Does a valentine cookie have to be red and pink? My intern answered that question this week by creating a stunning set of valentine cookies. First, let me introduce you to my beautiful intern. Her name is Hayley. After high school, she took a year off of school to go on a missions trip to Costa Rica. While she was in Costa Rica, she served as an assistant to a pastor’s family. When she came back, she asked if she could intern for me. I was at a point where I desperately needed help, and was so grateful that she would want to work for me. Today is one of those proud mama kind of days. I knew Hayley’s cookies would be great, but she exceeded the expectations that I had for her. Over the past six months, Hayley has washed countless dishes, prepped hundreds of bakery boxes, prepared countless recipes and rolled out too many cookies to count. She has many of the basics down pat. I thought with the dawn of the new year, it was time to let her spread her wings a little.
Can I tell you what a blessing January is? We desperately needed some down time. November and December were a zoo. I am not complaining. I am so grateful for all the orders we had. But every now and again, you need a break. It helps refresh creativity. Now is the perfect time to try new things and practice new ideas. I commissioned Hayley to create her own valentine cookie set. No mama bird looking over her shoulder.
Challenge: Create a valentine cookie set from scratch. For the valentine cookie set, she had to choose her color palette, cookies cutters, and designs all on her own. The only rule she had to follow was to keep it simple.
I must say I giggled a little when she decided she wanted to do chevron, stripes, and thin wording all in her first set. Originally, she wanted to do six colors but I suggested limiting it to four. This was going to be a perfect challenge for her to learn what goes into these different patterns and just how long the process takes. Hayley got to learn that there is flood icing, pattern icing, and writing icing. These are all things you must think about when you are creating a set and do you have that kind of time to put into them. It also helped me explain why we do the things we do in our bakery. The more colors and complexity you add to a set of cookies the more time it takes, thus driving the cost of a dozen cookies.
I get emails all the time from people who read the blog who say “I wish I could decorate cookies like that.” You can. Trust me you can. If I can do it, anyone can. My son just said to me yesterday, I would have never pictured you as a decorator. It takes practice, lots of reading, asking questions and more practice. The cookies you often see me create did not happen over night. If you ever want to have fun, go to my custom cookies link. Scroll to the bottom of the picture gallery and then scroll up. You can see that my cookies have improved. It is a skill that does not just happen over night. It comes with lots of practice and time. My first cookies did not look even close to Hayley’s valentine cookie set. Want to see something interesting? The cookies below were the second set of cookies I had ever done and they were a present for Hayley’s graduation from high school.
Here they are. Rippled icing. Funny looking bow. Off-centered circles. The point of me showing you my cookies is not for me to nit pick them. It is to encourage you in your journey. When I gave these cookies to Hayley, she loved them. I still remember her face lighting up. If your cookies do not look like they could be hung in a museum, don’t SWEAT IT!!! They are cookies. People eat them. Just enjoy the process. Look at all the things you did right. When I first learned how to do cookies I did not know anyone else who made cookies. All I could do was read. There was no one to talk to. No one to bounce ideas off of. No one that I could ask questions about wonky icing. No one to explain to me that there are different consistencies of royal icing. No one to tell me, um, your wrist is going to fall off sister if you try to pipe stiff icing out of a No. 1 tip. One of the best parts about watching Hayley do her first set was seeing her put the things that she has learned and watched over the past couple of months into practice. It helps having a teacher. I learned so many things about decorating the hard way. She got the benefit of learning from someone who fell on her face a hundred times.
Life is risky. Life is not always picture perfect. Be willing to take a risk. Be willing to lose sight of the shore and try something new. Even if it does not look or taste perfect the first time. There is a saying that has always inspired me:
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. -Thomas Edison
Aren’t you glad Thomas Edison didn’t give up or graduate high school? If your cake comes out lopsided or your flood icing cracks: don’t give up. The great part about cookies coming out funny is they still taste great! Enjoy them. Have an adventurer’s spirit. Try to figure out what went wrong. Try to learn from it and keep experimenting.
I will leave you with these few thoughts from a beginning baker. I asked Hayley to write about what she learned in the process. Here is the wisdom of what she would like to impart to you:
Little details can make or break the execution of your cookie.
- More than half the battle of decorating these cookies was prepping and mixing colors
- When writing on cookies choose a bold and bigger font when starting out
- I learned to use the projector for the first time. If you pipe directly on to the cookie it can be awkward when trying to learn how to pipe at the same time. Even though it takes longer I outlined my writing first with an edible marker. This gave me more freedom to move the cookie around as I decorated.
- If I could do my cookie set over again I would rethink my color palette and resize my font
- Freezing rectangles for at least 8 hours before cooking helps them keep their proper shape
Have a wonderful week! Happy baking!