First, my apologies to our featured artist, @Bożena Aleksandrow, who has the patience of Job. I featured her fabulous Easter cookies (pictured below in site banner- and backdrop-forms) back in April and, due to various work disturbances, I am just getting to her Cookier Close-up interview now. On the bright side, I promise that this interview won’t disappoint. Bożena is an extremely talented cookier whose work is notable for its impeccable details and vibrant colors. From her April forum intro, we learned that she harks from Warsaw, Poland and that she started her cookie decorating adventure in 2014 as a form of “life therapy”. Though the initial part of her journey was a struggle (she has declared that her early works were “not delightful”), Bożena persisted and went through lots of trials and errors, but ultimately prevailed, emerging with many skills and heightened confidence in her cookie artistry. And aren’t we all so lucky for that?! As you will see from the photos peppered throughout this interview, Bożena specializes in lace and floral styles, but has enjoyed cultivating other techniques by watching the work of others here on Cookie Connection. Now, let’s dive in and learn even more about how Bożena jumpstarted her skills and her plans for the future.
JMU: Hi, Bożena! How nice to finally be talking with you today! Thanks again for you cookie contributions that we featured in April (above) - and your patience! Let’s start at the very beginning of your cookie journey in 2014. What or who first got you started making cookies, and why (or how) have decorated cookies been “therapy” for you and apparently captivated you so much?
BA: I started my adventure with cake and cookie decorating after some professional and private turmoil and illness. I worked as a logistics specialist for many years and loved my job but had to end it. I did not work professionally for a while. I later decided to develop my cookie passion, which eventually became therapy for me after these difficult experiences.
JMU: I am so sorry to learn of your illness and associated hardships, but what a blessing (for us anyway) that they brought you to cookie decorating.
In your bio in your forum intro, you mentioned that you also enjoy decorating cakes for family and friends. Which form of decorating (cake or cookie) do you prefer, and why? And do you find any particular type of decorating more technically challenging than another? If so, which one, and why?
BA: From an early age, I liked baking cakes and cookies. I baked for all family celebrations and holidays, but also for fun without any special occasion. I liked testing new recipes. At some point, I decided to try to decorate cookies with royal icing. I really liked the lace style and decided to practice it and improve my skills in that area. It's not an easy style, but I thought it was the best suited for me. There are other equally difficult styles (such as brush painting), but I didn't explore them because I don't have any artistic skills in those areas – or at least that’s what I thought.
JMU: Well, we’re certainly glad you decided to master lace; it’s always a joy to see your intricately piped cookies!
In your bio, you also described yourself as a “passionate hobbyist”. Can you give us a real-life picture of what this means? That is, how many days or hours per week do you typically spend on cookie decorating? And what motivates you to sit down and decorate cookies if you aren’t selling cookies or serving a regular clientele. In other words, what or who fuels this passion?
BA: Yes, I am a hobbyist because so far I have not developed my cookie business with any fanfare or emphasis. After my illness, I started working in a completely different profession; decorating cookies became my great passion and an additional small source of income only. I decorate cookies in the evenings and at night. I devote two to five hours a day to this activity.
JMU: Wow! That’s still a lot of time for something that’s not your primary occupation. Do you have any desire to become a “professional” cookie decorator, meaning one who sells cookies, cookie decorating classes, or cookie products? If so, what are those plans? If not, why not?
BA: Some time ago I thought about expanding my business and running courses, but so far I have not taken this step. Perhaps I will at some point, but not yet. The future will decide.
JMU: It’s remarkable to me that you developed such refined piping skills solely through trial and error, without ever taking any cookie decorating classes. How did you go about learning your floral and lace piping skills so quickly? Did you rely on any resources of any kind, such as books or online videos or tutorials? If so, what were these resources and which were the most valuable to you, and why?
BA: As I am an ambitious person, I decided to do everything myself. I watched the work of others in the community and practiced a lot to achieve the desired effect. I set challenges for myself and pursued my goal.
JMU: I see that you joined Cookie Connection in 2017. How did you find the site, what spurred you to join, and how have you used the site since joining?
BA: I found your Cookie Connection website by accident while looking for various sources that might assist with my development in the field of decorating. I joined this community, but for a few years I was just following the site and not contributing photos.
JMU: Yes, I noticed that too. Though you joined us in 2017, you waited three years, until 2020, to post your lovely cookies here. Why was that? And, in the spirit of improving Cookie Connection and participation in our community, I wonder what you would recommend that I or members do to encourage more people, regardless of skill level, to post here more frequently? Are there any barriers to posting that I should work to remove?
BA: I must have lacked the courage to publish my works early on, but that moment finally came in 2020! I was surprised that my work was liked from my first publication. I am happy and honored by that. I think there are a lot of people who would join Cookie Connection but they lack the courage as much as I did. The language barrier may also be a reason, even though you can use the automatic translation at the bottom of every page.
JMU: Thanks! Based on your input, I just now moved our translation feature to the upper right of the home page where hopefully it will be more visible. It remains on the bottom of every page too.
You have clearly mastered the art of piping all types of flowers. What tips would you give to beginning cookie decorators about how to pipe refined and lifelike flowers every time?
BA: When creating flowers from icing, it is important to choose the right piping tubes, but also to be able to create different flower types in different stages of bloom. It takes a lot of practice to master this skill. I really like to create roses, poppies, anemones, daisies, and many others. I learned to create them by studying real flowers, and I recommend this observation method to others. I confess that I did not watch any videos; somehow I did not need them. I developed my own methods.
JMU: Again, I am so impressed that you were able to pick up these skills all on your own. Your flood icing is always so lovely as well - smooth and bubble-free. Do you do anything special to ensure that it consistently looks perfect?
BA: In order to obtain a smooth and shiny icing surface, a few things are important, namely - the right consistency of icing, and the icing must sit at room temperature for at least half an hour after making it; otherwise bubbles will appear on the surface. Iced cookies should also be dried in a dehydrator at a temperature of 35 to 40 °C (95 to 104 °F). Such drying gives shine.
JMU: We know what your favorite techniques are! So, let me ask the converse: What’s your least favorite technique, and why? And what’s your “cookie kryptonite” or Achilles’ heel in cookie decorating? That is, which technique or techniques are most challenging for you? And how, if at all, are you taking steps to turn these challenges into strengths?
BA: The most difficult technique for me is brush painting. As I wrote before, I have no painting skills. I could use training in this technique and maybe I will take part in such training in the future.
JMU: Training is good; I don't do enough of it myself, but I've made a pact to start exploring and developing new skills in 2023. In fact, after my own cookie course in Brazil in April, I'm planning to stay on to take master Alan Dunn's course in sugar flowers. I've only ever dabbled in the most rudimentary of sugar flowers, so his classes will be a true stretch for me!
I ask the next two questions of most of my international guests, just because I am always curious to learn about cookies in other cultures. Are there special cookies (decorated or undecorated) or cookie traditions or techniques in Poland that you think our members ought to know about?
BA: In Poland, practically all decorating techniques are currently used. Each person finds the most convenient or best fitting method for him/herself. We have our own traditional folk patterns, which are often seen in the works of different people, but we also use various other modern techniques, such as creating royal icing flowers with spatulas, or creating patterns with an airbrush or regular bristle brushes. Lace on cookies, especially needlepoint-style lace, is elaborate and elegant, and has always been done here - hence my interest in this style. I love making lace!
JMU: And that love clearly shows in your gorgeous work! Let’s explore the decorated cookie market in Poland a bit more. Though certain piping techniques seem to have a long history there, are any new cookie decorating techniques or trends emerging? And is interest in cookie decorating growing or waning, in your opinion? What evidence or anecdotes can you share to support your observations?
BA: The history of decorating cookies in Poland, especially gingerbread cookies, dates back to the 19th century. Gingerbread was a very expensive product, synonymous with wealth, and relegated to the rich parts of society. It was also not a widely available product. Currently, cookies are decorated by a large number of people, and they are becoming more common, which unfortunately means their value is also declining because they are so available. Cookies have become a fashionable and trendy product, bought for various occasions.
JMU: And, my usual parting question: How, if at all, do you expect or want your cookie decorating activity to change over the next couple of years? Do you intend to get into any new cookie-related activities, or to do more or less of any activities that you are already doing, and why?
BA: At the moment, I have achieved a high level of decorating skill with the techniques I use, but I aim to continue to improve in this field. I am planning to develop my decorating with brushes by creating mostly painted flowers. It is important for me that my works are created by hand, without the use of readymade products, or only to a negligible extent. I'm not going to stop decorating! I want to constantly develop and improve my skills.
JMU: Well, I, for one, am super excited to see what you do with brush painting. If it rivals your lace work, we're all in for a great treat! Thanks again for your patience in waiting for this interview and for taking the time to translate my questions and your answers. Much appreciated!
Cookie and photo credits: Bożena Aleksandrow
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!