I just love doing these Cookier Close-ups – they give me such a wonderful excuse to pry into people’s lives and ask them all sorts of curious questions. Seriously though, I work in a near-vacuum sequestered in my basement kitchen, decorating day in and day out, with nary a visitor, any sun peeking through the slivers called windows, or any of the usual distractions (postman, doorbell ringing, neighbor’s dog barking, etc.), except for the occasional NPR broadcast. So, turning the spotlight away from my various deadlines and onto interesting people is always a welcome respite from my hermit-like, cookie-obsessed existence. Granted, it took longer than usual to pry me away from product testing and video editing this month, but I am here now and loving the prospect of getting to know this month’s featured guest and our February site artist, Anne Lindemann (aka @GinkgoWerkstatt), better!
We know from Anne’s earlier forum introduction that she harks from the north of Germany near the Baltic Sea, and started cookie decorating relatively recently in 2016. Anne learned cookie decorating mostly on her own with the help of internet tutorials and videos, and primarily works with royal icing. As a graphic designer by profession, Anne decorates in her spare time, making cookie gifts to surprise friends and family. While she does not sell her cookies (Germany has very strict rules regarding food-related businesses) or teach, she might like to give these things a try in the future! For now, she is happy doing simple tutorials every so often with the hope of inspiring others to explore the fun of royal icing.
Now that we’ve scratched the surface, how about we dig in with some of my “curious” questions?!
JMU: Hi, Anne! Thanks so much for taking time away from your work and family to chat with me today. Now that I've mentioned these things, why don’t we start with a little more background about them? Do you work full-time in graphic design? How long have you been working in that capacity, and what’s your typical work week look like? What sort of design projects do you most often do?
AL: Well, I have to thank you for doing this and for giving me this little spotlight! I have been self-employed since 2013, and I work from home. That means I have no fixed schedule and can work whenever I like or when I am most creative. When I started, my focus was on websites and a little bit of print design (flyers, business cards, etc.). Now, I don't do websites for clients any more. I focus more on print design, and I also started writing cookie tutorials. Aside from my own tutorials, I am also writing some for a company that sells materials for artisan crafts. In addition to all of this, I am working in a flower shop as needed. It's good for giving me a change every now and then. And I get out more often, because when you work from home, you tend to become a little hermit.
JMU: Don’t I know that, hermit that I am! Now, if you don’t mind me really prying . . . can you tell us a bit about you and your family? Married or single? Kids or no kids? What are their passions, and what do they think about your cookie decorating?
AL: Haha! Well, I am single and have no kids. But I do have some furry “kids” - two cats and one dog. I am sharing a house with my parents though. My mother is totally supportive of the cookie decorating thing, because she loves to eat my cookies (or keep them as decorations). She always gets sad when I am working on new sets that aren't meant for her.
JMU: Now, tell us, please, what or who motivated you to get into cookie decorating in 2016?
AL: My cousin’s wedding was in 2016, and I was responsible for the table decorations. As a surprise for her, I wanted to do cookies that matched the overall color scheme, among other things. I did some very basic flower cookies in white and purple, which you can see below. Even though they really weren’t special at all, everyone loved them. I was a bit surprised, but did something like this again for my grandfather’s 80th birthday a few weeks later. For that event, I made sunflowers (also pictured below) with more details, and some of the guests still have them as decorations, haha. I guess you have to blame those family events for me now making cookies!
JMU: Yes, thanks to your family, we have you here on Cookie Connection, and I am so grateful! Oh, and thank YOU too for sharing your first cookie attempts. Many people don't have the courage to do that . . . though yours are certainly nothing to keep in hiding! Now, why is royal icing your preferred medium? Are there other decorating mediums that you want to explore and add to your cookie decorating repertoire, and, if so, which ones and why?
AL: I am not a fan of sugar paste. My family and relatives aren't either. It wouldn't make sense to work with it, if no one would eat those cookies. For me, it's more fun to work with piping bags and small details. I wouldn't be able to do that with sugar paste. Wafer paper is something I would like to learn more about, and to work with on cookies as well. And maybe isomalt, but so far isomalt and I haven't really been friends, and I have learned respect for hot sugar!
JMU: LOL! Of course, I must ask, what does GinkgoWerkstatt mean in German, and why did you select it for your screen name on Cookie Connection and elsewhere online?
AL: Ginkgo comes from “Ginkgo Biloba”, which is a tree that is very resistant and that somehow fascinates me. I have some of these trees in my garden, on my jewelry, and as part of decorations everywhere.
The business name I started with was GinkgoGrafix. But as I began to explore artisan crafts, and also started with cake and cookie decoration, I needed a new brand under which to publish those things without mixing them with my original graphic design business. The name needed to be something that wouldn't focus on just one thing, yet would connect with GinkgoGrafix. So I went with Werkstatt, which means “workshop” in German. GinkgoWerkstatt is kind of a fictional room where I am creative.
JMU: And I imagine also a place from which you derive strength and resilience, just like the ginkgo tree! For a beginner, you have some very sophisticated cookies in your portfolio. I’m thinking of your 3-D windmill (above), which I love, and your royal icing coffins in your Halloween set (below), which are incredible. How did you go about acquiring the skills and learning the techniques for these particular projects? What were the biggest challenges in making these projects, and how did you grapple with (and ultimately overcome) them?
AL: Thank you! The Halloween set was a real challenge, and I had no idea what I was doing. It was in 2016 as well . . . not sure why, but I just wanted to take part in a cookie contest to see how a jury would judge my work. I wanted it to be awesome and special. I had just decorated cookies four times before that. It took me half a year to work out those designs, make the patterns, think through how to do all I had designed, and get it all done. I am very stubborn and a perfectionist. If I have something in mind, I want the result to be as close as possible to my idea.
You can see some photos of that project in process here, though the text is in German. Basically, I just did some internet research and tried to figure out things on my own afterward.
There was a lot of frustration involved, because many things broke again and again. The trees were the worst. All those fragile details! And humidity wasn't my friend either. I was close to giving up several times, but once I start something, I just want to get it done as well as I can. There were many moments when I asked myself what the hell I was doing!
Compared to that, the windmill was rather easy. After doing those Halloween cookies, everything seems easy, haha! Again, I did sketches (like I do for every cookie) and just added, piece by piece, one detail after the other until I was satisfied. Whenever I am stuck with such projects, I search the internet to see how others fixed the problem, and I try to find a solution that works for me as well. This is why I like doing things I have never done before. I learn best when I experience errors and can work on fixes immediately.
JMU: It sounds like we’re cut from the same cloth as far as both being stubborn perfectionists! I suppose most cookiers share these traits as well! Tell us a little bit more about your design process. Since you aren’t tied to customer specifications and requests, because you don’t sell your cookies, how do you decide which projects to do and how to make them? What (or who) are your sources of inspiration? And how do you go from idea to finished product?
AL: Whenever I see something that inspires me, I keep it in mind, and I save inspiration images on my computer. Cookie Connection’s Practice Bakes Perfect challenges are also a good excuse to attempt designs I have always wanted to try. Or I use any upcoming family event to try out this or that. I don't usually make cookies just for fun; instead, I always try to have a good reason to do so. Or to find someone I could give them to as a surprise or thank you.
If the cookies are a gift for someone, I do a little research about the person. If they are for an event, I try to use the event decorations or anything special about the event in the cookie design.
Once I have the general design idea, I look for fitting cookie cutters (always a good reason to buy some new ones, haha), do pencil sketches, and then work from those. Depending on the design, the sketches can just serve as a reference, or they can be used for templates to get results as close as possible to the original design.
I am definitely not a spontaneous decorator. The designer in me always takes over.
JMU: Again, we are cut of like cloths. I am such a planner! I should also point out to everyone that the needlepoint cookies you did above were for a recent Practice Bakes Perfect challenge, and I believe they were your first attempt at needlepoint. All I can say is, "What! Really?!"
Now, you mentioned in your earlier forum introduction that you aren’t selling your cookies, because Germany has some very restrictive laws/rules related to food-service businesses. Can you explain what some of the key rules are and why they’ve prevented you from selling?
AL: Whenever you work with food, you need to have a room/kitchen that complies with certain requirements - such as you need to be able to wash all surfaces; no pets are allowed to run around; you have to be a pastry chef (even though there can be exceptions) . . .
My kitchen is old. It works for me, but for selling or mass production, it just wouldn't work out. Getting all the paperwork done and qualifying for the requirements would be very costly and time-consuming.
JMU: But, in that forum intro, you did allude to a possible desire to sell your cookies in the future. Under what conditions would selling be possible for you, or make sense for you to do? Would certain laws/rules, market conditions, and/or personal circumstances need to change? If so, what things are currently holding you back, and do you see them changing any time soon?
AL: First of all, it would be a money issue to get a kitchen that would meet the standard requirements and have enough space to work. And I would only really consider this step if I didn’t have to go through all the education to become a pastry chef. The interest (in me selling) is already there, as I often get asked about selling cookies. But, right now, selling would be too much effort in general, and it would require having enough extra time to work on cookies.
And then there is also the fear that I wouldn't enjoy doing cookie decoration any longer if I had the added pressure from clients to deliver good results. I am not someone who just starts something for fun. For such things, I would always want to be on the safe side.
JMU: Well, that all makes complete sense. You also mentioned in that same intro post that “cookie decoration is still a niche in Germany”. Can you elaborate on what you mean by this? Do Germans favor other forms of decorations and sweets, and, if so, what are they, and why are they favored over decorated cookies?
AL: Whenever we have baking shows, magazines, classes, or conventions/fairs, they’re mostly about cakes. The interest in cookie decoration is there, but somehow it's not as big as for cakes. I am finding more and more cookie decorators by accident, yet still they seem to hide and aren't well known.
The whole sweets business is still kind of new in Germany. I guess it just takes a little more time to make cookies as popular as cakes. Cakes might attract others more easily, just because of their size – they offer more to see/eat compared to cookies.
JMU: Do you see interest in decorated cookies and cookie decorating growing in Germany in the future? Why or why not? If so, what factors or conditions do you think will cause the cookie decorating business to grow? If not, what factors or conditions will constrain its growth?
AL: Yes! Definitely. There are already cookie classes and sometimes even cookie categories at contests. I am pretty sure that there are more people like me out there, who prefer cookies, and that the general interest will increase. It's like the snowball effect. The people in my circle of acquaintances had no idea of cookie decoration before I started. Now they do and are interested in it as well. They might not do it on their own, but they speak about it, and then it becomes more popular. I am sure the same happens with other cookie decorators, and, so maybe in a few years, cookie decoration will be as famous as cake decoration.
JMU: Well, I sure hope so! Now, if I can be so bold . . . What was your lowest cookie decorating moment since you started in 2016, and why? Also, how did you recover from that moment?
AL: It was in November of last year. I was working on competition entries, and I was facing my biggest enemy, butter bleed, again. It ruined my cookies several times, and I had to redo them completely a few days before the contest. I was about to quit cookie decoration, because if I can't figure out why something happens, then it will just ruin cookies again and again. Right now, I am testing various cookie recipes to find one that works for me, and allows me to go on with decorating. You know . . . being stubborn and such.
JMU: LOL! Conversely, what’s been your highest/greatest cookie decorating moment, and why?
AL: It was not decorating itself, but instead winning gold for my haunted Halloween cookies talked about earlier. I never expected to win after all of the frustration with them, and with me being “just” self-taught.
JMU: Wow, congrats! That is indeed a huge high point! And, last, my usual parting question (with a slight twist): If you could be doing anything in the cookie world three years from now, what would it be and why?
AL: Maybe giving classes. That is something I would be more interested in than selling, as it would mean I might motivate people to do this whole cookie thing as well.
JMU: If expanding the cookie market is your aim, teaching is definitely a great way to do that! I wish you well with your current and future cookie decorating ambitions! Thank you again for putting so much time and attention into this interview. As always, I very much look forward to seeing more of you and your work here on Cookie Connection, and I hope we cross paths one day soon either in Germany or the US!
All cookie and photo credits: Anne Lindemann
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!