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Cookier Close-up: Allegra Crea, Our April Site Artists


This month, we speak with April site artists, Allegra Crea, who, for the longest time, I thought was one person! But as it turns out, “Allegra Crea” means “create cheerfully” in Italian and is the online moniker for the cookie decorating duo of Ivana Parisi and Giusi Urso – friends, collaborators, and co-originators of La Bottega dei Dolci Doni (“Workshop of Sweet Gifts”) in Sicily, Italy.

Both devoted and very busy moms, Ivana and Giusi first became friends through their oldest children. In 2013, they further cemented that friendship by discovering a shared passion for decorating while attending a course taught by royal icing goddess, Kristina Rado. Ivana and Giusi had been searching for a while for ways to carve out more personal time, as an “escape valve” from their various family duties and to add a “little bit extra” to their lives. During the course, they found just the right thing, and decided to unite themselves around their newfound passion for royal icing. Shortly after the course, they started their Facebook page, La Bottega dei Dolci Doni, where they post their cookie creations made for various “odd jobs”, parties, anniversaries, and their children, relatives, and friends.


JMU: Welcome, Ivana and Giusi, and thank you for the above history about how you formed your cookie decorating partnership. I’ve got lots of other questions for you today, including some about your winning site art (pictured above), so let’s get started, shall we? I’m hoping we can do this interview round robin-style, meaning that I’ll pose a question, and you’ll each take turns answering separately. This way, readers will hopefully get to know each of you more personally.

That said, my first question is for both Ivana and Giusi!  . . .

How many children do you have and of what ages? How do you juggle all of the responsibilities of motherhood with your cookie decorating activities? Roughly how much time each week, on average, do you spend decorating cookies or other sweets?

IP/GU: Hello, Julia! Thanks to you, we are happy to share the story of our collaboration, born from the common cookie passion that unites us and all Cookie Connection members!

IP: I have a 12-year-old son and another smaller child, who is almost seven years old. I had thought that only very young children required a big commitment, however, as my children grew older, I realized that they had to be followed more carefully! Therefore, the time available to me, instead of increasing, decreased progressively . . . For this reason, I decided to become a full-time mom. But I still try to keep some of my autonomy, which, for me, is realized by keeping immersed in the arts, the subject of my formal education. The time I spend on cookie decorating is nothing that takes away from my children and husband. I do it when the kids are in school and my husband is at work, or when they are engaged in other activities.

GU: I have only one child who is 12 years old. Given the work commitments of my husband, I dedicate every day to carrying out all the tasks of the home and outside of the home that affect my family. Although the time I have left is short, I still try to dedicate myself to this hobby. I have always had a passion for sweets, which was transmitted by my grandmother, so I found cookie decorating to be the perfect complement, and also a wonderful way to express my artistic side.

IP/GU:  Since we always work on the biscuits [aka cookies] together (except in very rare cases), the time that we devote to decoration is, of course, shared. Our commitment is definitely not regular, but we try to meet for at least two hours a day to have something to do - and we always experiment. When we have an upcoming occasion, we leave everything else aside to give priority to our cookies!

JMU: Onto those separate questions! Ivana, you mentioned in your bio that you do “odd jobs”. But what does this mean exactly? Do you sell your cookies, or decorate only as a hobby? What’s your usual “job” entail – how many cookies, for what occasion, and for whom? And what’s the average cost per order, if you sell?

IP: We started to work with royal icing techniques, after learning in Kristina Rado’s course. Our work is really a hobby, dedicated to the personal pleasure found in expressing our creativity, but also to bringing enjoyment and delight to our family and friends with our homemade products.  At the moment, steady employment would be difficult for us to manage.

"Odd jobs” most often means small cookies for Christmas and birthday parties for our children, with their names or ages on them. Or ones made as party favors as gifts to friends. Friends and family love the cookies; they are always present (and gluttonous! ), hoping that some cookies will break . . .

JMU: I bet they are! Your cookies look tasty too!

Giusi, why did you and Ivana decide to set up one shared Facebook page and speak to the world with one common voice, as opposed to setting up two separate pages where you could express your own individual styles more distinctly? What advantages are there to both of you creating under the single umbrella of La Bottega dei Dolci Doni (hereafter affectionately called LBDDD for short )?

GU: The answer is very simple! Because we are very much in tune with one another. Together, we worked out everything: the idea of giving our days that “little bit extra"; taking the royal icing course; trying to experiment with what we learned there on cookies (the course was focused on cake); the choice of our Facebook page name . . . In fact, La Bottega dei Dolci Doni represents for us a kind of creative workshop for expressing this special craft.

Rather than express a certain style, we try to experiment. Because we still have to improve a lot in many respects, we try to do so by very carefully observing the countless artists in this sector, many of whom we have met through the internet, and most right here on Cookie Connection.

I must say that we also have very similar tastes: we are both oriented toward simplicity. So I think that, in working as a pair, we have been able to create synergies that have led to very satisfying results.

Also, being two, we support one another when the other is in a down mood, or feels a lack of creativity. But, above all, as we prepare our icing, cones, and cookies, we talk and laugh like two crazies!


JMU: It sounds like an ideal collaboration!

Ivana, please explain to me how your LBDDD “workshop” with Giusi works from day to day, at a practical level. Do you always come together in one place to decorate? Or do you work in different places on your own designs? What determines what type(s) of cookies you work on each day – a request from a friend or family member? a certain source of inspiration? or challenges that you pose of yourselves?

IP: We usually work in the same place, and what we make is dictated by the inspiration of the moment: the desire to try a new technique or a new material; the specific theme of the event for which we are decorating; a new artist who has inspired us; a contest (as happened this summer on Evelindecora’s page); or a challenge (as happened a few months ago right here on Cookie Connection)!

For instance, this is a typical decorating process for us . . . We start by thinking about a basic form or cutter to use; from there, we figure out what to draw, the colors that we’d prefer, and how best to distribute those colors and the decorations on the cookie or cookies. Our “Anna” cookies (pictured above) were one of our recent challenges. The letters were quite large compared to the usual (making it a great challenge not to break them!), but we also pioneered two new techniques (for us) on them: broderie anglaise and wafer paper butterflies. When we eventually conclude a job like these cookies, we look tired, but satisfied! 

JMU: As you should! They are lovely!

Giusi, what are your personal goals for LBDDD? Do you try to make a certain number of cookies each week to hone your skills? Do you strive to try a certain number of new techniques every so often to expand your repertoire? Do you strive to invent new techniques? Or something else?

GU: We are currently looking to expand our knowledge of various decorating techniques, and, above all, we do so through the web, our open window on the world. We look at tutorials on YouTube and, since seeing yours, Julia, we have been especially fascinated with all work in 3-D! From there, we started to experiment with building boxes of decorated cookies and other small things.

We also discovered Evelindecora, another of our idols, on the web. We worship everything she creates. After seeing her work, we began to realize other decorations that would delight.

And then on Instagram and YouTube, another shock! We "unveiled" Angela of The Painted Box. One day while watching her videos on the preparation of magnificent colors, we had brushes and sponges in hand, and tried her watercolor technique. Let's just say we splashed a lot and had fun like children!

Then there’s the Italian Lucia Simeone, a specialist in wafer paper, who inspired our use of it in cookie decorating. We started making small roses and then other types of small flowers and butterflies with it. We then tried to figure out how best to paint it, and so took a course.

Certainly our trials are small, simple attempts, but when the result is something pleasant, we feel so gratified, and we remember why we started. 


JMU: Wow, I am touched that I inspired some of your experiments. Thanks for sharing those stories, Giusi!

Ivana, the cookie designs on your Facebook page look as if they were all done by one person, as the style is very similar from photo to photo. But clearly some of the cookies must be yours, and some must have been made by Giusi, right? Do you both work on each set that you present? Or do you sometimes present one person’s cookies and then the other’s? How is it that your styles look so similar?

IP: Indeed, this is a question that has been asked before, but we notice the differences  . . . especially the difference in the temperature of our hands! Mine are very hot, and my icing quickly gets ruined. With Giusi, the icing has a longer life! 

As far as work process, we each often contribute at least a couple of decorations to the same set. The decision [about who does what] is relatively loose, because, in fact, our styles do resemble one another. Perhaps that’s because we learned the basic techniques from the same teacher, and we can both do the same decorations. We, of course, notice the style differences, and I personally appreciate Giusi’s "hand" in many things more than mine.

But there is also a continuous give-and-take between us, often dictated by the pleasure that each of us gets from making one thing versus another. We are very sensitive to the needs of the other.  As we often say, if one day you are not inspired or you cannot do anything (because your tip is clogged, the icing has the wrong texture, or your lines are not as you like . . .), then this is a time to rely on the help of the other. This [give-and-take] is one of the most beautiful and useful things that working as two affords!


JMU: Giusi, do you approach cookie decorating differently than Ivana? What would you say are each of your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to cookie decorating?

GU: My approach to decoration comes from a passion for pastry. In fact, even before I had started decorating cookies, I had a certain familiarity with confectionery preparations, such as cookies and cakes, as well as handling a pastry bag. The transition to cones for icing cookies was then quite simple for me.

As for Ivana, she usually focuses attention on the appearance and overall compositional balance, both in the case of single cookies and the cakes that we occasionally make, often covered with cookies!

Our weaknesses mainly relate to lacking knowledge of many existing techniques. But, we are aware of these weaknesses, and are always striving to improve.  

JMU: Ivana, you or Giusi, I’m not sure which, mentioned that you both worked on the lovely flower cookies that you entered into Practice Bakes Perfect Challenge #13, which are now pictured in the banner and backdrop of this site, and also at the top of this post. But how on earth did you share such a discrete task? Who did what parts of your cookie entry, and why did you divide the work this way?

IP: Yes, even in this case, the cookies were designed and created by both of us. The way we thought about the decorations was centered on the search for simplicity, because it is precisely that [simplicity] which can sometimes surprise. We would say that the motto "less is more", linked to the illustrious architect Mies van der Rohe, represents us well, because we love clean lines and compositional lightness without frills or excess. Of course, the danger is that we might create trivial things, but we always hope that this does not happen. 

To understand how we do “four-handed work”, I’ll explain step-by-step how we made the daisies for the challenge. I prepared the icing. Giusi colored a part of it and prepared the cones. While she spread the run-out [aka flooding] icing, I piped in the additional color and then pulled through it to create the nuances /streaks that you see in the petals. Once the cookies were dry, we tested how we would like to refine the design, and ultimately decided to distribute small dots along the petal edges and within the flower itself. I started with one color, and Giusi started with the other. When we looked at the flowers after this stage, they still seemed too empty, so we decided to add the white blossoms in the center. All of this we created together, toothpicks in hand, always seated next to each other.

We really liked these cookies, because they reflect us well, but we did not think they would be used to represent April on Cookie Connection. WOW!! This [winning Challenge #13] was pretty much a dream for us, as we are very small decorators among many icons in the art of cookies! 

JMU: Giusi, what was the biggest challenge that you encountered when making the cookies for Challenge #13, and how did you overcome it as well as you obviously did?

GU: The biggest challenge was to create something that would delight using only the basic tools we have available to us: pastry nozzles [aka tips] and toothpicks! Since we are amateurs, we do not have professional equipment (no airbrush, only a few stencils and silicone molds, etc.), so we do our best with our hands . . . In the end, we too were pleasantly surprised with the result!

JMU: Yes, sometimes a lack of tools forces more creativity! Congrats again for your success in Practice Bakes Perfect Challenge #13! Now, to change the subject a bit . . .

Ivana, is there a large market for decorated cookies in Italy, and in Sicily? I ask, because when I was there teaching a little over a year ago, it seemed as if there weren’t many Italians making decorated cookies, and decorated cookies were just beginning to catch on. Has interest in decorated cookies changed since then, and, if so, why do you think this is the case?

IP: When you were in Genoa for Cookie'sCool, I was planning to attend to your wonderful lessons and those of the other talented artists - Evelindecora, Arty McGoo, Mézesmanna, and I cannot remember how many others. But, unfortunately, I was not able to go.

Since then, the decorated cookie sector in Italy still has not taken off. Cookies are often a small, almost marginalized, sideline to cake, because, after all, the queen of any festivity is the cake! Of course, if more people knew of your spectacular cakes made with cookies, then . . .

However, in looking around lately, we have noticed some little signs of hope. In fact, more and more frequently, decorated cookies are present on sweet tables, admirably complementing the overall design. Some people also seem to prefer to give a decorated cookie rather than an object as a small favor after parties. Some are even beginning to use them as placeholders at events. But, even so, what we mostly see are cookies decorated primarily with sugar paste or fondant.

There are more restricted circles who admire the art of royal icing-decorated cookies, and who follow the work of cookiers here, such as Evelindecora, who was one of the first in Italy to do this type of decorating.

JMU: Giusi, I’m going to ask you a question that I recently asked of Stefania Onano, last month’s featured site artist and also an Italian cookier. I am curious to see how your answers compare. Does Sicily have a strong cookie tradition? If so, what cookie(s) is (are) Sicily most known for, and how would you describe them? Which is your favorite, and why?

GU: Yes, certainly. In Sicily, the cookie tradition is very old, and closely linked to the historical, cultural, and religious affairs of the island. There are three primary influences in Sicilian pastry . . .

The first is related to the various cultures that have dominated the island, of which the Arabs have left the most impressive mark. They introduced such ingredients as pistachios, cinnamon, and sugar cane - all products that are widely used in the preparation of Sicilian sweets today. Cassata is one example of a Sicilian sweet of Arab origin that is a true masterpiece of goodness and beauty, made with ricotta cheese, marzipan, and candied fruit.

The second influence is related to the monasteries, where the cloistered nuns prepared rich and imaginative sweets that have been handed down to this day. And the third influence is related to the custom that surrounds religious and family celebrations, during which time women prepare and offer many different types of biscuits, all produced entirely by hand and often accompanied by spirits.

And this is why I could enumerate countless biscuits! But I’ll mention just a few: pasta di mandorle, bersaglieri, sciatori, biscotti regina, mustazzoli, pasticciotti, n'zuddi, totò, sweet ravioli, and cucciddati.

However, the biscuit that I most prefer is called Rame of Naples [aka Rame di Napoli], and is consumed during the festivities of the deceased. Its history dates back to the Kingdom of Two Sicilies. The story goes that, during this unification of the Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of Sicily, a coin was minted that contained a copper alloy instead of an alloy of gold and silver that had been used until then. The people wanted to create a dessert that would replicate that currency and so they invented the Rame of Naples, a biscuit with a soft cocoa-flavored center, covered completely with a dark chocolate glaze. Delicious!!!

JMU: Wow, you made me so hungry that I had to pause to snack on some alfajores from my recent trip to Argentina. They too are soft and smothered in chocolate! Yum! 

Ivana, how do you think Italian preferences for decorated cookies differ from those in the US or elsewhere in the world, and why? Do you think any differences will get bigger or smaller in the years to come, and why?

IP: As I said before, there are a lot of cookies decorated with sugar paste in Italy. Cookies decorated with royal icing are more of a niche, primarily because working with the icing needs consistent practice (and not many people have the patience for this). Also, the supplies to make these cookies can be harder to find locally. A simple example: we needed to buy some PME tips recently, but we could not find any in shops locally, or in other parts of Italy, and ordering required a very long time.

I am always deeply impressed by the web images of royal icing-decorated cookies from countries like America, Japan, and Russia, just to name a few. Probably you have more kinds of [decorating] products, with more diverse features and uses.

The direct consequence of what I’ve said is that the decorated cookies that you normally see around here are of a much narrower scope than those in other countries - of course, with the exception of those made by great artists like Evelindecora.

But, at the same time, it’s also true that we have seen increased interest in this "new kind" of royal icing-decorated cookie, especially those made with doodled [aka marbled] and needlepoint designs.

I believe that in Italy, where art in all of its forms has played a key role in the country’s historical and cultural development, there will most likely be a turnaround in the coming years, and that this very special art form will spread further. The process may be long, and in part will depend on dynamics triggered by people like you, Julia, who have the ability to extend a large-scale message that opens more eyes and hearts to this wonderful decorating sector!    

JMU: Well, I will do my very best to continue to spread the good word of decorated cookies!

Giusi, do you think the Italian cookie decorating market is going to get more competitive (with more people selling cookies) in the future? Why or why not? Do you have plans to start selling any time soon? If so, how do you plan to distinguish your cookies from those of your competition?

GU: In the short term, I definitely do not think the Italian market for decorated cookies will be very competitive, because of the economic problems that involve many countries, including our own. This [economic pressure] causes people to focus expenditures on only the “necessary” goods and their accessories. Right now, the decorated biscuit is considered "superfluous", so, with this in mind, I do not see big opportunities.

As for us, our dream is to carry on this great passion of ours! We like the idea that expanding this dream might one day materialize. Perhaps expansion would give us more incentives to create, because when you interact with more people on a continuous basis, you receive new input, and this input generates energy - a flow of ideas. But this is just one consideration, and we have no specific plans to do so [expand], and even less to get into competition. 


JMU: Ivana, what do you think will be the next biggest trend in cookie decorating in Italy, and why?

IP: Given the general discourse in Italy about cake design, I’d say there is growing interest in the area [of decorating]. This means to me that there will be great prospects even in the very specific field of decorated cookies. As for particular trends, I’d like to focus on the typology of decorated cookies rather than their decoration. Consider this: if biscuits can find their appropriate "location" in events, such as weddings, birthdays, and religious festivals, where good “set design" is increasingly important to the success of the event itself, then great cakes of cookies - as made by you, Julia – or other cookie creations could very well earn the centrality that is traditionally reserved for cakes.

On the one hand, it is true that we tend to make wiser choices given the economic conditions. But, compared to a few years ago, it is also true that there is greater interest in taking care of the details at such “life” events, and in featuring only the most desirable items. In this context, the decorated cookie could be exactly that gem - the "new" element that many do not know, but want to try!

JMU: I bet your predictions will come true, as I'm sure there are many who would covet your cookie-covered cakes, like the one above, for their events!

And, last, a question again for both of you . . .  What’s the next big project on LBDDD’s horizon? What are your goals for LBDDD and yourself over the next three years?

GU: I prefer not to talk about big projects, but rather small steps forward that we can accomplish slowly. First of all, as I said earlier, our techniques must be improved and expanded. So, as soon as possible, we want to attend new courses and to try and try and try again!

IP: I endorse what Giusi said! I would also add that we have a thousand upcoming occasions that will affect our families, including birthdays, confirmations, and weddings, so we will be happily engaged for a while. For the rest, there is not a well-defined, long-term plan. Personally, I try to live with lightness and joy in this sphere of my life, because it is precisely this spirit that started our journey in decorated cookies in the first place. We do not know where this journey will lead, or if we will ever leave exactly where we are, but in any case, it [LBDDD] gives my days that “little bit extra”!


JMU: Ivana and Giusi, I wish you the very best no matter where your journey takes you! Thank you so much for taking your valuable time to both translate and answer my interview questions! I learned a lot!

All cookies and photos by Allegra Crea.

Interested in learning more about Allegra Crea? Please check out their profile and portfolio right here on Cookie Connection - and, of course, their Facebook page too!

Cookier Close-ups is the place on Cookie Connection where we celebrate the change-makers of the cookie decorating world. Whether forging new enterprises, inventing novel decorating techniques, or consistently charming us with their cookie decorating prowess, each of our featured thought leaders has redefined in his/her distinctive way how we interact, create, or otherwise do business here in cookie space!

If there are other cookiers you'd really like to get to know, please post requests in this forum. We'll do our best to round them up for an upcoming Cookier Close-up! Thanks!


Images (8)
  • Cookier Close-up Banner: Cookies and photos by Allegra Crea; graphic design by Julia M Usher
  • April 2016 Winning Banner from Practice Bakes Perfect Challenge #13: Cookies and photo by Allegra Crea; graphic design by Pretty Sweet Designs
  • April 2016 Winning Background from Practice Bakes Perfect Challenge #13: Cookies and photo by Allegra Crea
  • Anna Cookies: Cookies and photo by Allegra Crea
  • Cookie Boxes: Cookies and photo by Allegra Crea
  • Cookie Bouquets: Cookies and photo by Allegra Crea
  • Christening Cake with Cookies: Cake, cookies, and photo by Allegra Crea
  • Painted Cookies: Cookies and photo by Allegra Crea

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Comments (18)

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It has been so interesting to learn more about you. It is amazing the way you work as a team in designing and realizing your cookies, maybe that's why we all thought of you as one person at the beginning. I liked the story of you friendship very much, the way you were able to cut a space to share your common passion for cookies and how this led to La Bottega dei Dolci Doni.

Evelindecora posted:

So interesting to read this interview...I also though LBDDD was composed by only one person! A big hug to both Ivana and Giusi ❤️

I'm curious if you share the same views about the Italian cookie decorating market, particularly growth opportunities for royal icing cookies? Feel free to comment here!

Thanks again, ladies, for such a great job on this interview, and, in particular, for taking the extra time to work through our language differences! Much appreciated!

Thank you very much Julia, we have learned a great deal we too the interview in Inglese was a very special experience ... and interact with you was really pleasant!

Sorry again for our bad English

Evelindecora postato:

Così interessante leggere questa intervista ... Ho anche se LBDDD era composta da una sola persona! Un grande abbraccio ad entrambi Ivana e Giusi ❤️

Grazie mille Evelin, ci fa molto piacere che tua abbia trovato interessante la nostra intervista!   

Thank you so much Evelin, we are very pleased that you have found interesting our interview!

Allegra Crea posted:

Thank you very much Julia, we have learned a great deal we too the interview in Inglese was a very special experience ... and interact with you was really pleasant!

Sorry again for our bad English

Don't apologize! Your English is far better than my Italian, which is nonexistent. I should be the one to apologize for speaking nothing but English!

Manu posted:

It has been so interesting to learn more about you. It is amazing the way you work as a team in designing and realizing your cookies, maybe that's why we all thought of you as one person at the beginning. I liked the story of you friendship very much, the way you were able to cut a space to share your common passion for cookies and how this led to La Bottega dei Dolci Doni.

Grazie infinite Manu, per noi è stato tutto piuttosto naturale...

Manu thank you so much, for us it was all quite natural ...

Thanks for the informative interview!

I really envy the two of you - having someone close to share the cookie crazies. I spend so much time alone in the kitchen, wishing I had someone along to chat with and drive inspiration forth. But alas, my tries to make friends or family join me have failed utterly. So I talk to myself while decorating

Sweets_by_me posted:

Congratulations ladies! the interview has been so interesting, I'm so happy to have learnt more about you. ❤

Grazie Stefania, buona parte del merito è di Julia che ha formulato delle domande veramente azzeccate!

Thanks Stefania, much of the credit goes to Julia who formulated the well-aimed questions!

Laegwen posted:

Thanks for the informative interview!

I really envy the two of you - having someone close to share the cookie crazies. I spend so much time alone in the kitchen, wishing I had someone along to chat with and drive inspiration forth. But alas, my tries to make friends or family join me have failed utterly. So I talk to myself while decorating

Diciamo che è molto gradevole poter condividere con qualcuno questo tipo di interesse perchè non sono molti quelli che lo potrebbero apprezzare appieno senza conoscerne le reali difficoltà o semplicemente guardare con un' attenzione particolare i dettagli che solo noi riusciamo a cogliere ed apprezzare!
Ciò non toglie che alle volte parlare da soli con se stessi fa bene...!!! 

We say it is very pleasant to share with someone this kind of interest because not many people who could fully appreciate without knowing the real difficulties or simply watch a particular attention that only we can grasp and appreciate!
The fact remains that sometimes talk alone with oneself is good ... !!!

akeri posted:

Thanks For Sharing So Interesting Interview..,It is amazing the way you work as a team in designing and realizing your cookies, great Work Best of luck For Future growth

Thanks so much for your appreciation!

Marie - LilleKageHus posted:

A super read, what a fabulous pairing Lovely to get to know you both, and admire your beautiful beautiful cookies.


Grazie mille Marie!!! E' stato un vero piacere per noi e siamo veramente felici che i nostri lavori siano apprezzati da un'artista come te! 

Thank you so much Marie !!! It 'was a real pleasure for us and we are very happy that our work is appreciated by an artist like you! 

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