My Aunt Jean was a wonderful baker. Watching her in action was something to behold. She would talk a mile a minute, all the while looking directly at me, never missing a beat while mixing her ingredients. She would grab handfuls of flour and sugar, crack eggs, throw in chocolate chips or pecans or whatever the dessert called for, and mix it all up with hardly a glance downward. Everything was always so delicious. There was one hiccup; my aunt had no talent whatsoever when it came to decorating. Frosting on her cakes was messy and blotchy. Her decorated sugar cookies looked like a monkey iced them and threw them against a wall. Thank goodness they were yummy!
I realized early on that baking and decorating are two very different things. Mastering one does not mean you can do the other. In recent years as I’ve gotten more involved in the decorated cookie world, I’ve come to another realization: there are those who can decorate pretty cookies and there are cookie artists. A cookie artist uses the cookie as a canvas and produces innovative designs that beg to be framed and not eaten! But, here’s the sweetest dilemma: what if these beautiful little works of art are also the product of a wonderful baker like my Aunt Jean? Do you eat? Do you save?
All this leads me to introducing you to one lady who is causing these types of cookie dilemmas more and more each day . . .
Meet Rebekah Shaw of Love at First Bite
KA: Rebekah, you are a gifted artist and a wonderful baker. Cookies truly are your canvas and no set of cookies demonstrates that as clearly as your Bruno Mars cookies. I found myself looking at these cookies again and again, marveling at the incredible detail and talent that went into each and every one. Maybe it’s because I am a big fan of Bruno that I initially lingered the first look or two, but the precision and talent that went into their creation kept me looking and wondering how you accomplished so many great effects. Tell us first what inspired you to create the set and who got them?
RS: I was inspired to make this set after having the most amazing night at a Bruno Mars concert in Philadelphia. My fellow cookie friend Tami, from Tami Rena's Cookies, mentioned to me that she was a fan of his music and that I was so lucky to be seeing him in concert. She was one of my cookie auction winners who helped raise money for the victims of the Moore, Oklahoma tornado back in May. Since she didn't get to see Bruno Mars in person, I thought I would bring him to her in edible form.
KA: Very sweet idea! On cookie #3 (looking at the cookie set photos from top left to right), how did you create the beautiful pink, almost confetti look for his profile?
RS: This cookie was fun to create, but a little time consuming. I flooded a royal icing profile of a face on top of my glaze-based cookie and let it set to dry. I used food coloring, and with a tiny brush, I painted squares next to each other in different directions to achieve a pixelated look.
KA: Was a KopyKake projector (KK) used for #2 and #7 and, if not, how did you achieve such perfect detail?
RS: Yes, a KK was used to create the basic outline of the face. Facial features need to be very precise, and I have never been great at getting the proportions correctly drawn. Using the KK as a guideline helped me place the features correctly. Once the guidelines were set, I flooded royal icing using a brush and added my own details such as the stippling (dotting) technique that I did around the face.
KA: #6 is really fun. How did you achieve the contrast in the glossy fingers as opposed to the rest of the gorilla’s arm?
RS: The arm and fingers are both made with royal icing, just using different consistencies. The arm is piped on with stiff royal icing, using a round tip in a zig-zag motion making it look like fur. The fingers are flooded with watered down royal icing, but layered a few times to give them dimension. I completed the look by painting some white food coloring on top for shading and some black for finger details.
KA: It goes without saying that #9 is fabulous! Share with us the process to create it.
RS: I have an obsession with 20th century art, especially the Op Art and Pop Art movements. The first thing I did for this cookie was find a photo of Bruno Mars and use my Sketch app on my iPhone to create a black and white rendering, so the shaded areas stood out. I recreated the photo by sketching it with my handy colored pencils and replacing the black shaded areas with color. I kept the sketch for my reference while decorating. Now I was ready to decorate my cookie. I took a round cookie and flooded it with two different colors of glaze for the base. When the base dried, I piped an outline of his face in royal icing and flooded it white. This gives the cookie more dimension and makes it look as though the face is coming off the cookie. When the royal icing was set, I painted his facial features with the selected colors, using water, Americolor food gel, and a liner paint brush. The secret to painting is to make sure you don't have too much water on your brush because that can eat through the icing. Sometimes the paint doesn't dry so well, especially in humid temperatures. If this happens, I take cornstarch and dust some on top to absorb the moisture.
KA: Your cookie company, Love at First Bite, is a licensed business. I asked you about using a KK above. Do you think they are necessary for cookiers to help with corporate logo orders or detailed designs on cookies?
RS: I don't think it is necessary to own a KK, as long as you are patient and creative with how you will get your details onto your cookie. I have owned my business for seven years and for six of those years, I did not own a KK. I did things the old-fashioned way by making my own templates to trace onto my cookies, using an edible marker or simply using my eyes and a steady hand to copy an image. I decided to buy one last year so I could do writing on cookies, which I feel is the hardest thing to master in the cookie world. Since I bought mine, it has come in handy for copying my own sketches onto my cookies and doing logos in half the time. It would certainly be worth it for those who do big orders and are crunched for time.
KA: Speaking of detailed design, one of my absolute favorite designs in the cookiesphere is your Tyrannosaurus Rex cookies. I would go nuts if I was on the receiving end of these cookies! How did you come up with the idea and how difficult was it to create?
RS: These cookies were for a young future paleontologist, so I decided to create something more realistic than just doing a basic skeleton on a plain background. I thought it would be unique to create a cross-section view of the dinosaur, like you are looking through the skin to the bones inside. I flooded the cookie with white glaze and then painted it to look like the outer skin. I took a real skeletal diagram of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and piped it as best as I could with icing. They came out looking exactly how I envisioned them to look and they were much easier to do than I had anticipated.
KA: You recently posted a beautiful abstract color wheel cookie that mimics a stained glass window. How did you come up with your method of creating it and could you explain to us how to recreate?
RS: There are many different methods to create this look, but I chose one that I knew would be easy and quick. First, I flooded the cookie with white royal icing and set to dry. I could have used a glaze base, but when glaze gets wet it takes a while to dry. I then piped an outline of the pattern with black royal icing and I let it sit so it dried completely. Using light corn syrup, I poured a little into an artist palette and mixed with food coloring. Using a small brush, I dipped it into the corn syrup and carefully dabbed it in the space between the black lines. You want to make sure you don't fill up the spaces too high or get corn syrup on the black outline, or the cookie will take longer to dry. I then repeated with various colors to finish the color wheel. This cookie took about seven days to fully dry.
KA: You've talked about royal icing and glaze. Which do you prefer?
RS: I have the best of both worlds because I use glaze and royal icing on my cookies. My cookies are flooded with glaze for the base and the details on top are royal icing. I prefer the taste and sheen of glaze, but I also love the dimension that royal icing gives a cookie. Glaze is much sweeter and softer than royal icing, but when put together they create a balance that makes a perfect cookie.
KA: How long does the average cookie take you to decorate?
RS: I am famous for being a super-slow decorator and a perfectionist which is a blessing and a curse. The average cookie takes me about one hour.
KA: Your Op Art cookies remain one of my jaw-dropping favorites. Everyone was stunned by these crazy little canvases filled with intricate geometric designs. What did you use for the base icing and the black design?
RS: I prefer to use royal icing for the base on my Op Art cookies because I use a fine point black edible marker and I have to push down hard to get straight lines. Royal icing is hard, unlike glaze that can dent if too much pressure is applied to it. Glaze also tends to bleed more when using black, and royal icing takes well to the color.
KA: Were they freehand and, if not, what do you suggest using to recreate this type of design?
RS: In my art school days, I made a book of my own Op Art designs using AutoCAD software. I used those designs to create the patterns on my cookies. The cookie lines were not freehanded. I put my designs in my KK and then I used a straight edge and my edible marker to transfer the image. I filled them in solid after the whole pattern was completed. It is important that the lines be accurately drawn so that the illusion stands out. If my lines were crooked, you wouldn't see them "move".
KA: Your autumn GO BO charity cookies were beautiful, but I couldn’t stop looking at the tree trunk cookies and the great texture you accomplished; it really looked like tree bark! How did you do it?
RS: This was such a fun set to create and for such a great cause. I flooded the cookies with glaze and painted them blue to look like the sky. When they were dry, I piped and flooded royal icing in the shape of a tree trunk on top of the glaze in a light shade, one that looks like bare wood. I made two bowls of slightly watered down royal icing, the consistency of buttercream frosting, and colored them brown and dark grey. I piped a few lines of the brown royal icing on the trunk with a small round tip and let dry. When it was ready to go, I dipped a square-tipped paint brush into the brown and dabbed it all over the trunk, covering the lines. I took the bottom (flat side) of my bamboo stick, also known as my "boo boo stick", and carved the heart and GO BO while the icing was still wet. I continued to dab the icing on the trunk, but this time using the dark grey royal icing on top of the brown. The colors mix together and give a natural look of bark. I then finished the cookie by adding the painted leaves on top.
KA: What are your “can’t live without” tools for baking and decorating?
RS: I certainly don't know what I would do without parchment paper, the best invention ever. I roll my dough in between the sheets and flash freeze it, so I can bake in 15 minutes as opposed to waiting one to two hours or overnight for it to chill. Another thing I can't live without is my vinyl quilting template sheets that I cut to make custom cutters. I sometimes need a cutter on the fly and don't have the time or money to order a cutter, or sometimes the cutter doesn't even exist. So the templates are perfect and sturdy enough to use over and over again if needed. Last but not least, my bamboo skewers also known as my "boo boo sticks". I love them because they have a pointy side and a flat side, great for doing cool techniques such as my "footprints in the sand" (photo below) and carving. The pointy side is also great for getting rid of those pesky air bubbles that sometimes pop up out of nowhere.
KA: What are your favorite two sets of cookies and why?
RS: I have never been asked this question before and I am stumped! I would have to say my second set of summer cookies (again, below) that I did this past year. It was a set of many colors and textures. They make me happy every time I see them. It had my "footprints in the sand" technique and my favorite cookie, the aerial view of umbrellas, beach towels, and footprints on the beach. My second favorite set is without a doubt my Bruno Mars set. It was made with love and inspiration. I pushed myself beyond my comfort zone to see if I could really do them. They are my babies and they make me proud.
KA: Is there a decorating technique or cookie project you are anxious to try? Who inspires you?
RS: I have always been intrigued by the needlepoint technique that Julia Usher creates on her cookies. I have wanted to try that technique for a while, but never seem to find the time to experiment. I am a “wing it” kind of cookier, and many of my techniques are not well thought out, just trial and error. Who inspires me? Everything and everyone in this world inspires me. I look out my windows and I see cookies. I go online and I am inspired by the array of talented bakers. The great thing about being an artist is that you never run out of inspiration because it is right in front of you every day.
KA: For a cookier wanting to try some of your techniques like painting on a cookie or unusual textures, what is your advice?
RS: Have patience and practice. They say Rome wasn't built in a day, and I say neither was a cookie . . . especially with me in front of the cookie! Some things come more naturally to others, while some people have to work hard to get the same results. If you don't get it the first time, don't give up . . . keep trying and you will get the results that you wish to achieve.
KA: What are your cookie plans for the future? Do you see yourself expanding into teaching or online tutorials?
RS: This question is one that I ask myself every day. I struggle to make my business into the dream that I envisioned when I started seven years ago. My dream hasn't become a reality as of yet, but I'm not willing to give up on something that I have worked so hard for and wanted for so long. I will continue to enjoy creating cookies for those who want something unique. Hopefully everything will fall into place sometime in the near future. I would love to teach classes and do tutorials, but to be honest, I have a hard time explaining how I do things without confusing people. I am a visual person, so when I explain a process I tend to want to show people how I do it, but not explain how I do it. Never say never. Who knows what the future holds for me, but I do know it will be a bright one.
Photo and cookie credits: Rebekah Shaw
Karen Anderson is a cookie and cake decorator located just outside of New Orleans, LA. Since the passing of the Louisiana Cottage Food Law, Karen is now enjoying the freedom of being able to bake from home. After spending four years as a columnist and writer for the New Orleans Times Picayune, she decided to combine two of her passions: creating edible cookie art and writing. Visit Karen at www.facebook.com/sugardeaux and follow her here on Cookie Connection.
Photo credit: Karen Anderson
Note: How DID You Do That? is a regular Cookie Connection blog feature, written by Karen Anderson, which reveals the inside scoop behind inspiring cookie designs. 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 Karen's past posts, click here.