Yes, I’m finally back with another Cookier Close-up, and I’m especially excited about this one with our January 2023 site artist, Katuscya Marchioro, owner of @Gina's Cake and Icing Cookies. I know Katuscya only through the brief bio in her recent forum intro and her signature cute-as-can-be doll cookies that she is known for posting to this site. So it’s always a pleasure to dig deeper in these interviews to get to know our special members better.
As you may recall, some of Katuscya’s charming dolls (see below) were our featured January site art.
At the time of her feature, we learned that Katuscya lives in Cuneo, a city in Piedmont, Italy. She is 54 years old with two children, ages 18 and 13, and a dog called Ginger. She has been decorating cookies with a passion since 2014 and joined Cookie Connection shortly thereafter in January 2015. After a self-taught period, she attended her first cookie class with the great Evelindecora. From that moment on, Katuscya never stopped decorating cookies, acquiring more and more skills, thanks also (in her words) to the ideas provided by Cookie Connection. Decorating royal icing cookies allowed Katuscya to face a difficult family moment, and even though everything is resolved now, her passion for decorating has remained. Since 2017, Katuscya has been teaching cookie classes, primarily in Milan at the Italian Cake Design School, but her main activity remains the creation of cookies that spark the imagination.
In this interview, I look forward to learning more about Katuscya’s typical cookie-week, cookie practices in Italy, and her future cookie dreams.
So let’s get started, shall we?!
JMU: Hi, Katuscya! Thank you again for so generously contributing your wonderfully charming doll cookies that recently graced the banner and backdrop of our site, and also for your enthusiastic participation in the site over the last eight years! Wow, how time flies! You’ve been with Cookie Connection almost since its inception.
Speaking of beginnings, let’s start with your launch into the cookie world. How did you discover cookie decorating? And who or what inspired you to begin pursuing it with a passion?
KM: I discovered cookie decorating shortly after the time that cake decorating captured my interest. Thanks to the internet but mainly to Pinterest, I discovered the wonders of cookie decorating. I was enchanted by the magic and poetry of sugar paste and royal icing decorations created for the tops of simple cookies.
JMU: Where would we all be without the internet?! It's hard to imagine a world without it! Now, some general business questions . . . What was the genesis or motivation behind your business name, Gina’s Cake and Icing Cookies? Who is Gina? And why does “cake” precede “icing cookies”?
KM: The name Gina was born as a joke. Gina was the nickname that a dear friend of mine used to call me. Back in 2010, I opened my first Facebook account. Because I posted recipes and pictures of various sweets there, I decided to call it Gina's Cake. Only later, when I realized that I wanted to focus almost exclusively on cookie decorating, did I change the name by adding the words "and Icing Cookies". It would have been easier to create a brand-new name, but, in a way, I didn’t think it would be right to get rid of the (cake) part, since cakes had introduced me to this sugary world.
JMU: Ahh, I see now! So do you still make cakes? If so, which sweet, cookies or cakes, do you prefer to make, and why?
KM: Now I prefer cookie decorating. Cakes are still important, but only if they are decorated with cookies! I don't make many cakes because now my approach, which has passed along to my friends, is: “You make the cake, and I’ll take care of decorating it with cookies.” After all, isn't it nice for a mother to prepare the cake for her child's birthday with her own hands? I only make my small contribution.
JMU: I have to agree that the homemade-by-mom touch is extra special; kids will remember the love that their moms put into their treats well into adulthood!
In your Cookie Connection bio, you mentioned you were a self-taught decorator prior to taking a class with @Evelindecora (aka Evelin Milanesi). How did you go about learning cookie decorating when you first got started in 2014, before you took that class with Evelin? What tools or resources did you most rely on, and why? How, if at all, did taking a class with Evelin change your cookie decorating or path in cookie decorating?
KM: To tell you the truth, I got to know cookie art thanks to American and Spanish websites and social media. In Italy in 2012, decorated biscuits were not very well known. Then finally one day, I came across some pictures of Evelin's cookies. I began to research and then visited her blog, dreaming of one day going to Milan to take one of her classes. In 2015, my dream finally came true. I had been separated from my husband for just over a year, and I really needed to show myself that I was still capable, strong, and smart. And so I did, as Evelin was able to encourage me by transmitting not only her knowledge but also her passion. Thanks to Evelin, I learned about the existence of Cookie Connection. So somehow, I also have to thank you, dear Julia, because your community and its tutorials also fueled my passion and dedication to this art.
Because of the internet, nowadays it is possible to undertake self-training courses. The web is rich in resources, but what helped me most (with respect to skills development) were the in-person courses I took and, above all, my constant commitment to practicing cookie decorating.
Believe me, this is the truth: after meeting with Evelin, I never stopped decorating. Most of my cookies are created for the pure pleasure of making them, and for my need to reach others through the messages that spring from my cookies.
JMU: What a wonderful story about how another cookie decorator’s generosity had such an impact on you. We all need to remember that our actions will long outlive our cookies!
What’s your typical cookie-week look like? How much time do you spend decorating cookies or doing cookie-related activities? And what are those activities?
KM: I have a full-time job, so my time to dedicate to cookie decorating is limited to evenings after dinner and weekends.
JMU: Related to my last question . . . I know you now teach cookie decorating, but do you also sell cookies? If you don’t sell your cookies, why not and do you ever have plans to do so? If you do, please explain what your cookie business looks like. For instance, do you produce orders in your home or in a commercial kitchen? Why have you chosen to produce this way? How many orders and cookies do you typically produce in a week? Do you take custom orders, or are all of your designs standardized? And so on.
KM: Selling cookies is not my job, and I wonder if, in Italy, it’s possible to create a real business through cookie art. Even though cookie decorating is now more popular than in the past, I am afraid that it will never become a real tradition as it is in the United States.
Every now and then, I bake cookies ordered by friends and relatives. I do not think selling decorated cookies will ever become my job mainly because I do not have enough time to dedicate to it and probably I wouldn’t have enough orders to make a living with it. I make my cookies in my kitchen, as there are no commercial kitchens for this purpose in Italy. And, as I said before, I do not have many orders except for friends and family, and those quantities are always very small.
I am a cookie cutter collector. I have so many! I would rather use these cutters than cut out shapes by hand. Years ago, on one occasion, the Spanish brand Cutterspepe produced and sold two copper cutters designed by me. With the advent of 3-D printers, cutter manufacturers have grown dramatically and, even if the quality of plastic cutters is not always as good as metal ones, the cutter shapes now sold are infinite . . . or almost infinite, anyway. Not having a business per se, I don’t really have a standard order, but I can say for sure that my favorite recipients are children and their mothers in the improvised role of event planners trying to create settings for baby showers, baptisms, and first communions. And I always create with the style that I now think distinguishes me: simple and elegant but, at the same time, romantic and/or having childish, fairytale traits.
JMU: YES, I know that style well! All it takes is a quick review of your Cookie Connection portfolio to see that you have an affinity for doll and cute figure cookies! How did that affection come about?
KM: As a little girl, I loved to play with dolls. I always loved them, as well as soft toys. Since taking to cookie decorating, I have probably re-engaged with this part of my past life! Somehow, the scent of sugar cookies combined with royal icing has always reminded me of the scent of the dolls I played with as a child.
When I create my doll cookies, I let my imagination travel. I give each doll a soul and consequently a name, a dress, all of the accessories, the makeup, and a wig. When I decorate the hair with the pressure-piping technique, I can also relax! Julia, if you think I'm a bit crazy, you're not wrong!
The inspiration for these childish dolls comes from Spain, first from Muy Dulce Vinuesa and then from Veronica Castañon Perez of @Con Azúcar y Algodón, who is one of my favorite cookiers ever. For my 50th birthday, I gave myself a course with her in Barcelona! It was beautiful!
JMU: I love your stories of how other cookiers have shaped you. They just go to show that each and every cookier has a unique set of skills and lessons to impart. To grow as cookie decorators, we need to remember to remain open to different styles and methods used by others.
Do you have a cookie Achilles’ heel – meaning a technique that you just can’t seem to master? If so, what is it? And what, if any, strategies do you have for conquering that technique?
KM: One of my Achilles’ heels is 3-D decoration, for which you are the absolute master. The best I can do is a gingerbread house. The other Achilles' heel does not concern decorating specifically, but does indirectly, and that is my very poor knowledge of English! This limitation has precluded a lot of opportunities to bring my experience as a decorator to other countries! In fact, I’ve had to give up invitations to hold in-person and online courses. Unfortunately, there is never enough time to study 3-D techniques or to practice English, so I’ve had to renounce, for now, all 3-D subjects and teaching abroad.
JMU: Well, your English seems good enough for teaching abroad to me (certainly far better than my Italian), so I sure hope those international teaching opportunities present themselves to you again soon. And the 3-D cookies that you've posted to this site are universally charming! (Everyone, see the photo below for an example of what I mean!) Also, thank you so much for the very sweet remarks about my 3-D work. They made my day! 😊
Let’s talk about your teaching in Italy in more detail. How did you get the opportunity to teach at the Italian Cake Design School (which sounds super impressive, BTW!)? Did you pursue them, or vice versa? How often do you teach there? And how are those classes structured (i.e., subject matter, in-person or online, class length, number of students, pricing, etc.)? Why have you chosen to structure your classes this way?
KM: I started teaching because of a competition in which I participated in 2016. It was the Cake Design Festival in Milan. I ranked second in the cookie section for which Marta Torres was one of the judges, but I was noticed by one of the event organizers, Maria Cristina Hellmann, founder of the Italian Cake Design School in Milan. Since 2017, I have been teaching at this school, holding an average of five courses per year. I also held two courses in Sicily, in Catania to be precise . . . and, here, I must mention my other sweet limit: being a separated mother and having two relatively young children, I chose to limit my travels around Italy for quite a few years, and declined various invitations received. Now that my kids are older, I can consider other opportunities as well.
That said, the school in Milan is always my point of reference. The bond created with Maria Cristina is not only professional but also emotional. Coming back to Milan each time is like coming home for me. My lessons there are, of course, held in person with a minimum of eight students up to a maximum of 12. For each lesson, I prepare a set of four to five biscuits in a theme that I choose according to the time of year. After a theory part, we start decorating, with the intent that every student will finish his/her cookies by the end of class, and, above all, learn and practice the various techniques used to make the cookies. At each student’s workstation, I place a cookie box that contains the cookies to be decorated and all of the necessary tools, including a scribe tool that I personally create. The cookies are completely "naked" to ensure that each student gains experience with every step of the process - obviously with my support! At the end of the lesson, each student has the opportunity to take home leftover royal icing in order to continue practicing after class.
JMU: Wow, your classes sound so splendidly organized! An organized teacher makes for a more instructive class, IMO!
How, if at all, did the structure or format of your cookie decorating classes change during COVID? Are you returning to a different format of teaching now that COVID is more maintained?
KM: During COVID, I stopped teaching at the school, and I did not give any online classes, as teaching online, in my opinion, is not very effective especially if students are beginners. Moreover, in order to get the best quality video/audio and ultimately satisfying results, it is necessary not only for the teacher to be equipped with a good device but for each student to be suitably outfitted as well. I have an average computer and did not feel like investing money in more devices for a way of teaching I do not believe in.
After the worst of COVID was over, I resumed teaching in person, and I must say that 2022 was a really profitable year. Each course I offered sold out! People from all over Italy came to Milan to participate in my classes, which was a surprise that filled me with joy.
At this moment, my greatest satisfaction comes from teaching, with my objective being to transfer my knowledge, but even more my passion! Teaching is so important to me that being able to participate, for example, in CookieCon or another convention dedicated to cookie art would be a great coup! Who knows? Maybe one day I will make it . . . but first I should take English classes!
JMU: Congrats on your 2022 class success. I hope your 2023 is also off to a great start!
Now, let’s talk more about your personal cookie journey. What moment, if any, has been your highest point (or greatest accomplishment) in your cookie decorating history, and why?
KM: Identifying the highest moment in my history as a decorator is not easy . . . but I remember with great emotion my subscription to Cookie Connection. Being here together with the greatest decorators in the world has always been a source of pride, as has getting recognized in Challenge #16 and this interview. And then there was the emotion of being chosen as a teacher in Milan and all the other invitations received from abroad (including Barcelona, for example). My greatest emotion, however, comes from the expressions of joy and wonder from those who receive my cookies as gifts. Those reactions are what matter most.
JMU: I can so relate – I am also fueled by others' joy! It's important to me to know that my work is having a positive impact on others.
Now, for the converse of the previous question: What’s been your most trying or challenging moment in your cookie decorating history, and how did you get past it?
KM: A challenging moment in my story? Honestly, I have not had any just because I am basically a cookie decorator with the freedom to express myself as my passion directs me. The fact that I have not made cookie decorating a business could diminish me, but instead it gives me the opportunity to decorate cookies for the pure pleasure of doing it. If cookie decorating was my job, it would for sure lose its magical and poetic meaning for me.
JMU: Yes, in my experience, there’s a lot of truth to what you say. It’s easy to burn out when one pursues anything relentlessly, day in and day out. It’s important for those of us in the business to step away from time to time to reenergize and reignite the creative spark when it’s starting to fizzle.
On a completely different topic now . . . Is cookie decorating as popular in Italy, in your opinion, as it is now in the United States? Is interest in it growing or waning, and what market or other factors lead you to say this?
KM: In Italy, cookie decorating is not as popular as in the United States. In Italy, as in France, we have some of the highest quality pastry available to us, and often taste comes first. For this reason, perhaps when making cookies, we think more about taste than decoration.
However, I must say that since Evelin started teaching (the majority of Italian decorators have been her students), Italian cookiers have increased. So this art is starting to be known, but I am afraid it will never be as popular as in the United States. Aside from Christmas, the occasions to decorate cookies are limited to classic religious ceremonies and little more.
Cookie decorating with royal icing needs energy and passion. If there is no passion, students won’t continue with this activity. I realized this fact after following the path of my students. Most, after an initial enthusiasm, leave royal icing to switch or return to sugar paste. Royal icing is wonderful and fascinating, but it is also time-consuming and fatiguing.
JMU: Do you have any special cookie traditions, recipes, or ingredients in Italy (or in Cuneo, in particular) that you think members should know about?
KM: As for popular sweets in Italy, people tend to prefer mignardises, basically bite-sized desserts that can include many things, but are often based on short crust pastry, almond paste, hazelnuts, and/or meringues.
JMU: What’s your favorite part of belonging to the online cookie community, and why? And I’m not talking just about Cookie Connection; I’m talking about “community” in the broadest sense of how you experience it everywhere online.
KM: Nowadays, being part of the online community is essential in order to share knowledge and learn from others, but, above all, to create bonds with cookiers from all over the world! Unfortunately, this connection is possible only on a virtual level!
JMU: Last, my usual parting question! Where would you like to see yourself in the cookie decorating world three years from now? Do you see yourself doing more or less of anything, or taking on any new cookie-related activities, such as teaching in other countries, creating or selling products, or something else?
KM: My dream is to come to the United States to decorate cookies, either as a student or as an instructor, and I will put all of my passion, energy, and determination toward this dream to succeed!
JMU: Well, I would certainly love to swap cookies and cookie stories with you here in my home country, so I hope you realize your dream one day very soon! Thanks again for your patience while waiting for this interview, for your very thorough and interesting answers, and for taking the time to translate my questions and your answers. I very much appreciate that added effort!
To learn more about Katuscya's work, please visit her Cookie Connection portfolio and website.
Cookie and photo credits: Katuscya Marchioro
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!