Lucky us! In this Cookier Close-up, we get to know Cookie’sCool instructor Pam Sneed a whole lot better. Inveterate glaze user, Pam has staunchly held her ground amidst a sea of royal icing enthusiasts and conquered this often tricky medium, as her artful work attests. Pam shares her glaze adventures on her popular blog CookieCrazie and teaches the particulars of this medium at cookie conventions across the globe, including CookieCon 2012, and the upcoming Cookie’sCool (Europe’s first-ever cookie art show) and Cookie Cruise 2015. We’re thrilled she’s taken time out to answer our glaze and other cookie questions today!
JMU: Hi, Pam. We’re almost neighbors here in Missouri! [EDITOR’S NOTE: Pam lives in St. Peters, about 45 minutes from my home in St. Louis.] It’s hard to believe that it took cookies to finally bring us together, halfway across the country, at CookieCon in 2012. It was such a whirlwind event, with so little time for us to really connect . . . I still feel like I have much to learn about you before we hit Cookie’sCool later this year. So steel yourself for lots of questions, okay?
PS: Hi, Julie! I’m super excited to do this interview with you. I’ve admired your work for a few years now . . . and then I’ve seen the incredible talent that is on Cookie Connection. You are definitely one of the makers and shakers in the cookie world, and I am honored that you would want to ask me lots of questions. So go ahead . . . fire away.
JMU: Oh, flattery will get you everywhere! Let’s start with a little history then. I know you began your blog in February 2008 and that cookie decorating was a holiday ritual for you growing up. But when and why did you first get really serious about cookie decorating?
PS: I LOVE seasons and holidays and have always taken them to the extreme in one form or another. (Just ask me how many Christmas trees I put up last year!) [EDITOR'S NOTE: Okay . . . how many trees did you put up last year? I want to know!] And as my kids and I were making cookies for Christmas and Easter each year, I started getting the itch to make cookies for other holidays, seasons, and events. In 2007, I found cookie decorating online. I was so excited because I suddenly found other people who were just as obsessed as I was (haha). There weren’t many blogs back then, and certainly not the plethora of tutorials and helps like there are now. But I started asking questions on Cake Central and eventually on Flickr, and became instant friends with lots of people. Being exposed to all the creative cookies that others were making helped launch me into the CRAZIE cookie world that I just never seem to get enough of.
JMU: I understand that you primarily cookie for a cause – your church’s ministry efforts in Borislav, Ukraine. [EDITOR'S NOTE: The tagline on Pam’s site is, “Glaze Icing Sugar Cookies for a Sweet Cause”.] Do you also sell cookies to support this effort, or do you strictly blog and teach for the cause? Can you describe to our readers the full scope of your cookie activities?
PS: I felt a draw to Ukraine (UA) in 2007 when my pastor came back from a mission trip to that country. As he spoke about the Ukrainian people, I instantly had such a love and interest in them that is really unexplainable. (I had always told my kids as they were growing up that I never wanted to go outside of the United States!) In 2009, I had my first opportunity to join my church on a mission trip to Borislav. Travel costs seemed prohibitive, but then I got an idea (I believe from God) that I could sell my cookies to make money for the trip. The first few years, I did just that. I sold my cookies and made enough money (plus some extra to support our ministries there) to fund my travels to UA.
In the meantime, I was sharing about my cookies on my blog (although I didn’t really consider myself a "blogger" ). People started asking me tons of questions, so I created a FAQ about glaze and decorating with it. Sweet SugarBelle was gracious enough to suggest I add more tutorials and advertising on the blog to make money for Ukraine. I preferred the blogging aspect of cookies over fulfilling repetitive cookie orders. When I blog, I pretty much can pick and choose the themes of my cookies each week. With orders, I had to do what people told me to do. (My husband says I just don’t want people tellin’ me what to do. ) And over the last couple of years, the advertising money has increased enough that I don’t really have to sell my cookies anymore. I still sell my cookies, but the majority of the funds come from blogging.
JMU: What makes you so passionate about this ministry effort? Do you have personal roots in the area? How often do you go to the Ukraine, and for how long at a time? And what are some of the things you’ve done to help people there?
PS: I know it is weird . . . but no, I don’t have any roots or ties to Ukraine at all. I believe my passion for the people there comes from God. I love them so much and I can only explain this by saying that God put that love and passion in me for them. It is pure joy when I’m with them. Even though our trips are far from a “vacation", I can easily lay aside the inconveniences and less than desirable conditions because I believe I’m supposed to be there. It’s pretty cool!
We go to Ukraine once a year in the summer months. We’re gone about 15 days, but three of those days are for traveling.
I have formed incredible friendships with people with whom I can’t even speak without an interpreter (or Google translate)! With each trip, we do a women’s retreat with the ladies where I have the privilege of teaching them a Bible study. And honestly, THEY teach me so much more than I teach them. But I know that when we go, we encourage the lonely, discouraged, and weary. Senior ministry is also a big part of our time there. We visit at least 50 homes of elderly folks, many of whom can’t get out much. What a privilege to go in their homes and love on them, even for only a few minutes. They always tell us that they have waited for us . . . sigh. It completely overwhelms me that our visits could mean that much to them. We do many other humanitarian things as well and do our best to encourage the missionaries that are there in the field. It is an incredible two weeks of constantly going and giving . . . but it is worth every penny and ounce of energy expended.
My heart is heavy at the thought that we probably won’t be able to go this year because of the unrest in the country. (Our trip is tentatively planned for August.) And if things continue on the negative path we are watching now, we might not be able to return again. But I know in my heart that these six years of visiting have made a major impact and that God will use it all to continue to help the Ukrainian people.
JMU: Have you turned any Ukrainians onto cookie-ing? Have they taught you any new baking or decorating skills – or life lessons – that you’ve applied to your own cookie work?
PS: Actually, I HAVE shared cookie-ing with several ladies (see above!), and I have another young woman who asked me last year if I’d teach her this coming summer.
The two informal “classes” I’ve done so far involved cake decorators in Borislov. Karen and Mike of Karen’s Cookies and Jill at Sweet Art Factory graciously gave tons of cookie decorating supplies to gift these fellow bakers with all they needed to cookie. When others found out about the “class", they wanted to learn too. So we have had little cookie decorating parties of five or six each time. We've had a blast. Since decorated cookies have not really caught on there (people are poor, and generally only cakes are ordered for very special occasions), no one has started selling cookies there yet. However, I believe this new woman, Olah, would love to make it become an income producer for her family. (Pray that I’m able to go in August and share cookie-ing with her!)
I have learned how to make a few of the baked goods that they make in Ukraine. It is really satisfying to learn another culture’s way of baking. And yes, their baked goods are as delectable as ours.
Things I’ve learned from them . . . oh my. How much time do you have? I think one of the biggest things they’ve taught me is to be grateful for what I have right at this moment and not to expect more in the next moment. For example, their electricity, water, or gas can go off at any time without warning, and they’ve learned just to adapt to whatever they have in the here and now. Their resilience and strength are astounding. And to see them have such positive, sweet attitudes amongst all the trial they face is so humbling. They truly are an amazing people. I’m honored to serve them and be a part of their lives.
JMU: Wow, it’s astounding that something as simple as cookies can reach across the globe and affect so many people so positively. How much money, if I might ask, have you been able to raise through your cookie work to support this cause?
PS: I don’t have an exact amount, but I’m pretty certain I’ve raised over $20,000 in the last six years. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Double wow! That's what I call cookie love!]
JMU: Onto some specific cookie decorating questions. You’re widely regarded as the glaze guru, as I’m sure you know. What drew you to embrace a medium that so many of us avoid for fear of bleeding and spreading, the bane of all cookiers’ existence (along with cratering, of course!)?
PS: As a child and then as a mom decorating with her children, I always used buttercream. Even though it is by far the best-tasting icing, it has its own set of decorating hurdles to overcome. When I started getting more serious about cookie-ing, I looked for something to add to the base of my cookie to give it that beautiful smooth finish before I added buttercream details. I found a glaze recipe that worked perfectly. Once I got online, I realized that royal icing was the “movie star” of the cookie world, so I tried it. I liked its decorating powers, but I did NOT like its taste, nor its dry, crunchy end result. I was used to the glaze and buttercream I’d been using for years . . . loving their taste and soft end result. I didn’t want to compromise those qualities just because everyone else used royal icing. So in my stubbornness, I was determined to make glaze work as my icing of choice. (I abandoned buttercream because of several issues I couldn’t overcome with it.)
There were many times in those early days when I wanted to give up trying, because glaze definitely has its pitfalls. But everyone who ate my cookies raved and raved about their taste and that just spurred me on to make glaze work.
JMU: What are your best tips for working with glaze to prevent bleeding and spreading once piped? And to accelerate the drying time? Is a dehydrator a must-have when working with glaze?
PS: I’ll start with the spreading issue. I don’t really have a problem with that at all, as long as I outline the shape first and then flood. (I use the same consistency for both.) However, since I love 3-D and textured effects, I’ve been known to add too much glaze to an area, which causes it to topple over the outline. But with practice, you learn how much is TOO much.
As far as bleeding goes, I’m not sure there are any decorators who can say they’ve completely conquered that frustration, but I’ve found with glaze that adding AmeriColor Bright White to the initial icing seems to help. Also, layers need sufficient dry time . . . especially white glaze next to dark glaze, in particular red, navy, and black. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Oh, I think she's conquered the bleed issue. Just take a look at her red and black set, below.]
One of the biggest drawbacks of glaze is that it doesn’t dry quickly. In my opinion, it’s because of the corn syrup. Make sure you don’t add too much. It gives a beautiful shine to the cookies, but it doesn’t want to dry. And yes, a fan and/or dehydrator are both very helpful in speeding up the dry time.
JMU: Is there anything unique about your glaze formulation (i.e., addition of corn syrup, mixing methods, etc.) that distinguishes it from other glaze recipes or makes it easier to handle? Did you develop the recipe or did it originate from another source? How, if at all, have you adapted it over time to suit your decorating needs?
PS: Originally, I used a glaze recipe I found on a website. But it made a very small amount (that’s not okay when you’re making lots and lots of cookies!) and it used milk. I switched the liquid to water a few years back just because I didn’t feel like the milk really added that much to the taste of the recipe. Plus, water is much easier to come by. I tweaked the amounts of powdered sugar and corn syrup to fit my needs. So I guess you can say that it is now truly my own formulation.
There’s not really much involved in mixing up glaze, so I don’t think “my glaze” has a special distinction. The key to any decorating icing is the consistency. Everyone does it differently. And actually, I’m under the impression that you could take all the steps that someone else gave you for a “perfect formula” and it probably won’t be perfect for YOU. That’s something you have to find on your own. How you pipe your icing, what constitutes your normal work environment (temperature, humidity, etc), and your own personal preferences will determine what your “perfect formula” will be. You just have to find your own sweet spot.
JMU: What’s the most challenging glazed cookie that you’ve ever made, and why? Can you give us a mini (few-sentence) tutorial about how you made it and dealt with any glaze challenges?
PS: I’ve had lots of very challenging cookies, but most recently it was trying to make strips of bacon cookies. When studying photos of bacon, I realized how hard it would be to get the right colors for it. That was definitely the biggest challenge. And then, just trying to make it look realistic proved very difficult.
Bacon Cookie Mini-Tutorial: Starting with a long rectangle cookie and using dark brown, medium orange-brown, and lighter orange-tan glaze, make the patterns of bacon. (This is very hard to describe in words. I will soon have this tutorial up on my blog so you can see photos.) After the icing has dried overnight, brush it lightly with black luster dust. Next brush the cookie with a mixture of corn syrup and vodka. Sprinkle on opaque black sanding sugar (for pepper).
JMU: Okay, so let’s turn to the subject of teaching cookie decorating. Aside from CookieCon 2012, Cookie’sCool, and Cookie Cruise 2015 (as if they weren’t enough!), do you teach locally in Missouri, or anywhere else in the US or internationally?
PS: I taught a class at my church a few years ago, but the conditions were not ideal. It was so much work to prepare for and clean up after TWENTY people. I’m sure if I tweaked the format and decreased the number of participants, I might consider doing it again. I also had the little cookie “parties” in Ukraine to share decorating with the ladies there. That’s the extent of my teaching . . . other than my weekly tutorials on my blog and CookieCon 2012.
JMU: I know you’re teaching a bunch of two-hour hands-on classes at Cookie’sCool, but can you give us a sneak peek into the particular projects or techniques that you’ll be teaching there, and how you selected those things to teach?
PS: Because of the time factor, I tried to pick projects that would allow the participants to take away some new techniques and possibly a finished cookie. In some ways, my classes will be very unique just because of the glaze aspect. As far as I know, there will not be any other instructors using glaze.
I plan to share some easy wet-on-wet designs and then show how using food color markers will make the designs “pop”. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Pop as in her lemonade set, above!] We’ll be making flower cookie pops, and students will be introduced to the BRP Box Shop cake pop box. Because it will be November, I plan to show them how I make snowflake cookies for the coming holidays. And then we're going to do two different platters: a peacock and a Christmas quilt. Each person will contribute a cookie to complete the platters.
JMU: Two hours is a short time frame in which to teach anything in a hands-on format, and glaze poses unique drying issues, as we all know. So how are you going to contend with these challenges at Cookie’sCool?
PS: It is definitely going to be challenging because of the dry time issue. We’ll do some wet-on-wet work, but I will also have to prep (pre-ice) some cookies for them to finish in the class. It’s not likely they will take home cookies that are completely dry.
JMU: What are you most looking forward to about Cookie’sCool? And least looking forward to, if anything?
PS: Honestly, I’m looking VERY forward to seeing Italy. But another huge joy will be sharing my love of decorating with eager participants. It will be so fun to work on cookies together and see their excitement and aha moments. It’s very rewarding to help others enjoy a craft that I am absolutely CRAZIE about.
I think I’m most nervous about the preparation for the event. I don’t want to forget anything from home that I might need . . . and then making sure everything is ready for each participant of five different classes will be nerve-wracking.
JMU: After Cookie’sCool and Cookie Cruise 2015, what’s next for Pam Sneed and CookieCrazie? Any new cookie designs or techniques that you’re planning to tackle? New lines of business you’d like to explore? New teaching adventures?
PS: I would love to continue to travel and share my decorating skills with others. I want to continue to tweak my blog and make it more and more user-friendly and helpful to others. I have several things I would love to develop for the cookie world. I already know there's lots of time required for development . . . but I am up for the challenges.
JMU: One last question, which I just couldn’t resist . . . What, if anything, would it take for you to come on over to the dark side - royal icing, that is?!
PS: Whenever people talk to me about royal icing, they always call it the “dark side”. Why is that? [EDITOR'S NOTE: Ahh, we're just teasing you, because you're such a notable outlier. ] I don’t consider royal icing bad . . . it’s just not my preference.
But in answer to your question . . . nothing. I am committed to glaze and feel like I’ve conquered it. I can do almost anything with glaze that can be done with royal icing. And now that I just developed an edible glaze molding clay, the sky's the limit. I have so many ideas about how to put the two together![EDITOR'S NOTE: What?! Edible glaze molding clay? She's got to be kidding! I love how she just slipped that in there, as if I wouldn't notice. Can't wait to check out the recipe!]
JMU: Thanks so much, Pam, for sharing your glaze and other cookie wisdom with us today! I look forward to connecting again at Cookie’sCool, if not on our home turf well before then!
PS: It is absolutely my pleasure, Julie. I always love talking cookies. And yes, November will be a blast! But we MUST get together before then. We live too close to each other to miss that opportunity. Thanks, Julie!
All cookies designed, crafted, and photographed by Pam Sneed.
Interested in learning more about Pam? Visit with her anytime online:
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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