Hands down, teaching is the thing I like most about cookie decorating. Not only do I get a huge kick from seeing students’ eyes light up when they master my projects or a new technique, but I also learn a ton from everyone attending – students, hosts, and other teachers, as the case may be. Teaching is always a growth experience for me, connecting me with people and places I’d never have had the fortune to discover otherwise.
In fact, nothing underscores this point better than my association with Cookie’sCool and my next interviewee. Had it not been for being side by side with Judit CzinknÉ PoÓr (aka MÉzesmanna) on the Cookie’sCool instructor roster, I might never have met her or gained such an appreciation for her fabulous cookie work. Hailing from Ajkarendek, Veszprem, Hungary, Judit perhaps understandably is a master of Hungarian folk art gingerbread (you know, those big white hearts decked with colorful flowers in bas-relief?!). But she also loves to paint and pipe a whole host of other things – and she does so most expertly, as you’ll soon see!
JMU: Hi! I can’t believe we’re going to be meeting in less than a week at Cookie’sCool in Genoa. I’m glad there’s still a little time to get to know you better before we land there and hit the ground running.
I apologize in advance because I don’t know much about you other than what I gleaned from your brief bio on the Cookie’sCool site and your images on your Facebook page (which are stunning, by the way!). So . . . I have a LOT of catching up to do!
I understand that you’ve only been decorating for one year – which is so hard to believe based on the quality of your work. Can you tell us what you did before you started cookie decorating?
JCP: I've really just had my enterprise for one year. Previously, I made more simple gingerbread - not with spreadable glaze, but with royal icing drawings - at Christmastime for my family and friends. But to tell you the truth, my profession is a porcelain painter.
JMU: Really . . . Well, your painting background certainly helps to explain the ease with which you picked up cookie decorating! What or who encouraged you to try cookie decorating? And why cookie decorating and not cupcake or cake decorating?
JCP: My friend asked me once to make some gingerbread for her family and friends as a Christmas gift, and then they asked, “Why don’t you deal in cookies professionally?” This is how it began.
And why gingerbread? On the one hand, it's a traditional Hungarian cookie; on the other hand, there are fewer legal and official requirements needed to start this kind of enterprise. And, of course, I really love to make these cookies.
JMU: And do tell . . . apart from your porcelain painting experience, how on earth did you pick up cookie decorating skills so fast? Did you take any classes or rely on online tutorials, or do something else?
JCP: I’ve never taken any classes and never watched online tutorials. I believe in God, and I think it [my decorating skill] is a gift from Him.
JMU: So is your cookie business a full- or part-time occupation for you? What are the key facets of that business, i.e., how much time each week, if any, do you spend baking cookies for sale, writing tutorials, teaching, or doing other cookie-related activities?
JCP: It’s nearly a full-time business now. Time spent on it is generally about 30 hours per week, but it changes. Sometimes I teach, and sometimes I bake and decorate, but my packaging is also handmade, so I can’t tell you exact times for key things - especially since I work at home and spending time with my family is also very important to me.
JMU: What was the first decorating technique you ever tried and why did you gravitate toward it?
JCP: The traditional Hungarian pattern was the first. I think it really fits gingerbread, and it’s also trendy now and people love it. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Below is a larger view of one such traditional Hungarian pattern. I love it! Don't you?!]
JMU: And what is your favorite decorating technique today, one short year after getting started? Is it still these traditional patterns, or something else?
JCP: My current favorite is a 3-D technique, which combines royal icing with volume and painting. [EDITOR'S NOTE: As in the Holly Hobbie-ish cookie below that Judit is teaching at Cookie'sCool.]
JMU: Yes, I can see why you might like it - you're so darn good at it! What advice would you give to first-time cookie decorators who are eager to quickly become proficient in decorating, as fast as you did?
JCP: Practice, practice, practice.
JMU: Back to the wonderful traditional folk art gingerbread that you do. It seems so prevalent among Hungarian decorators. Is there a story behind this particular design/type of cookie – what’s its history, and why are these patterns and techniques so popular in your country?
JCP: These patterns are really traditional patterns from folk costumes and embroideries. In Hungary, each region has its own special patterns and colors. In recent years, these patterns have become fashionable again not only on embroideries and folk costumes, but on daily garments, such as T-shirts, shoes, bags, etc.
JMU: Interesting . . . They say fashion goes in cycles, so I guess traditional folk embroidery would be no exception! Are there particular tricks or tips that one needs to know to make this type of cookie well? For instance, how do you get the petals on the flowers to stay so puffy without sinking (aka “cratering")?
JCP: The only secret is the proper consistency of royal icing.
JMU: Bummer . . . so I guess you're going to leave me hanging until Cookie'sCool. I'll have to attend your class then to learn your trade secrets!
And how do you come up with patterns for your needlepoint lace, like in the flower and mitten cookies above? What do you do if you make a mistake mid-pattern? Do you have any tips for correcting mistakes without breaking the underlying piped lattice, which in my experience is pretty easy to do?
JCP: Needlepoint lace is also a kind of traditional Hungarian pattern. I rarely make a mistake, but if I do, there’s always a hungry family member to eat it.
JMU: Geez, so maybe the secret is to eat more of my mistakes! I usually try to lift any broken royal icing threads with a trussing needle, but this sometimes makes matters worse.
So, tell us how you got involved with Cookie’sCool? How do you expect the Cookie’s Cool teaching experience to be similar to (or different than) cookie decorating classes you have taught before?
JCP: Laura and Serena, the organizers of Cookie’sCool, found me on Facebook and asked if I would be interested in taking part in their course as a teacher. It’s a great challenge to teach so many students at once in such a short time. [EDITOR'S NOTE: For some context, the typical hands-on cookie decorating class at Cookie'sCool is two to three hours long and can fit a maximum of 15 students.]
JMU: What are you planning to teach at Cookie’s Cool and why did you select those projects?
JCP: There will be five projects, which were chosen together with Serena and Laura: 1) antiqued painted rose, 2) 3-D girl [pictured above], 3) needlepoint lace, 4) traditional Hungarian folk flowers, and 5) Christmas window [pictured below]. These cookies were my most “liked” on Facebook last year.
JMU: What are you most looking forward to about Cookie’sCool? Least looking forward to, if anything?
JCP: I’m really looking forward to meeting the other teachers. The thing I'm least looking forward to is the time frame [per class]; it’s going to be less than I’d like to have for a project.
JMU: Yes, I share the same excitement about meeting the others and fear about the time frame - fingers crossed, they've got some dehydrators to speed drying time between steps!
And my perennial last question: What’s next for you after Cookie’s Cool? What fun, new cookie (or other) opportunities are on your horizon?
JCP: I have a 440-piece order for the five-star Corinthia Grand Hotel Budapest for December!
JMU: Whoa! Congrats! I hope those cookies aren't nearly as complex as your lovely bird and other cookies shared here, as you'll surely need to hire a small army to help you! Best of luck, and I look forward to learning more from you when we meet at Cookie'sCool in a week. (Gulp.) I don't know about you, but I still have loads of prep to do!
All cookies designed, crafted, and photographed by Judit CzinknÉ PoÓr.
Interested in learning more about Judit? Please visit with her on Facebook at any time!
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!
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