest of the roll in with a toasty brown hot dog bun color.
After all that dried, I added a few lobstery details, such as the black outlining and a few ‘grilled bun marks’. These cookies are small and I want to make sure people can see them without having to nose up to the cake to figure out what they are.
Are they perfect? No, but they’ll make their point perfectly when they make this birthday boy and his guests smile.
*You didn’t think I was going to freehand this, I hope.
Read More »
Ever since Andrew Scrivani started his #PostNoBills series on Instagram, I’ve thought a lot about these signs, probably more than anyone should, truth be told.
They’re plastered on construction site walls where, presumably, they ward off poster-wielding rapscallions expert in the field of ‘glue and run’. But, in New York City , will said rapscallion actually take the time to read the sign, and mosey along to another blank wall that doesn’t have this slogan painted on in some fashion?
And, who, from the construction crew, actually paints the “Post No Bills” signs on their mostly blue, but sometimes black, green, ivory and rarely red backgrounds?*
Is this some kind of hazing ritual amongst work crews? Is this task assigned to the grunt, the newbie? Or is it a perk, earned by seniority status in the company?
Perhaps there’s an application process, where workers show off their best PNB skills to a panel of judges?
Does the job comply with union rules? OSHA?
When does PNB go up? At the beginning of the day, or at quitting time?
Who chooses the font?
Who chooses the application method? Spray? Paintbrush? Sharpie?
And, the most probing question of all, who has witnessed a PNB actually going up?
*Color usage noted by Andrew Scrivani himself
AtRead More »
The phone rang at about 6:45 pm on Monday night. I answered and heard a sweet, young woman’s voice asking if I could bang out a few cookies with a particular phrase on them. They didn’t have to be fancy; just a square or round cookie would do. And only 1 dozen were needed to be shipped out on Wednesday.
Normal cookie decorators would have said “fine”, and that would have been that. But, I’m not normal.
My hands were more than quite full at the time she called. I couldn’t concentrate on what I was doing and focus on our conversation, so I kept on talking to stall for time.
Me: “Hmmm. What’s the occasion for these cookies?”
Client: ”Our product beat the number one product in sales last week and we’re totally pumped about it.”
Me: ”Well, that IS something to celebrate! What’s your product?”
Before I knew it, I was talking about perfume bottle shapes and fonts and luster dusting. Something a little cartoon-y, a little more special than just a generic cookie shape with a congratulatory phrase on it. Something that the recipients would remember, the client and I would both remember. Something that would be more than a cookie-cutter-off-the-shelf product.
As I’ve said here before, I’m no genius. But by taking just a minute or two to shift my imagination into a higher gear, I designed a product that was particular to the client. Now when that client thinks about another gift of cookies, they’ll remember me every time they want to laud a sales performance, a special birthday, or for no particular reason at all.
So when I say I’m not a normal cookie decorator, I mean it.
And, incidentally, that translates to a bottom line that’s a bit more than normal, too.
Read More »
Instagram is my lullaby. I climb into my bed at night and begin scrolling through my stream while my eyelids get heavy with sleep. It’s like having a custom-made, techy bedtime story book. As I flick through the unending images of food, architecture, babies, cats and dogs, I never know what’s next in line to delight me, make me giggle, or just beg me to stop and see the beauty in an otherwise ordinary object.
So, a few months ago, when a series of professional food photographer Andrew Scrivani’s photos began to appear in his feed (and copied to twitter), I sat up and took notice. The series carries the hashtag #PostNoBills and the pictures posted are a complete departure from the images I normally expect to see from this ‘New York Times’ food photographer.
In no time I became obsessed with #PostNoBills. The concept is so simple: photos of boards, presumably at construction sites, plastered with those three words. Painted instructions, uniquely different from one to the next, depending on font, color and background texture of their canvases. These ubiquitous banners, which we pass by every day without so much as a glance or a nod, teach us that art is in everything around us, and it only takes one little movement, like this one, to open our eyes to that beauty.
One of the photos was so striking, that before I could even put the brakes on my fingers, I tweeted:
And, almost instantly, this came back:
While I piped away on Valentine’s Day orders, #PostNoBills kept photo-bombing my mind. Maybe I’d do one cookie, just as a goof. Making one cookie for a blog post? Eh…big deal. Maybe I’d do four or five. No, that’s it, either. Then, after a session in my think tank*, I had it.
A series. A series of #PostNoBills: The Cookie. Each post a riff on one of the photos where I show you different bell and cookie whistles, while I interpret the sign’s style. A tutorial series where I show you different piping and flooding tricks that you can use for any cookie design. There’s no right or wrong, it’s all about style and technique. Which is exactly what each #PostNoBills sign painter has done.
So, as the debut post, I thought it appropriate to begin with the above photo that propelled a tweet into a project. It’s called ’29th Street & 6th Ave’ after its location.
I began by flooding a square cookie with thick-ish (consistency of white glue) royal blue icing in a squeeze bottle fit with a No. 3 tip. Mine’s made with a few drops of royal Americolor gel and a few drops of Regal Purple. I wanted to go for that ‘denim-y’ blue color. Then I let it dry overnight.
With the background drying, I printed the sign’s photo. It’s very font-specific, and I want to make sure I do it justice. I didn’t want to drag out the KopyKake projector, which is what I use to ensure font continuity from cookie to cookie in big projects. I wanted to just make runouts or plaques, as I was taught. But there are a few fragile stems on some of the letters that would
probably undoubtedly break, so I shlepped out the projector.
Now, I could have just used the blue background as is, and applied the letters. But, upon closer examination the wood looked like blue was painted over ivory, and there’s even some black striating through. To do this, I fished a fan brush out of my tool drawer so I could lightly paint subtle ivory lines over the blue to mimic the grain of that particular board.
I dripped a scant drop of ivory into an even scanter drop of white gel color, and mixed it all up with some water for a washed effect. The lines aren’t 100% straight, but that’s the caffeines fault, not mine. It also always helps to have a backup cookie, especially when experimenting.
The cookie looked good, but since I was feeling cocky and artsy, I’m added another layer of striation, but this time, in black.
It worked! I didn’t paint complete lines, but just a few lines in the corners and a little in the middle. It’s all about adding a bit more depth.
Next, I added the ivory letters with a not too stiff ivory icing, using a projector. After letting them dry, and examining the photo again, I noticed some blue shading coming through the ivory, as well as even more pronounced wood grain. Since this cookie is fairly small, and the letters even smaller, I opted out of that, and was glad the thick icing itself gave an interesting textural attitude. The blue tinting, though, was a must. Haphazard dry brush petal dusting was the answer.
See? Just a few minor details gave this cookie it’s street cred. Yes, I know the ‘Bills” is a little crooked. I did that intentionally to give it a hurried effect, as though the stencil wasn’t straight.
Always remember there are no mistakes in art. Especially if you can eat it.
*shower, of course. Doesn’t everyone do their best thinking there?
Read More »
It started with an innocent tweet from my sweet friend, Barbara.
Just like those rapid-fire photo montages in movies, I started thinking about how many different typewriters I’ve used since I first walked into Mrs. Burke’s Typing 1 class in 1971. The room was filled with rows of desks holding up manual typewriters, save for the few coveted newly minted electric typewriters in the back of the class. We didn’t have auto correct. We didn’t have backspace/delete. We didn’t have White Out. We didn’t have correction tape, either the little slice you inserted typed on, or the ribbon version. No return key either, just a carriage return lever.
There were no inkjets, there was just an inked up ribbon that was inserted and threaded through so when a key was struck it would make an impression of that letter on the paper. And, we used carbon paper to make duplicates.
Memorizing the keyboard’s order so you never ever had to glance down to hunt for a letter and interrupt the clickety -clack sound that came out of the typewriter was music to me. A whole classroom of them was practically symphonic.
So, when my sweet friend, writer Lisa Adams told me she wanted to bring a little something to a workshop she was attending this weekend, I was thrilled we both thought of typewriters! And so this little sexy red number got cooki-fied.
You can hear the music, too, right?
Read More »
It’s rare* that I’m invited to the same swanky party that my cookies are attending, but it happened. The wonderfully funny and sweet Julie Klam was co-hosting a party to celebrate her dear friend Ann Leary’s new book, “The Good House“. Julie and I started as twitter friends, but now, just as she described in her latest book “Friendkeeping“, our friendship jumped offline and into real life. So, I RSVP’d yes.
Naturally, great minds think alike when it comes to these matters, so Julie and I immediately decided that the favor would be a house cookie mimicking the book’s cover illustration. Not a direct imitation, mind you, but an inspired one.
Normally, I’m kind of a ‘wing’ it cookie decorator. My mind’s eye substitutes for paper and pencil (not always a wise move, I might add), mostly because my sketching skills are so non-existant, I’d frighten my own self away from any cookies if I had to base them solely on my own drawings.
But, this time I really applied myself.
See the first x’d out drawing? Not that long ago I would have crumpled that sheet of paper with the single unappealing drawing, stormed out of my chair and pronounced myself and the project a complete failure. I now know that neither Rome nor a house cookie is built in a day.
So, with a more complete idea mapped out on paper, I cut out and baked the houses. An extra cookie was baked as a sacrifice to decorating experimentation. A sketch? An extra cookie? I practically broke my arm patting myself on the back for such a pragmatic action plan. Without enough uncut dough remaining on this sheet, I made two partial cookie cuts and melded them together on the baking sheet. See? Depending on the size of the cookie, as well as what parts of the cookie are put together, the cookie can be structurally sound enough not to end up in the reject pile. But not this time.
When constructing a real house, the walls go up before the windows can be installed. Not so here. Shmearing a thin coating of icing on the cookie to act as the shaded windows, I depended on my projector to insure that from one cookie to the next, the windows would be exactly the same. This is such a great technique from Callye, the undisputed cookie queen, for eyes or windows, as is the case here.
Windows installed, it’s time to put up the walls. I stirred up a creamy, buttery yellow and more than once, I thought of the brilliant paint color scene from that marvelous old movie, “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.” You have no idea how many times that scene replays in my brain when I talk about cookie colors with clients.
Walls are dry, details need to be added. First, I played on paper, mumbling to myself all the while that getting it right on the first try isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
In New England, where the story takes place, clapboard houses are pretty much the standard, as depicted in the illustration. I carefully piped on a few straight lines as a nod to that detail. Not too many as to make me or the ultimate cookie recipients dizzy, of course.
I thought about painting the lines a little to give them a more weathered look, but quickly decided that idea, frankly, stunk.
Cookies were finished, dried and all tied up with pretty ribbons in their cellophane bags. In other words, they were dressed up with someplace to go.
First, the cookies and I went to the reading at Barnes & Noble, with a reading from the book by the very accomplished actor (or actress, if you prefer gender specifics), Mary Beth Hurt. Ann Leary spoke, too, about how she came to write the book, and took questions from a packed house. She’s funny, whip smart and self-depricating, and I’m sure ‘suffers no fools’ (a characteristic she undoubtedly shares with the story’s main character).
Then it was off to the party to raise a glass to Ms. Leary! You know who was there? That’s right, one of my most favorite characters in NY, Mattie Smith Matthews . She and I obviously subscribe to the same fashion magazines, because we were dressed similarly in black tunics and leggings. And suprise, fellow ‘sweeties’ Jill Brack and Alejandra Ramos were there, too!
Here are Ann, Julie and Laura Zigman, otherwise known as the Hashhags. Do yourself a favor and listen to a podcast or two. The Hashags serve up platters of witty repartee on a regularly scheduled basis.
So much fun, so many more celebs in the same room, I felt like the AARP’s Cinderella in Uggs. And, like the endings to so many fairy tales, the clock struck 9:45 pm and it was time to say s’long, find my medallion’d carriage and call it a night.
But not before I show you these pix.
Currently, my copy of this book is in J’s hands. Every now and again, she raises her head and says “Oh boy, you are going to LOVE this book!”
Lisa Adams is a pushover for a cookie. And, she’s a great hugger and new dog owner.
Elizabeth Flock runs a close second to me in the race for who can be the most starstruck. Plus, she’s a riot.
Michael J. Fox, as cute as he is on TV, is downright handsome in person. Seriously.
Katie Holmes is a tall drink of water. And very very pretty.
*rare, as in never happens on this scale.
Read More »
“All You Need is Love” - John Lennon
“What The World Needs Now is Love” - Burt Bacharach
“Shower The People You Love With Love ” – James Taylor
“You see war is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate.” - Marvin Gaye
“Make Love Not War” - ’60s antiwar slogan
Last year at just about the same time, I told you that I wasn’t one of those creative bakers who put together beautiful gift sets for the holidays. That is, unless some really great inspiration hits me right between eyes.
Lucky for me it did, by way of an Instagram photo posted not too long ago by my friend, Sara Kate.
See my comment? I knew I had to lay claim to this vivid imagery right then and there . It’s practically the cookie equivalent of shouting from mountain tops, or a marriage proposal beamed across a jumbotron at a sporting event!
As I produce these little confections, I’ll be grinning from ear to ear as I think about spreading some good ol’ fashioned Age of Aquarius-smile on your brother -everybody love one another kind of sweetness. A political statement wrapped in cookies tucked inside a box, if you will.
We could all benefit from giving and receiving a little more love, don’t you think?
Love Bombs are available for a limited time only.
Shipping, of course, is extra.
Read More »