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There is amazing work being regularly posted on Cookie Connection, which makes my job of finding an interviewee super easy, but also incredibly hard . . . how do I choose just one a month?! You all are so incredibly talented! The talents in this installment are by Lisa Daniels of Gigi's Fresh Baked. We deconstruct the process and design of her vase and flower cookies, entitled The Early Years, which she entered in the first-ever Practice Bakes Perfect challenge. Check it out!
Melissa Joy: Lisa, thanks so much for letting me interview you today! When I first saw your entry in the Practice Bakes Perfect challenge, I was totally floored. I remember thinking, “Wait . . . is that vase a COOKIE?!” I know I wasn’t the only one who thought that! Before we break down exactly how you went about creating such a thing, could you tell us what inspired you to make a cookie vase for this particular project?
Lisa Daniels: Thank you so much for having me, Melissa. I love talking cookie, and what better place to do it! I have been asked over and over if the vase was really a cookie, and I’m proud to say the whole thing is edible! Since the challenge was a Mothers' Day theme, naturally I thought of flowers. With the inspiration pictures we were given, and wanting to incorporate as much pattern as I could without replicating each picture, my designs evolved into a 3-D vase of flowers and a family photo.
MJ: Let’s start with the first step in your process . . . how did you make the vase structure out of dough and was there a particular cookie recipe you used?
LD: If you had seen my first attempt, you would have had a good laugh! I didn’t have anything oven-safe to use as a mold, so I tried using a metal whisk (I wanted that entire shape) covered with foil . . . needless to say, it was a big FAIL! So I set out to find something that had the shape I wanted that was oven-safe, but it wasn’t easy. I finally found something I could use, which was a short, squat olive oil can with a handle and spout. Thankfully, my husband likes playing with power tools, and he "doctored" it by removing the handle and spout, splitting it in half, and soldering the parts that needed work. Before I knew it, my mold was made. I covered each half in my sugar cookie dough. I wasn’t sure it would be strong enough, like gingerbread would have been, but I wanted the whole entry to be sugar cookie.
MJ: Once the form was made, how in the world did you decorate it? Did you have any trouble because it was a rounded surface? I can only imagine that if I attempted this, my icing would most certainly run off! It seems like you started with a base coat . . .
LD: You are correct, icing a rounded surface wasn’t easy, almost laughable!
I used a very thick royal icing to "glue" the two pieces together. It was like wet plaster. Once the vase was dry, I iced the whole thing in a couple of layers of icing, and then "sanded" the vase using a microplaner, until it was smooth and as close to even as I could get it. The décor was tricky. Each area that I was going to decorate had to be iced section by section, to get the flood icing on without pooling, or worse, falling off! I’d make my outlines, and then fill a section (like each swirl) and rock it back and forth until it was dry. Fill, rock, repeat. Fill, rock, repeat. Let’s just say, this took a while!
MJ: The coral icing decorations have a lovely gloss to them; they really look like ceramic! How did you achieve that sheen?
LD: Thank you! That’s exactly what I was hoping to achieve. All I did was brush on corn syrup once the icing was dry. The corn syrup dries quickly and leaves a nice glossy finish without being sticky.
MJ: I have not had the best of luck with corn syrup, so I am glad it worked out for you! The swirl motif is so great. Can you tell us how you began to create it? Were the designs painted on or drawn with a food marker?
LD: As I said, I did use a fill icing for the areas on which I was going to put pattern. I wanted those areas to be the same level as the mosaic – so you’d get the impression of inlaid pattern and stone, then grouted. Once these areas were dry, I was able to handpaint the pattern on each swirl and circle. I don’t often use edible markers. I find I get finer detail by painting and, of course, I can get a wider range of colors.
MJ: How did you come up with the overall composition? Did you base the patterns off of the challenge images or were you influenced by another source?
LD: All of the patterns used on the vase came directly from the inspiration photos. I wanted to incorporate as much pattern as I could from each picture, since the vase was going to be my only other cookie, other than the handpainted photograph and stand. Of course, having grown up in the 70s, I had flashbacks of some of the crazy outfits my mother dressed me in. I think some of those patterns were on dresses in my closet!
MJ: I think those 70s patterns were on our wallpaper and countertops too! So, the vase is a cookie, but are its contents cookies as well? I just love the chocolate-looking spikes!
LD: You are correct. The vase and contents are all edible! The flowers, which are a combination of royal icing and fondant, are "glued" to a cookie base, which was covered on both sides with green royal icing. The leaves, which were designed from one of the inspiration photos, were hand-cut and iced on both sides, as well as the edges, so no matter how you turned the vase, each view was a finished view.
MJ: One final question for you, not necessarily related to this project, but one I like to ask of all my interviewees . . . what is your can’t-live-without baking or decorating tool?
LD: I’m sure you won’t get this answer from anyone else you ask, but I have a custom-made shelf, which my husband made, that was designed to fit over my Kopykake (KK). It allows me to keep all of my tools and icing at hand when space is limited. It’s also just high enough that I’m not hunched over when I decorate using my KK. Personally, I can’t sit when I decorate cookies. I have to stand and brace myself against the counter. It just feels better for me, but used to hurt my neck. Not anymore!
MJ: How wonderful! Though I can't imagine standing to decorate. I couldn't do it!
This amazing vase, along with the handpainted portrait cookie, really puts this set over the top. I am inspired to attempt a 3-D cookie in the future after seeing this, and your tips will surely help me do so! Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your process with us. I can’t wait to see what you will come up with next!
LD: Thank you so much for the compliment. It’s so much fun to try new things, and actually have them work out! I am still learning, and appreciate all the information I can find out in our cookie world. So if I’m able to help someone learn something new, that’s a huge accomplishment. Thank you again for having me!
Melissa Joy Lacasse has always had a passion for baking just about anything, but something clicked once she received a cookie decorating kit years ago. This pastime that started as holiday cookies for family and friends eventually turned into Melissa Joy Fanciful Cookies, a Facebook page, and most recently, the blog melissajoycookies.com. While Melissa enjoys the creative outlet that cookie decorating brings, she finds that sharing with others, whether via bakery box or virtually, is always the most rewarding part of her cookie journey.
Photo credit: Melissa Lacasse
Note: How DID You Do That? is a regular Cookie Connection blog feature, written by Melissa Lacasse, which reveals through in-depth interviews the inside scoop behind cookiers' unique designs and technique innovations. Its content expresses the views of the author and interviewee, and not necessarily those of this site, its owners, its administrators, or its employees. To catch up on all of Melissa's past posts, click here.