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Cookie Chat with SweetAmbs, aka Amber Spiegel

    Lucky us! Amber will be joining us for our second Cookie Connection chat of the summer. She'll continue the conversation started in our earlier Cookier Closeup and answer any cookie decorating or business questions you might have. The chat is live and text-based, so you'll want to be comfortably settled next to your computer before it kicks off!

     

    That said, if you can't make it, transcripts of all chats are saved here on the site for later reading.

Welcome, everyone! We're thrilled to have SweetAmbs with us today to answer your cookie-related questions! Thanks for joining us, Amber, especially in the middle of a weekend!

I'm glad to be here!
Do we have a first question for Amber?

Who was your greatest influence in the cookie world?

Cookie Occasions: My greatest influence in the cookie world was actually a cake decorator! The first time I saw Margaret Braun's incredible cake art, I was inspired to see what I could do with cookies.

Have you ever had cookie block (i.e., can't come up with new ideas)?

Cookie Occasions: Of course! I go through cookie block all the time. If I think too much about coming up with a specific design, I just can't do it. I find that the best ideas come when I least expect them.
Anyone else? Don't be shy!
Often when reading your tutorials you talk about neutralizing your browns with green.  Can you explain a bit more about what that means and why you do it?
Melissa: I usually use the Wilton gel paste brown, which seems to have a lot of red in it, so it turns out looking too pink if I'm trying to get a light or medium shade. Adding green just helps to tone down the red so that I can get the brown color that I want.
I am so excited to chat with you; I am a big fan of your work!  Can I ask how you started your business in terms of getting your product out there.
Ooh, good question, SweetP. I'm dying to learn more about her process too.
SweetP: Thank you! I started out selling cookies through Etsy. I don't think that my work would have been seen by as many people in the beginning had I just started selling through my own website. I tried selling cookies locally, but the market just wasn't there. Etsy gave me the exposure I needed to get things going.
Thanks Amber. When I have tried to do "string" type work on cookies, sometimes the royal icing does not adhere to the cookie base. Which in turn means that the details flake off when they dry. I would love advice. Thank you in anticipation.
Cakes And Cookies - Terry: I have the same problem when I pipe with stiff icing onto a cookie that has not been flooded first. It doesn't cause too much of a problem if I'm not going to be shipping them, but I haven't figured out a way to make it stick directly to the cookie so that it would survive a trip in the mail. I find that it works better if you add a few drops of water to your icing so that it's not super stiff. Otherwise, this one is still a mystery!
g.day, I wish to have a awesome cookie recipe that holds its shape when cooking.
rpm: I've found that making sure your dough is cold at all times while you're working with it helps cookies keep their shape. My orange vanilla spice recipe is available in my tutorial shop at sweetambs.com, if you'd like to try it out. I've worked on it over the last few years to come up with a cookie that tastes yummy, keeps its shape, and doesn't become hard when sitting out uncovered for a couple of days while its being decorated.
Hello Amber and Julia. I have just started cookie decorating here in the U.K,where it isn't as popular as it is in the U.S.A. Do you have any tips on selling cookies ?. Also, do you think that the cookie will take over from the cupcake craze ? Hayley

Hayley: I would suggest opening an Etsy shop! It's an easy and inexpensive way to start selling cookies (www.etsy.com). I don't know if cookies will be taking over the cupcake trend, but, as I mentioned in the Cookier Closeup a couple of weeks ago, I do see decorated cookies becoming more and more popular. I like to believe that they are here to stay rather than being a trend that will pass.

Do you ever use buttercream icing to decorate cookies instead of royal?
Thecakequeen: I've never used buttercream instead of royal icing on cookies, but it is something I'd like to try!
The Cookie Lab: Sometimes I just like to try out new things. I've been an artist my whole life, even before I started cookies, and my style changes from time to time. I'm just experimenting new ideas. It's been fun!
Why are you lately changing your "signature" style
where do you get your inspirations?
Cancan: My inspirations come from things I find in antique stores and vintage shops, but lately I've been getting tons of inspiration from nail art! I'm so amazed at what people can do with nail polish, and I like to see if those same designs can be done in royal icing. I've had some successes and some failures with that.
Ha! I know, I'm astonished with what's happening in nail art too, but never thought of applying it to cookies!
I love the fact that you share your ideas in your tutorials- I have noticed that you have had quite an influence on some bakers- how does that make you feel?  I am also thrilled to be here all the way from Greece this is awesome!
Tina At Sugar Wishes: I love seeing how my work has influenced other bakers. It's nice to know that my work has inspired others to try out new designs, and I like to see how other decorators put their own spin on things.
I'm having the hardest time getting "off the ground" I'm just a SAHM who started decorating cookies as a hobby and creative outlet. I get people asking for quotes but no one ever orders. I don't think $20 for dz is too much. Do you have any advice?
Michele: I don't think $20 is too much, either! That's why it's good to sell over the internet, because you can reach a wider audience. If you keep at it, you'll find the customers who are willing to pay what you ask.
do you suggest any online retailer to buy? somewhere where we can order the basic bunch of stuff we need for cookies and decorating but at great prices?
I can almost hear Amber typing frenetically!
Pynki26: I usually just go to Michaels craft store for my supplies, but when I get down to New York City, I go to NY Cake to stock up on colors, cutters and pearl dusts. They have a website where they sell online. Their selection is incredible!
Amber, i'm a newbie in cookie decorating. While it's easier to decorate with royal icing, it gets really hard when it's dried up. I tried to add corn syrup to it but the icing became very liquid. Do you have any recommendation on how to make the icing "softer"?
Cacan: I think it depends on what ingredients you are using, because, while my royal icing does dry hard, it isn't unpleasant to bite into. It might also be a matter of personal preference! I actually don't add corn syrup to my royal icing. It's just Wilton meringue powder, powdered sugar, water and some flavorings.
I love all of your tutorials, they have inspired me so much and I have people asking all the time how to order, not ready for that yet.  The biggest problem I have is mixing colors. I am using wilton gels.  Do you have any suggestions how to get better at this, especially red and black.
Kimberliw, what specifically is your trouble with mixing red and black? too dark? not dark enough?
Oops, I meant Kimberlie.
Kimberlie: Thank you so much! I also use Wilton gels and sometimes Americolor. When making dark colors, it's best to make them a day or two ahead of time so that they have time to darken on their own so that you don't have to add an entire jar of color at once! I know it's not always possible, but it's best to make all of your colors at least a few hours ahead of when you will need them, because the colors will change over time.
I never seem to get a true red or black without it tasting terrible even with no taste red and the rest of the colors are challenging trying to match them or at least get them close to colors I look at?
Amber, any followup to Kimberlie's comment?
That horrible taste is a problem, too. Americolor tulip red doesn't taste bad! As for the Witlon gel pastes, I've found that if you buy the tiny jars, you won't have that problem. The larger size jars usually taste bad, and I have no idea why!
I'm such a big fan of both you, and Julia, so thank you both for making this happen. I absolutely loved your nautical cookies (striped with a heart and anchor). Do you ever have problems with bleeding either from at type of striping, or in the marbling that you do so wonderfully?
(Thanks, Tricia! Love your work too!)
TriciaZ: Thank you!! I find that when I make my icing a little bit on the thicker side it will help to prevent bleeding. Icing that is too thin or has too much color will almost always bleed.

When decorating under humid conditions, do you adjust your icing consistency or just take measures on the drying process? Thanks. Marta

Marta: Good question! I usually just hold back a little bit of the water in my icing when the weather is humid.

Amber, when I made royal icing once, it took more than a day to dry out. Is this because I didn't add corn syrup?

Cakes en Vogue: I actually don't add corn syrup to my icing, but if its a very humid day, it will take a long time for the icing to dry. Also, the amount of color in the icing can affect drying time as well.

Do you mix your own shades or do you buy ready-made colors?

This time of year I almost always have the AC on in order to get the icing to dry quickly.

Hi! I'm from a far far away place, Argentina! I have trouble finding a retailer that will send internationally at a reasonable price! It is almost impossible to find supplies down here! 

Any suggestions for Martina, Amber?
Tina: I usually use the Wilton garden tone set for those antique looking colors, but I often mix my own, as well!
Martina: Have you checked the Wilton website for their international distributors list? I'm not sure what other websites sell internationally.

So you mean we should add less color, Amber? (When it is humid.)

Martina,have you checked ebay sellers?
Yes, less color when it's humid.
Amber, since you make your icing ahead to let the colors intensify, how do you deal with the change in consistency in the icing?  Do you color thick icing, then thin down only when you're ready to pipe?
Amber and Julia, thank you for this opportunity, you inspire us so much!
Tikkido: I usually color the icing after it's been thinned down. I don't find that the consistency changes so much that it causes a problem.
You're welcome, Cakes en Vogue. Thanks for your great questions.
Thank you, Cakes en Vogue!
How do you store your cookies when completed?
Thecakequeen: I wrap my cookies in cellophane bags and then seal them with a heat sealer. I get my bags from nashvillewraps.com.
Amber, do you store them this way even if you're not selling them? But instead bringing them to a large event?

Yes, I generally  but through Ebay, but I will check Wilton page! thanx!

Julia: Yes, I always wrap them! It helps to protect them even if they're just being transported a short distance.
Have you ever worked with fondant?
Tina: Yes, a few times! Sometimes I use fondant for small molded decorations on my cookies. I've done a few fondant covered cakes, but that's very difficult for me!

I tried your recent "piped lines on bare cookie" marbling technique on some minis and mine didn't look very good...do you ever do marbling on minis?  Any particular technique work better than another.I' m a big marbling fan but only have luck with marbling on medium to large cookies.

Debbie: I've never tried marbling on minis. I think it just takes practice to get it to look the way you want! You could try using just two colors to start out until you get the hang of it.

Are there any good color charts or tutorials out there for beginners that would help with mixing colors. I have been looking and haven't been able to find one.

Kimberlie: Off the top of my head I believe that Sugarbelle and LilaLoa have color charts that you might find helpful.

Can you please give us an idea on how to price a cookie? In Portugal, people still ask sometimes if decorated cookies are priced by weight because there is "tradition" for buying regular cookies like that. Sometimes the work even on a small cookie is not considered because it's just a small one.

The Cookie Lab: Pricing cookies is difficult because it depends on how much time goes into them. You should think about how much you want to be making per hour and calculate how much time you are putting into each cookie. The mindset of the customer is going to have to change, but that will be up to the cookie community to help make that happen.
Agree with Amber! We need to start valuing ourselves and work more and reflecting the time it takes to create art in our pricing. Sorry, off my soap box . . .

Do you have any advice for preventing color bleed? I absolutely hate finishing a cookie, loving it, and then coming back to find my dark colors have bled into my light colors while the icing was drying! I think humidity makes it worse so have started keeping my dehumidifier running more. But it's not a 100% guarantee.

That's a great idea - too much on a little cookie made everything muddy.  I so love your work.  Thanks for doing this chat.  Very interesting!!!
Thank you so much Amber. I've been "working" on that, hope to get there.
AnnS: There are a few things you can do to prevent bleeding. First, keep your icing on the thick side. Also, don't use too much color. Keep your cookies in an air conditioned room while they're drying. I find that helps the most!

Is there remedy to dry the royal icing faster, if we don't find it drying out on time?

Debbi: I had that problem when I first started marbling, too! Muddy icing!
Cakesn en Vogue: I've never tried using a dehydrator, but I've heard this works well for drying icing. I stick to an air conditioner and a fan!
Chiming in . . . a dehydrator works fabulously for speed-drying - also causes the cookies to dry with a soft sheen rather than a matte finish.

This is so much fun!!!!! Does anyone ever really eat your cookies - you too Julia? I'd put them in my China closet; they are so lovely.

Thank you Amber.
Good to know, Julia!
Oh wow..thank you Julia!
Tina: My grandmother actually has some on display in her store in NJ (just for show), and my dad has a ton in his office. They will last for a long time if you don't take them out of the package! But yes, people eat them! LOL
How many cookie cutters do you own?
TriciaZ: I probably own a lot less than most other cookie decorators! I usually just decorate round and square cookies. I'd say I have around 150 cutters.
We've got just about 15 more minutes with Amber, and there are still some questions waiting for her in the queue. If you have any others, please post them in the next 5 minutes so Amber will have time to answer them while the chat is still live. Thanks!

How long is it possible to keep the cookies sealed so that you can eat them?

Martina: I usually recommend keeping the cookies for no longer than 2 weeks when they're sealed up.

Can you freeze cookies before and after decorating?

Lol..Tricia..very intresting query.
Pynki26: I have never put cookies in the freezer that have already been baked or decorated, but I've heard that this can be done. I usually will make my dough, cut the cookies and freeze them raw in order to save time. That way, I can just pop them in the oven when it's time to decorate.
Love all your work and have learned so much! What would be your time frame from baking to the finished product and still be really good?
Linda: Thank you! I usually have the cookies baked and decorated within 48 hours. Then, I seal them up as soon as the icing is dry to keep them fresh!

Hi, Amber! I am a big fan of your work. My question relates to using gold to color cookies. I have noticed that when I mix the gold with vodka and try to paint on the cookies, it eats into the icing and creates holes in the piped lines. Also, I live in the Middle East so it's not advisable to use alcohol in food. What else can I use to mix the gold with that will evaporate? Thanks!

Chichi: I have been meaning for the longest time to do a blog post about alternatives to alcohol for painting with gold. Unfortunately I don't know of any at the moment! As for the problem with the dissolving icing, I'd recommend using either lemon or vanilla extract. I actually prefer to use Bacardi 151 because it evaporates so fast and doesn't dissolve the icing. Sometimes vodka is just too watery.
Do you ever have classes in Florida?
Kimberlie: I don't have classes planned in Florida, but I hope to get down there one day soon to teach!
Can you tell us more about the classes you have planned in Spain? They sound really exciting!
Sure! I'll be in Madrid for a week in October to teach at Alma's Cupcakes. There will be two workshops that are 2 days each and then an advanced class on the last day. I'll be teaching flooding, wet-on-wet, brush embroidery, along with some other fun piping techniques.
Cool!

Any recommendations (or perhaps a new tutorial?) for learning the scroll technique? I have trouble wrapping my brain around it and it ends up looking like a kindergarten kidlet scribbled it. I watch your tutorial but I can't seem to mimic it with royal. I need baby-step-by-baby-step instructions!

Debbi: I actually just finished filming my new scroll tutorial! It will have step by step instructions that will break it down so it will be easy to follow.

Any spaces left on that course (in Spain)?

AWESOME!  Can't wait to see it...will keep an eye out!
I believe it is sold out! I'm hoping to do more, though.
Congrats on the sold-out class! A testament to your great work!

Amber, I'm a big, huge fan of your work!! Lately you have been a busy bee... Working on a tutorial per week! 

 

I have bought your icing recipe and tried a few others, but my icing always looks grainy. Not sure what I'm doing wrong. Any advice on grainy icing? Thank you!

Wow, that is awesome for you to be sold out.

Ornella: Thank you!! Sometimes the icing comes out grainy depending on what type of meringue powder you're using. I use Wilton brand, and lately I've noticed a little more graininess than usual. I would recommend just trying a different brand of meringue powder to see if that helps.
OK, two more questions remain in the queue. Last call to add any others. The chat will close promptly at 1 pm CDT, so we want to make sure everyone's questions get answered!

Hello, Amber, many greetings from Vienna, Austria. I really appreciate your tutorials; they've been a great help for me! I have one question: Are your recipes in the shop also available in metric units? Thank you so much, xoxo.

Thank you, Anya! Yes, I can email those to you! Send me an email at amber@sweetambs.com. I will also make those available in the shop for the future, in case anyone is interested.
I think I've asked you this before, but I was wondering if you started out as an artist first or a baker/cookie decorator first? Your cookies are amazing works of art!
Great! Again, thank you so much!
Melissa: So are yours!! I started out as an artist first. I have been drawing and painting ever since I could hold a pencil!
I think we have a few minutes remaining. Any final questions, anyone?
Amazing you chose a cookie as your canvas.
I've definitely had the most fun creating art with icing than anything else.
OK, I'll ask one: what's the next most exciting project on your horizon?
So thankful for this, thank you so much!!!!! It was a global experience!
I know - I LOVE the real-time, global nature of this chat!
My next project is a move into a new and bigger bakeshop in August!
No more questions - but a huge thank you!  Kudos to Amber and Julia for such a well-moderated and smooth chat.  Very excellent!
Ooh, exciting, Amber!
Many many thanks indeed
Thank you Amber & Julia!! Greetings from France!
Thank you so much, everyone!! I really enjoyed chatting with you all. Great questions!!!
Thank you ever so much, Amber. It was a thrill to have you do Cookie Connection's first legitimate live chat!
I loved every second!
Thank you for having me, Julia!
This chat has ended.
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