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A New Chapter for Our Challenges

 

Hi, everyone! If you've read the most recent Practice Bakes Perfect challenge recap, you know that our beloved host @Sweet Prodigy has decided to move on to bigger and better things. While I couldn't be more delighted about the work Christine (Dutcher) has done to develop and support these challenges over the last two years, I am just as delighted to see what she does with this new chapter in her cookie life. I wish her the best of luck with her endeavors, even though it's doubtful that she - with so much innate talent and skill - needs any luck from me.

I must confess, I was initially stunned when I learned of Christine's plans. A whole host of questions started darting around in my head, most of which fell under the general umbrella of, "Oh no, how can we carry on?" Or, "What good news can I give members after they've learned they've lost their Christine?" After some initial panic, I collected myself, sought advice from other site contributors, and thought carefully about the challenge feedback that came from you in this May 2021 survey and also more informally through this blog Q&A.

First, I want to thank former challenge host Christine (Donnelly), aka @Bakerloo Station, for helping to crystallize your feedback for me and actually suggesting the new form for our challenges that I am about to reveal to you. What she said to me made so much sense that I decided to act on it. But more on this in a bit . . . Second, I want to thank @Aproned Artist for being another great sounding board as I hashed through Christine's suggestions.

And, last but not least, I want to thank @Manu biscotti decorati for agreeing to step up to take on the role of host for our new challenges. She has been instrumental in helping with the conceptualization, re-branding (yes, we have a new logo!), and soooo many other details. And I know she will continue to be. She also has the video production skills, social media savvy, and cookie community credibility and connections that are essential for making these new challenges a success. I am so very grateful to have her by my side as we walk this new path and learn together. In many ways, we are challenging ourselves with this challenge reincarnation! (Also, no worries! Manu plans to continue with her monthly tutorials. ) Thank you, Manu, and welcome to this new and hopefully fun role! (For those of you who don't know Manu, you will very soon. In the meantime, check out her bio at the very end of this post.)

Why Change the Challenges At All?

Before I reveal the new format, I'd like to share some of the motivation behind this reengineering - just so you have an appreciation for where it's coming from. I have always felt that one of Cookie Connection's greatest strengths has been helping cookiers learn and grow, and the challenges have been the primary way we've fulfilled this mission. But after a successful run of 50 (!) Practice Bakes Perfect challenges, it was also clear to me that it was time for a makeover - not only to keep members engaged, but also future hosts and me. I have reviewed every challenge post and recap since 2014, and, to be truthful, this has gotten pretty humdrum for me. And, in the challenge's current form, the work of the challenge host is quite large. Bottom line: there needs to be more member engagement to justify this volunteer work. Christine Dutcher's departure certainly precipitated this change, but so too has your feedback, which brings me back to my conversation with Christine Donnelly.

That January day when we met on Zoom, Christine and I talked a lot about what you had said in various surveys. What we heard is that participation might be higher if the challenges were less restrictive and rules-heavy. Dense rules can be overwhelming to read, especially for our members whose native language is not English. Further, we creatives tend to be visual people, so reading a long blog post just to get started can be off-putting. Of course, people want to play and have fun while they learn, and the challenges seem competitive to some, particularly the recaps where entries are handpicked and highlighted by site contributors. Plus, those recaps take hosts a long time to pull together. Then, let's not forget that we are deep in the digital age, and people are now doing much of their learning through videos - much more than when these challenges first started eight years ago. Just a handful of cookiers were making videos then. Christine went on to describe the virtues of a live video training workshop she had recently taken and how she thought a challenge could be woven into that framework. And, thus, the seed was planted.

How Will the Challenges Change?

The upshot of all of this conferencing and brainstorming is a remodeled challenge series (with a logo!) that addresses all of your feedback, is much more interactive, is very exciting for me and Manu to develop, and promises (I hope) to be just as exciting for you. Mind you, not every detail has been worked out (hence, the vague dates in this post's cover image ). In fact, the kickoff session (maybe more) will be an experiment, using me as a guinea-pig first guest, to help us to fine-tune content and technical details.

First, a look at the new logo and a huge thank you to Liz Cox of Jukefox Graphics for working so quickly and expertly to bring it to fruition.

Cookie Connection Logo_FINAL-03-SMALLERBoth Manu and I wanted to preserve a connection to our Practice Bakes Perfect series' rich legacy (after all, we are basically just retooling an already great concept). So you'll see a nod to the old piping bag photo in a new graphical rendering, and we'll be picking up where Christine Dutcher left off with Challenge #51. To engage a broader international audience, Manu felt it was important to make a stronger link to Cookie Connection and to use more clear-cut language to describe the challenges ("Practice Bakes Perfect" was pretty mystifying to her when she first saw it years ago). I concurred, so the challenges have a new and very straightforward name ("Cookie Connection Challenges"), and the logo uses the interlocking "C"s and scrollwork also used in our site's existing logo. Lastly - though this wording is not finalized - "live expert series" is intended to convey that these challenges will be guided by experts through live video. Yes, video! No more reading of dense rules!

Second, an overview of the new challenge features. (Since this post is running long, I'll try to keep the features to short and snappy bullet points. As we get closer to launch time, Manu and I will have more details for you.)

  • Bimonthly as before (~six per year), but kicked off with video instruction by a cookie expert and a short blog post with the embedded video;
  • Hosted by Manu, whose primary roles will be setting the annual calendar, selecting topics and guests, making the videos with guests, and posting the challenge videos and a new form of recap;
  • Videos will focus on new or less common techniques, but ones that everyone from beginners to advanced decorators can tackle and learn from;
  • Techniques will be ones that rely on as few specialty tools as possible so that more people can join in;
  • The challenge will simply be to create a cookie set or cookie project of your choice that uses the technique in a focal way (entries must be original work as always, but otherwise you can largely create whatever you want);
  • As you are creating, the cookie expert will regularly check the associated challenge blog post to answer your questions so everyone gets the benefit of Q&A along the way;
  • In addition to posting an entry photo, entrants will be asked to describe what they did and how they overcame any challenges (as always, we want to encourage sharing so everyone learns and grows from each other); and
  • The recap will take the form of a typical Saturday Spotlight, meaning that those featured will be selected by the site's trending algorithms (determined by your collective likes, comments, and views) not by site contributors. Our hope in so doing is to still highlight incredible entrants and their hard work while removing the perceived competitive aspect of the current challenges. Writing this form of Spotlight will also require less time than the current commentary-rich posts. And . . .
  • Small prizes will still be awarded on a random basis, just because I like to give them out!

When Will the New Challenges Start?

Good question! Because this change requires a fair bit of technical sorting out (i.e., how do we film the videos? do we capture them live or prerecord them? where do they get hosted? etc.), we haven't yet set a firm start date. But since I will be the first guest (primarily to work out technical kinks before we invite other guests), I suspect it will launch at the end of June or possibly early July after my cookie art competition reopens on June 15. But you'll certainly know when, because we will be posting banners like the following one all over social media and this site well in advance!

Square CHallenge Flyer JU

Please note that nothing is cast in stone at this point, so Manu and I welcome your feedback and suggestions for improvement. We especially want to hear what topics you'd like to cover and which guests you'd like us to invite. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below or to message Manu privately. Of course, questions of any kind are welcome too. Last but not least, thanks for reading to the end of this post (phew!) and your patience as we sort out the remaining logistics in the next couple of months. And don't forget to read Manu's bio below if you still need to get to know her. Huge kudos and thank-you again to Manu!

Manuela Pezzopane, affectionately called Manu by her friends and family, is a fan of everything handmade, and professes to have tried every possible hobby. However, it wasn’t until the end of 2014, when an American friend invited her to a Christmas cookie exchange, that she first discovered decorated cookies. In 2015, after watching Julia M. Usher's videos and signing up on Cookie Connection, Manu finally attempted her own. Since then, cookie decorating has become Manu’s passion. You can follow Manu on Facebook and Instagram, or email her at manubiscottidecorati@gmail.com.

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  • Typical New Challenge Banner: Cookies and Photo by Julia M Usher; Logo and Graphic Design by Elizabeth Cox
  • Cookie Connection Challenge Logo: Logo by Elizabeth Cox
  • Typical New Challenge Event Flyer: Cookies and Photo by Julia M Usher; Logo and Graphic Design by Elizabeth Cox

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Comments (23)

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I already like the sound of the new challenges. Thank you Julia @Julia M. Usher. So glad to have Manu @Manu biscotti decorati on board on these challenges.

As much as I participated in these I could not but admire all the effort put in by Julia @@Julia M. Usher, Christine @Sweet Prodigy and all the judges who provide feedback on our work. I truly appreciate all the hard work. Thank you.

@Zeena posted:

I already like the sound of the new challenges. Thank you Julia @Julia M. Usher. So glad to have Manu @Manu biscotti decorati on board on these challenges.

As much as I participated in these I could not but admire all the effort put in by Julia @@Julia M. Usher, Christine @Sweet Prodigy and all the judges who provide feedback on our work. I truly appreciate all the hard work. Thank you.

Thank you, Zeena! We're fully expecting your complete participation in these new challenges!

Last edited by Julia M. Usher

This is exciting!  Sounds like a great new format!  I don't participate in challenges, but I always read the rules (to the very end) and enjoy looking at the entries!  You asked for feedback....As I looked at the new logo before finishing reading...the tagline "Live Expert Series" had me a bit confused.  Do we have to watch live?  Are experts competing? This is the first in a series of something else later?  I reread the sentences defining it a few times to figure out its meaning.  Of course now I should offer an alternative?  The point is that it's now video and different experts will be guiding it.    Hmmmmm.  "Video Series Lead by Experts"  (I used "series".  lol)  Maybe something about "techniques"?  "Guided by Technique Videos from Experts".  Too long?  Or even forget the "video" and "experts".....  Maybe .... "Watch, Learn, Create".  Something like that?  A second tag line could even be added.... "Videos from Experts Guide the Way".   I don't know.  Just thinking aloud. 

This is exciting!  Sounds like a great new format!  I don't participate in challenges, but I always read the rules (to the very end) and enjoy looking at the entries!  You asked for feedback....As I looked at the new logo before finishing reading...the tagline "Live Expert Series" had me a bit confused.  Do we have to watch live?  Are experts competing? This is the first in a series of something else later?  I reread the sentences defining it a few times to figure out its meaning.  Of course now I should offer an alternative?  The point is that it's now video and different experts will be guiding it.    Hmmmmm.  "Video Series Lead by Experts"  (I used "series".  lol)  Maybe something about "techniques"?  "Guided by Technique Videos from Experts".  Too long?  Or even forget the "video" and "experts".....  Maybe .... "Watch, Learn, Create".  Something like that?  A second tag line could even be added.... "Videos from Experts Guide the Way".   I don't know.  Just thinking aloud. 

Yes, I agree that it's not quite right . . .  Keep thinking - it needs to be something pithy. I want to fit it in that pink box. Though I think "Watch - Learn - Create" has a lot of potential!

Last edited by Julia M. Usher

Thank you, Julia @Julia M. Usher for this opportunity. I am thrilled!

I started my cookie journey in 2016 by being an active participant to the PBP challenges. I wasn’t, and I am not, a competitive person, and at that time baking a cookie that didn’t spread, or just flooding a cookie, was already a challenge itself. Even as a beginner I have never felt intimidated to participate because each blog post that announced a new challenge was truly inspiring. But what convinced me to participate every time and pushed me to bring my A game? These few words at the end of each blog post by former host Christine Donnelly @Bakerloo Station, of which I attach a photo:

7E80B656-7D5B-4A45-AFC1-70F78F4F0BFE

While participating to each challenge I learned to use many different media and learned many different techniques. Reading the comments and the tips shared under each entry has been enriching and a chance to connect with fellow cookiers from all over the world that soon became friends. Like in every challenge there was a prize given entirely random which I never won because I have never been the lucky drawn. The learning experience I brought home at the end of each challenge and the connections I made have been my prize.

So this was my experience as a participant.

As a new host I hope to be able to inspire you as the previous amazing hosts ( Rebecca Weld @RebeccArchitect, Christine Donnelly @Bakerloo Station, Christine Dutcher  @Sweet Prodigy) have been inspiring you (and me) in the the past challenges.

Manu 💙

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  • Christine Donnelly’S Inspiring Quote at thE End of Each PBP Blog Post
Last edited by Manu biscotti decorati

This sounds like an excellent format! I can't wait to see it come to fruition. I know @Manu biscotti decorati will do an excellent job at the helm!

Thank you so much for the wishes, Christine @Sweet Prodigy, You will be surely missed! 💙

@Zeena posted:

I already like the sound of the new challenges. Thank you Julia @Julia M. Usher. So glad to have Manu @Manu biscotti decorati on board on these challenges.

As much as I participated in these I could not but admire all the effort put in by Julia @@Julia M. Usher, Christine @Sweet Prodigy and all the judges who provide feedback on our work. I truly appreciate all the hard work. Thank you.

Thank you, Zeena @Zeena, can’t wait to see your entries! 💙

This is exciting!  Sounds like a great new format!  I don't participate in challenges, but I always read the rules (to the very end) and enjoy looking at the entries!  You asked for feedback....As I looked at the new logo before finishing reading...the tagline "Live Expert Series" had me a bit confused.  Do we have to watch live?  Are experts competing? This is the first in a series of something else later?  I reread the sentences defining it a few times to figure out its meaning.  Of course now I should offer an alternative?  The point is that it's now video and different experts will be guiding it.    Hmmmmm.  "Video Series Lead by Experts"  (I used "series".  lol)  Maybe something about "techniques"?  "Guided by Technique Videos from Experts".  Too long?  Or even forget the "video" and "experts".....  Maybe .... "Watch, Learn, Create".  Something like that?  A second tag line could even be added.... "Videos from Experts Guide the Way".   I don't know.  Just thinking aloud. 

Thank you so much for your precious feedback and input Dotty @SugarDotCookies. I agree with @Julia M. Usher about the potential of “Watch. Learn. Create”. Thank you! 🙌🏻💙

This is exciting!  Thank you so much Christine for everything you have done for us.  Thank you Manu for ushering us into this next chapter.  And thank YOU Julia for everything. 

@LisaF posted:

This is exciting!  Thank you so much Christine for everything you have done for us.  Thank you Manu for ushering us into this next chapter.  And thank YOU Julia for everything.

And thank YOU for your always enthusiastic participation but especially so with this challenge - WOW, just WOW!

OK, so I am trying to "fast" from excessive use of social media during Lent, so I am little late to comment here, but thank you for the shout-out @Julia M. Usher. I am glad my very vague and rambling ideas were somewhat useful. I can't wait to see how you and Manu have fleshed out the new challenge format!

Sincere thanks to @Sweet Prodigy Christine D. for her deep commitment and success with the challenges these past two years. I KNOW how much work the challenges are and Christine did an absolutely superb job at the helm. I will always be one of your biggest fans.

Finally, let me say how EXCITED I am that @Manu biscotti decorati will be taking over as challenge host! Consider this a mutual admiration society because even when I was the host of the challenges I found out that more often than not, I was the one who ended up being inspired by Manu's challenge entries. 

Change is hard, but switching up the challenge format is precisely the type of "healthy risk" we all need. Onward!

This will be great. Looking forward to the videos and new concept. Good on all of you for having the courage to make big changes. Kudos to Julia as always, Sweet Prodigy and Manu. 👍

Oh wow, sorry I've been out of touch. I see lots of big wonderful things coming our way. And I'm definitely looking forward to this newly formatted cookie connection challenges. I absolutely love watching @Manu biscotti decorati 's tutorials and I can't think of a better person to start us off in this new direction. Thank you.

Side note, I know many of you are aware that I'm in the Military. I've just moved yet again and just settled down in the absolutely beautiful area of Tuscany, Italy. We officially move into our house in two days. I only mention this because @Manu biscotti decorati is from this amazing country and just maybe I'll get to run into you while I'm here. Best wishes on your new role in Cookie Connection and thank you for being part of this community.

@Kyra Manthe posted:

Oh wow, sorry I've been out of touch. I see lots of big wonderful things coming our way. And I'm definitely looking forward to this newly formatted cookie connection challenges. I absolutely love watching @Manu biscotti decorati 's tutorials and I can't think of a better person to start us off in this new direction. Thank you.

Side note, I know many of you are aware that I'm in the Military. I've just moved yet again and just settled down in the absolutely beautiful area of Tuscany, Italy. We officially move into our house in two days. I only mention this because @Manu biscotti decorati is from this amazing country and just maybe I'll get to run into you while I'm here. Best wishes on your new role in Cookie Connection and thank you for being part of this community.

Good luck with your transition, Kyra. Like Manu, you move A LOT - and I am super impressed by the adaptability both of you show.

This is exciting!  Sounds like a great new format!  I don't participate in challenges, but I always read the rules (to the very end) and enjoy looking at the entries!  You asked for feedback....As I looked at the new logo before finishing reading...the tagline "Live Expert Series" had me a bit confused.  Do we have to watch live?  Are experts competing? This is the first in a series of something else later?  I reread the sentences defining it a few times to figure out its meaning.  Of course now I should offer an alternative?  The point is that it's now video and different experts will be guiding it.    Hmmmmm.  "Video Series Lead by Experts"  (I used "series".  lol)  Maybe something about "techniques"?  "Guided by Technique Videos from Experts".  Too long?  Or even forget the "video" and "experts".....  Maybe .... "Watch, Learn, Create".  Something like that?  A second tag line could even be added.... "Videos from Experts Guide the Way".   I don't know.  Just thinking aloud. 

Ooooh I do rather like the "Watch, Learn, Create" idea!

Hello Julia my dear, how much I miss you all.  How wonderful, the news. I am going to read the post again to understand if I am going to do the videos in case I decide to be part. I am just a little confused about that.

Thank you very much.

Hello Julia my dear, how much I miss you all.  How wonderful, the news. I am going to read the post again to understand if I am going to do the videos in case I decide to be part. I am just a little confused about that.

Thank you very much.

Hi, entrants DON'T make videos - entrants watch a video made by a guest expert to learn a technique; then they make a project using that technique; the entry is still submitted in photo form as always. Hope that clarifies the concept. More details will come later when we launch.

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