Live Chat with Samantha Yacovetta (aka Aproned Artist)

Hi, Samantha! It's so wonderful to have you here as a guest in our Rising Star chat series. I've been watching your work with great admiration ever since you started posting last year!
Good morning to everyone joining us as well! I encourage everyone to jump in with questions. These chats are always more fun and informative when people don't hang back on the sidelines!
Though . . . before we dive into Q&A, just a few housekeeping notes for newbies to our chats: questions are answered in the order received, but they will not post to the public/viewable area of the chat until Samantha reads and answers them. We'll work through questions that were logged in advance first; then start working on questions asked live during the chat. That said, please be patient and do not re-post the same question. It may take some time to answer your question, depending on where it sits in the queue. But I will personally make sure every question gets answered before we're through!
Also, please just ask one question at a time (per post); it's easier for our guests to keep up and others to read the chat transcript if they're not hit with too many questions at once. Thanks!
To kick off the chat, I'd like to share some of Samantha's cookie photos so you can get familiarized with her work. My hope is that they'll also stimulate some questions about her techniques!
Here's one of my faves from Samantha's portfolio:
Here's another super fun one:
And some other elegant beauties that display Samantha's wide-ranging style:
Thank you for having me, Julia. I am so honored to be included in this series! And many thanks to my fellow cookiers for all your support and positive feedback. Since I joined this site, I have been absolutely blown away by the generosity and kindness of the cookie community.
Sorry for the delay; needed to make a few adjustments to my monitor. Back now!
We're onto live questions; I've got a couple from Manu.
Hi, Samantha! Your "Woodland Christmast" set is amazing. So many colors and I loved the way you have used the wet-on-wet to make the background of each cookie. The "broccoli" cookie was a great idea and the title, "New Year's Resolution", was just great.
I agree! Love both of those cookies.
I read on your site that you suggest to look at the gallery for inspiration and then there is the chance to craft a custom design together. How did it work so far? Did you have interesting input from your customers? Is this something that helps to create new design or is it time consuming?
Hi Manu! I have never used so many colors as I did in that Christmas set. I think it took over an hour to make them because I was really trying to stay true to the original artist's work. I hate making colors, to be honest. But the decoration part was super fun.
I hate mixing colors too!
I do try to work with my customers to come up with a custom design. It's time consuming but together we come up with things that I never would have thought of on my own. And I find that it makes for much more sentimental and personalized keepsakes.
Once you answer Manu's question, I've got a few for you, but others should please chime in too. Thanks!
Do you charge for that additional time custom-designing? And, if so, how?
I don't charge for it. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about cookies. People could never afford it.
A question about your "Woodland Christmas" set. I read you asked permission to the artist, Elisandra, as it is a copyrighted design. How did it go? Did you ask her to use her design or did you made the cookies and sent a picture to her asking permission to post them? Was it a long process? I saw she has posted your cookies on her IG feed and I read her enthusiastic comment.
Sorry for the spelling mistakes....
I didn't see any, Manu!
It was a little difficult tracking down the original source, especially since she had numerous names. I started a conversation with her (once I was fairly certain it was her) on etsy. She was incredibly receptive. When I posted the photo of the cookies on facebook I linked back to her site thanking her. I think it was a win-win for both of us in terms of generating interest.
Thanks for that story. It's a shame to me that so many people don't cite their sources, when it's relatively easy to do and, as you said, generally win-win for all.
Hi! For your stunning picnic set, were the foods all RI transfers? Or mixed media of some sort?
Welcome, Washi! Don't think we've met!
It was all royal icing and "paint". I actually didn't attach the little bits and every little girl who comes over to my house repositions them like they might in a dollhouse.
First-timer!
I asked because I thought it was interesting for fellow cookiers here to see how easy it could be. I had the same nice experience.
Thanks, Manu!
So, before we go on, can I ask how long you've been cookie decorating and how or what got you started?
I've been decorating cookies since 2013, I think. I was working at a bakery and a customer came in asking for princess themed cookies, armed with pics of someone else's cookies (Sugarbelle, I think). I'd never seen anything like it, but I was really excited to try.
And if you have an art background?
No formal art (or culinary) training. My father was an artist and I always figured I got skipped on that gene. It took cookies to make art approachable for me.
So how did you go about developing and honing your cookie skills in that short period of time? Any resources or approaches you would recommend to beginners?
Hi, Pamella! Just got your question. It will be the next one that I post.
BTW, here's that broccoli image by Samantha that Manu mentioned earlier.
There are so many free resources out there. I looked at a ton of cookies, watched a lot of videos, and just dove in. I didn't have much time to figure it out - my boss had already committed to those princess cookies.
And another fun baby set that Samantha posted this past week.
I'm a brand new cookier...really new... what is the best way to learn techniques when there are no classes nearby? I just decided to teach myself but also realized I need help
January was a really hard time for us to sell any baked goods at the bakery. I made the broccoli cookies as a joke, but they were a hit.
There are a ton of blogs with great information. And usually one blog will link to other blogs. The biggest thing is to keep trying. Don't be afraid to fail
We have lots of great tutorials and forum posts here on Cookie Connection too, Pamella. I encourage you to check them out.
So, Samantha, you've mentioned a couple of bakeries . . .
The one where you started in 2013 and the one you just mentioned where you made the broccoli cookies.
It was one and the same bakery.
Are they the same bakery? Or have you opened your own shop?
I've transitioned to a CFO as of 2016.
So tell us how you manage being CFO of the bakery and also decorating for them? How does that work on a daily basis?
congrats
The bakery actually closed, unfortunately, hence my transition. I live in silicon valley and the rent here is insane. The owners of the bakery where I worked struggled from the start.
Selling cookies from a strorefront is a lot easier. Foot traffic is great and people are much more willing to plunk down a few dollars for a single cookie. But there were drawbacks too.
Everyone wanted to touch the cookies so many were dropped or broken.
So you are CFO of another type of business? What is that? And how then does cookie decorating fit into your life? Are you selling cookies out of your home now? How many cookies on average per week do you sell?
And also personally deliver the cookies in your area as I read in your site!
Sorry, I meant CFO as in cottage food operation. Cookies is all that I do. I generally have a few orders a month, but it's really feast or famine.
I do deliver because I don't generally want strangers coming to my house.
Thanks for the clarification - I thought you meant Chief Financial Officer, though now I understand.
Can you tell us about the hoops you had to go through to start your cottage food operation in Santa Clara, CA. Any advice to people wanting to do the same thing?
please explain meaning of cottage food operation?
Cottage food operation means I'm authorized by the county to sell cookies out of my home.
Yes, please explain cottage food operation for everyone, as it may not be a familiar term for all, and particularly the requirements that your county puts on you to operate that way.
There was a really helpful guide posted on this site, I think, from a woman in San Jose (which is where I live.) She outlined every step and I followed it exactly.
Sue, Not all states/counties in the US have the same cottage food laws, so, for instance, in Missouri, we were not allowed to do this when I had my shop. Thus, I had to find commercial space.
The county sends out health inspectors once a year. I can only make certain foods (anything with meat or anything that is perishable is off limits.) And I have to have my recipes pre-approved by them.
Yes, there is a guide here on the site. I just wanted to better understand any personal challenges you might have experienced in establishing yours. Any? Any tips for others?
thank you -
And I'm not allowed to ship cookies or sell outside of the county.
same here outside of Chicago, IL
My experience went pretty smoothly. There was a fair amount of waiting in line, but otherwise it went off without a hitch. I'm pretty familiar with what the health inspectors expect to see so I knew how to outfit my kitchen with thermometers, sanitizer, etc.
The rationale for not allowing CFOs in my area is because the Department of Health cannot do unscheduled inspections. They like the element of surprise to keep operators on their toes, and I think there's something to that. Not knowing when an inspector will show up creates a higher level of discipline with food safety and sanitation, I think.
How do you create indentations in your piping, like the slits on the baguette? The realism is uncanny!
I agree, although I've found the health inspectors that come to my house to be far more thorough than the ones that came unscheduled to the bakery.
For the baguette, I piped a tube in pretty stiff icing. Then I took a damp paintbrush to make the indentations.
I think the quality of inspection depends on the actual inspector - I had several over the course of 10 years in my bakery, and they all seemed to have slightly different standards.
How did you come up with your cookie recipe and royal icing recipe?
I tried a LOT of recipes. Once I found one that I was pretty happy with, I just tweaked little elements. I added corn syrup to make the icing softer, vanilla for flavor, etc.
Recently another Cookie Connection member posted to our forums, saying that California CFO regulations in her area would not allow her to use meringue powder in her icing.
I thought this was crazy since meringue powder is a safeguard against salmonella. Did you encounter the same issue with meringue powder in your recipes?
The health inspector told me the same thing last time they came out. But I was "grandfathered" in, meaning because I got started before they made that regulation they allowed me to continue.
why would meringue powder not be allowed?
I don't know what I would do without meringue powder.
I have no idea, really. I would think that all bacteria would be killed in the process of dehydrating it.
And approximate cost to obtain a CFO license where available ? I realize it varies by location.
I don't understand why they're not allowing it. The health inspector didn't seem to either.
Just posted a question from Washi, above, in case you didn't see it.
My CFO license is $650 a year I think. But that's for a license that allows me to sell at local bakeries. You can get a cheaper license to only sell from home for $250 I think.
Typical response from health inspector - so much bureaucracy involved in setting up a food service business - or at least that's my experience. I have horror stories of double taxation, runarounds for licensing and permits, you name it.
I'm interested to know what tools you used to get such sharp precision in those woodland creatures and what consistency royal icing you used to create them. I just made a bunch of Super Bowl cookies and used 15-second consistency icing. I was not happy that the filled areas looked sort of lumpy. Also, I used a dehydrator for the first time and was wondering if that might have caused some of that problem.
I used 12 second icing for the flood. 20 second icing for the animals. Plus stiff icing for some of the details. I used my scribe tool for shaping and for some of the small details. The pinecones, for example, I just squeezed some icing on the tip of my scribe and "drew" it on to the cookie. I've never used a dehydrator. I always worry about it drying out the cookies.
And you do sell also to local bakeries?
I just checked it out and it was said on Facebook that once the meringue powder becomes liquid it then becomes an egg product. That to me is nuts since I doubt there's any bacteria in that powder.
That's my plan. I haven't convinced any bakeries yet to carry my cookies. I'm painfully shy so it's difficult for me to sell myself. But I know from experience that cookies generate sales of other goods. People come back every week just to see the new designs.
Right, but the salmonella (which is the primary concern with raw eggs) is not introduced in the kitchen. Other bacteria could be, but that would also be the case with any other uncooked food product. Plus, the high sugar content in icing suppresses bacterial growth. The meringue powder rule seems like overkill to me, especially as it is allowed in commercial bakeries who are at greater risk of reaching more people with contaminated product.
You are truly talented and an artist indeed! Was the woodland set freehanded or you had to work with an image projected on (KK or Pico)? Or maybe you pre-etched guidelines? Everything looked piped on - no transfers, is that right?
I like a crispier cookie and I noticed the dehydrator helps with that.
For those not familiar with KK, Washi is referring to a Kopykake projector that is often used to project images onto cookies so that they can then be traced with icing.
Thank you! I had images from the original artist that I projected. I was really trying to do her artwork justice. I rarely freehand (it doesn't usually go well for me to improvise.) Usually, I will draw on paper and then project on to the cookie.
Let's spell out acronyms when we can. I speak from personal experience (directly above) that they can be confusing!
I had a KopyKake and hated it. Maybe mine never worked properly. It was expensive and difficult to resize and the image was really dim. Now I use a pico projector. I think that's what it's called.
Two questions coming up, both related to the profitability of selling cookies wholesale (to other bakeries) . . .
I think it would be difficult to sell to bakeries for you both to make money. There is only so much you can discount your cookies to make it profitable for the bakery too.
It's hard for me to imagine anyone turning you down. Do you think they just don't feel they can make enough profit selling them?
I agree with you, Julia. I sometimes think those who are in control don't always used good common sense. After all, look what goes on in our government. hahaha
Don't get me started on politics, Rebecca. Huge hot button for me right now!
I agree, it's difficult to be profitable. However, most bakery goods have a pretty small margin. All they would have to do it display the cookies, so anything would be profit.
Just as a frame of reference, I started my bakery selling plated desserts to restaurants on wholesale basis. I quickly learned that it was extremely difficult to cover my time in those desserts at the wholesale price that restaurants were used to getting on mass-produced desserts . . .
By the end of my shop tenure, all I did was custom-made wedding cakes because they have the highest margin.
I think bakeries are nervous about the home baking. And they also don't want your cookies to sell instead of one of their other products. However, like I said earlier, the cookies generate sales of other goods. People might come in to see the latest design but buy a croissant and a coffee since they're already there. That was my previous experience.
But why would they give up scarce display space for something they can't make much money on?
Good question - there are opportunity costs associated with doing that, I think.
The cookies are eye-catching. They draw people in and create chatter.
True on that!
I'm going to extend the chat a few minutes for we can get the last 4 questions answered. Hold on.
Have the bakeries tasted your cookies and seen your designs?
And they are bagged so they can fit in places that unpackaged goods might not. On top of a refrigerator case for example.
I generally go in with previously decorated cookies and fresh samples. But it's like cold-calling. People seem somewhat taken aback by the idea.
So maybe worth it to the bakery to sell others' cookies, but I still question whether it's worth it to the baker to sell highly decorated cookies wholesale. There's so much labor in them, and, from what I've seen of retail pricing here, the wholesale price is unlikely to cover labor costs.
I agree. It makes me crazy when I see decorated cookies in food catalogs, though. They seem to sell relatively simple cookies for far more than I can.
I'm happy to see that though - it should be a signal to others to raise price!
Thank you for sharing a lot of the technique you have used. You also did in the comments to the baby shower set.
May I ask what is the range in pricing for your cookies?
I get a lot out of this site and I'm happy to give back in such an easy way.
Sometimes I'm not sure the profit should always be what the shops are after. I agree that getting the cookies in there to pique interest would be a general benefit to the shops. Just like coupons are for retail stores like Michael's. They bank on you coming there to buy something with that coupon but are banking on you also picking up other items at full price while you are there. That's good business practice. Having designer cookies in your shop window seems like a great way to help generate business in the shop - a terrific attraction shall we say.
Sorry, I think my comment is redundant at this point. Others have expressed the same opinion. We're almost out of time. Thanks for this chat. Your cookies are awesome.
I usually sell my cookies for $3 to $6 depending on the size and complexity.
I posted in anyway, Rebecca. Thought it was a valuable comment!
Would you mind sharing how much corn syrup you add to your royal icing?
I add half a tablespoon to my recipe (which has 3 oz of water and .5 kg powdered sugar, for reference.)
Posting a few comments while Samantha answers the above question.
I always thought a food truck would be ideal near a business complex or a university or school
I can imagine a bakery wanting 200 decorated cookies at a discount, in a short amount of time.
Women are notorious for undervaluing their talent/work.
Thanks, Julia.
I think an hour isn't enough time for all of us chit chatters. hahaha
Interesting idea. I live right in between two elementary schools. I should get a cart.
OK, I have three more questions in the queue. Let's give Samantha time to answer those three, if she has the time?
I need to sign off myself at 11:15 am, in 15 minutes.
Would you say the cookies you sell via your CFO (and at the bakery formerly) are greatly simplified v. the ones you've posted? I can't even imagine putting a price on the detailed ones and how much time you spent making them. That's what makes starting a cookie business most daunting for me - too simple is boring but you can make a bit of profit. Elaborate is exciting but who will pay?
I like the food truck idea. Just imagine how cute one could decorate that little truck.
You could do a "pop up" shop in the parking lot
Your cookies are beautiful -
Posted a few comments, though Washi had a question three posts up.
Near schools especially high schools would work. Kids that age usually have some allowance on them.
Darn, you probably need a license to do that as well. Spoil sports!!!
Some of the pictures I post are just for fun (like the woodland set or the picnic). They are definitely more complicated and time consuming. The broccoli cookies and the baby shower cookies I just posted were for sale though. They are simplified - slightly. The truth is I don't charge enough. I couldn't possibly. No one would buy them.
Yes, licensing for food trucks isn't always easy - and you need permits for locating them too.
Thank you, Sweet Sue.
I guess what I want to know is how does one sell their cookies successfully?
always check with your county as to what you need
I have one more question in the queue after the one above, and that will be our last.
I think I'm going to stick with just doing it for fun and sharing with friends. It's a hobby for me - no stress.
Some people seem to do it. Speed seems crucial. I'm slow. I don't make much money doing this. But I love it and I would do it anyway.
The one benefit of selling cookies for me is the customer input. They stretch me artistically.
Talk to Jill FCS. She's simplified designs to a certain extent and doesn't do custom work. Plus, she also sells other stuff in her shop to make it work. I personally think it's important to be diversified or to have a focus on a higher margin product, like wedding cakes.
Do you know for sure they are actually selling them? I wonder.
I think the above question related to whether bakeries were really selling the decorated cookies on their shelves, or just using them as a draw to other products?
Thank you Julia and Samantha!
Thank you for sharing, Samantha. You're an accomplished cookie artist.
I wish there were some way to impart to customers how much effort decorated cookies take so they would pay more appropriate prices. It pains me to hear us selling cookies for so cheap! Only fellow cookiers would pay more, LOL!
At the bakery, we sold out of every cookie I ever made.
Actually I was referring to the photos of cookies in magazines.
Ok, thanks for the clarification.
I agree, Washi!.
Thank you all for coming and listening to me ramble.
Yes, I think Eleni's Cookies in New York, which has been selling through an online catalog for a LONG time is probably making money or they wouldn't have been around so long.
They have dumbed down (simplified) their cookies a lot over time though, I think to make the price cover the high labor content.
How nice you discovered wherein your artistry lies. I'm sure your family is happy for you that you're carrying on the artistic nature inherent in your genes.
Other bakeries may consider you competition and prefer to sell their own.
I don't like making dumbed down cookies - takes all the fun out of it.
Hopefully, you tell this to any shops you approach that your cookies always sell out.
You didn't "ramble" enough Samantha
It was our pleasure. These chats are so much fun and very informative. I learn something new each time.
Interesting, Julia. I need to check out Eleni's Cookies to see what they look like.
I need to learn to type faster.
And that's all we've got in the queue. Thanks so much to Samantha for sharing her time and talents with us today. She did a wonderful job and I look forward to seeing many more of her cookies on the site.
Hahahaha
You are wonderful and I love how the cookie community is so willing to share their techniques and ideas to help us all grow! Julia's right. I think I have some pics of Elenis. Hold on.
I think that is the case, Sweet Sue. Although most bakeries around here seem to rarely make sugar cookies.
Thank you all!
Here's a link to Eleni's site: http://elenis.com They do a lot of mail order business.
Oops. The laughing referred to typing faster comment.
Thank you Samantha and Julia
Thank you, everyone, for jumping in and making this chat so lively! See you next time!
And this is pricing from 3 yrs ago!
Don't see the price on it. But chat is about to close!
This chat has ended.
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