My interview this month is with someone who is great with cookie sets. Jessica Weisnicht is the artist behind Compassionate Cake, and one look at her body of work here on Cookie Connection would make you agree! She creates cookies so detailed that they are impressive on their own, but then she produces A LOT of individual beauties and puts them together in one massive set. The results are marvelous! I decided to ask her about how she constructs her platters, and about a few of her techniques as well. I hope you enjoy hearing from Jess of Compassionate Cake as much as I did!
Melissa Joy: Jess, the cookie clips you post on Cookie Connection have such a wide range of styles! Each cookie is so unique that it could easily stand up, impressively so, on its own. How in the world do you come up with so many different designs for one set?! Do you purposefully come up with several specific ideas or do they just sort of grow organically as you go? Your 2014 GOBO Foundation Bake Sale set, for example, shows your talent for generating designs.
Jessica Weisnicht: I really just let a set come organically. Okay, really, it is my indecisiveness. Usually, I bake and flood a lot of cookies at one time with no specific designs, colors, or shapes in mind. After a few hours of brainstorming, the ideas start coming to life and then I get to work! I am a big fan of plaque cutters more so than shapes. Plaques allow me so many more cookie possibilities than shapes do.
MJ: It completely blows me away that you don’t have a plan beforehand. I do not work that way, and am in awe of people who do! I am curious to know if you ever use a Kopykake or other projector to help you with icing the designs?
JW: I try to freehand most of the designs except for when it comes to writing. Writing on cookies gets me every time! For that and really complicated designs, I use a Kopykake.
MJ: I hear you on the writing thing! Is there a certain technique you tend to gravitate toward when making a set, like wet-on-wet or handpainting?
JW: It really depends on the design of the cookie as to which technique I try. I am fairly new to the decorated cookie world, and I was really scared to try the wet-on-wet technique especially when using a dark color with a light color. Now that I know the colors are safe to put together and will not bleed, it is one of my favorite techniques. I also really, really love stencils! Stenciling adds so much depth and interest to cookies!
MJ: I see that you make vegan cookies, so that must include the icing. How hard or different is vegan icing to use, compared to royal icing made with meringue powder or egg whites? You seem to have no issues from the looks of your work!
JW: Thanks so much! I must have tried 100+ batches of egg-free royal icing to get the consistency just right. Although, it is not nearly as stiff as traditional royal icing, it does allow me to make some textures such as leaves, flower centers, and simple swirl roses. It dries just as hard as traditional royal icing, but does take a bit longer to dry completely.
MJ: You use a lot of textures, and their variety conveys a wonderful look when combined in a cookie or set. Any particular embellishments you like best? I adore the sparkle detail that frames several of your cookies!
JW: Thank you! I am a big fan of sparkle! Edible glitter, edible markers, gumpaste and fondant flowers, petal and shimmer dust - they are all my favorites! I couldn't choose just one. But I would have to say that, for me, an airbrush really makes a cookie pop and come to life. It amazes me to see the depth and dimension that you can achieve with color. Also, I love to draw stitches on the borders of cookies. I love to sew, and adding stitches combines two things that I love to do.
MJ: The “Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein Get Married” set that you made for the Practice Bakes Perfect Challenge #5 was unreal. SO MUCH going on! Here are a few questions for you regarding this set: How did you create the texture on the black pumpkins? What was Frank’s tie made out of? How did you achieve the crow’s feathery chest? Too many questions?
JW: Perfect amount of questions. I really had fun with that set! I love the Practice Bakes Perfect challenges because they get my thinking cap on! It is really amazing how people can take one idea and create such amazing results! For the portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein, I first flooded the pumpkins in black and then created an ivory oval in the center. After the oval was set, I piped a silver frame around where the portraits would be. Once I had the portraits painted, I added the embellishments. Once the portraits were done, they still looked plain to me, so I used my scribe tool and etched cracks around the surface. Frankenstein's tie was made of a 50/50 blend of fondant and gumpaste. I used a burlap texture roller to add some texture to the bow tie. For the crow, the wings and chest were piped with royal icing and a cut leaf tip.
MJ: It is truly an incredible set! My final question, which I ask all of my interviewees . . . What is your can’t-live-without baking or decorating tool?
JW: For me, it would have to be parchment paper. I bake all of my cookies on parchment paper. Believe it or not, I also flood and pipe all cookies with parchment triangles. When I was learning how to decorate, many moons ago, canvas bags and parchment paper were the only things [piping tools] on the market. To this day, parchment paper just feels comfortable to me.
MJ: My goodness, Jess, you are full of all sorts of surprises! From your newness to cookie decorating (just shy of a year - how can that be possible?!) to your “sewing” inspiration, to working with parchment triangles . . . I've loved learning about your processes! Thanks so much for agreeing to an interview. Your work is amazing, and I am wowed by the range you create, especially in a single cookie set. I can't wait to see what you make next!
JW: Thank you SO very much! It was an honor and pleasure.
Photo and cookie credits: Jessica Weisnicht
Melissa Joy Lacasse has always had a passion for baking just about anything, but something clicked once she received a cookie decorating kit years ago. This pastime that started as holiday cookies for family and friends eventually turned into Melissa Joy Fanciful Cookies, a Facebook page, and most recently, the blog melissajoycookies.com. While Melissa enjoys the creative outlet that cookie decorating brings, she finds that sharing with others, whether via bakery box or virtually, is always the most rewarding part of her cookie journey.
Photo credit: Melissa Lacasse
Note: How DID You Do That? is a regular Cookie Connection blog feature, written by Melissa Lacasse, which reveals through in-depth interviews the inside scoop behind cookiers' unique designs and technique innovations. Its content expresses the views of the author and interviewee, and not necessarily those of this site, its owners, its administrators, or its employees. To catch up on all of Melissa's past posts, click here.