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Live Chat with Amy Clough of Clough'D 9 Cookies

Hi, Amy! It's great to have you here as the second chatter in our CookieCon 2017 series! Thank you for joining us today!
Good morning to everyone joining us as well! I encourage everyone to jump in with questions. These chats are always more fun and informative when people don't hang back on the sidelines!
Good morning all!!!
Hi, The Cookie Widower!
For those who don't know The Cookie Widower - he's Amy's husband, who has graciously joined us for reasons Amy will explain in a bit!
Though . . . before we dive into Q&A, just a few housekeeping notes for newbies to our chats: questions are answered in the order received, but they will not post to the public/viewable area of the chat until Amy reads and answers them. We'll work through questions that were logged in advance first; then start working on questions asked live during the chat. That said, please be patient and do not re-post the same question. It may take some time to answer your question, depending on where it sits in the queue. But I will personally make sure every question gets answered before we're through.
Also, please just ask one question at a time (per post); it's easier for our guests to keep up and others to read the chat transcript if they're not hit with too many questions at once. Thanks!
To start things off, I'm going to post a few photos of Amy's cookies that she gave me to share. I'm hoping they will stimulate some questions about Amy's artistry and techniques!
Here's the first . . . love this one (the corn looks especially scrumptious!)
Hi, Julia! Thank you for having me today! It's such an honor!
I made my husband, "The Cookie Widower", join me today. He's my voice of sanity and clarity at times . Plus, he's the one who spearheaded the building of my backyard cookie studio.
His name is Mike, by the way!
Ahhhh.. the crabs and corn! It's what Maryland's Eastern Shore does. I have many requests for crab cookies every year.
More beauties . . .
My blossoms and filigree hearts! Oh, I loved these! I studied so many images of filigree - and it's something I hope to work on more in the future in my "playtime". There's definitely a learning curve to filigree - no pun intended - to get flow of a filigree pattern.
Yes, I think filigree is one of those deceptively simple techniques that really isn't . . .
We'll have to ask Amy about how she achieved this stenciling effect . . .
That camo pattern - yet something else that is extremely common in the rural area in which I live. And a very popular cookie request as well!
And just one more photo for now . . .
Just to provide a little context for the chat . . . your bio says you've been decorating cookies since fall 2011, and that you subsequently opened a cookie business that you operate from a studio in your backyard. How long have you had your cookie business, and what's the typical volume of cookies you produce in any given week?
On paper, my cookie business started in 2013 when my studio was finished and inspected/licensed. I left my teaching career to do cookies full time, and to be more available for my family. Although my cookie volume isn't high per week compared to others (>15 dozen per week), I put in more hours doing cookies than I ever did teaching middle school science. But I am home and accessible for my family.
Have you been successful in making the business profitable? I ask, because profitability is a challenge for most designers of custom-baked and decorated goods. What are the keys to profitability in a cookies-only business?
Well, I joke that my cookie business is a "hobby that pays for itself". There is no way that I could sustain my family on just cookies alone. I don't produce the volume needed, and my rural area couldn't tolerate the prices that one could charge in a metropolitan area. However, one aspect that is financially beneficial for me is that the loan for my studio will be paid off this year. Unlike other cookiers who have to deal with a forever-monthly rent for a commercial space, I will flat-out own my cookie space very soon. Maybe this extra money will be put towards my kids' college fund - or a new car for me!
Congrats on the loan pay-off. That's a big accomplishment!
Hi Amy, not sure yet if I will be able to participate. Thanks to this chat I got to know more about you. I like your work, your blog and I also enjoyed the "Reflections of a Cookie Widower" It is nice to read the point of view of a husband. The "Just Cookies" article, just to pick one, was great and very supportive.
Amy, I'm interjecting here to ask what the "Just Cookies" post was about?
Hi, Manu! I am so lucky to have a supportive cookie husband. That particular "Just Cookies" post is near and dear to my heart. He took a negative situation and made me think about all the GOOD that has come from my creating cookies.
Please, you tease! What was the situation that The Cookie Widower made right?
The post was in response to a customer that balked at Amy's pricing. Ironically, the post was written about a year after the interaction. It rubbed me the wrong way, so I wrote it to express that what my wife, and all cookiers, do with this medium goes way beyond just cookies.
So true - way to go! And, Amy, you are indeed lucky to have such a supportive husband.
I am pretty wonderful.
I'm afraid I've worn mine out with my cookie talk!
Julia- I am very lucky! And he makes me breakfast every morning too
Okay, back to advance questions in the queue!
Really? Damn! Mine is out the door before I wake up!
But I AM a night owl and late riser!
I am just curious about your business name and this is something I always ask . . .
Manu - My business name was the idea of a teacher friend! But unfortunately, not everyone "gets it" at first. At this point, it might be difficult to re-brand/re-name.
Just a point on Amy's business name, primarily for those non-native English speakers here who aren't familiar with some of our expressions. Amy's business name, a play on her last name, is pronounced "cloud nine". "Sitting on cloud nine" is a common expression, here in the US at least, that means one is sitting in a "perfect state of happiness"(! So, naturally, if you see or eat Amy's cookies, you will be perfectly happy too!
So, I understand you taught various ways of adding texture to cookies at CookieCon. Can you tell us which techniques you taught there, and which one, if any, is your favorite and why?
Plus, "Clough" is pronounced different in various locales. So it loses effectiveness in translation.
True . . . I had a confusing business name when I had my shop too.
Ultimately, it wasn't such a bad thing.
People always asked how to pronounce it and what it meant, but ultimately I think it ended up registering more with them.
My CookieCon presentation was all about texture. I wanted to teach different techniques that were simple/easy to do, didn't require expensive tools, and were applicable to attendees of all different skill levels. Some of the the techniques I demonstrated were a hammered surface (like on the bunny), a rough fabric texture, wood grain, and sponged texture. I think my favorite texture might be the sponged texture, because of it's versatility. You can use it on so many different cookie designs (i.e., rocks, ice cream, sand, etc.).
More questions from Manu, who entered hers in advance since she couldn't make the chat . . .
I loved to read your blog. I liked the trick to get rid of the air bubbles by "breaking the surface tension" of the icing and I want to try it soon. I recognized the former science teacher. Did your science background help you in cookie decorating? Was it hard to make the decision to leave your teaching career for cookies? Talking about teaching, do you offer cookie classes?
FYI - those watching: we're nearing the end of advance questions, so start queuing up your love questions now!
I think the overall fascination with nature has helped, too!
Oops - posted the wrong answer! Here's the right one!
Manu - It actually wasn't that hard to leave my teaching career. Obviously, my cookie career is no where near a teacher's salary. But I am home for my kids. I have been able to attend field trips and special events at my kids' schools. All things that I would have had to leave to substitute plans in order to attend - and subsequently piece things back together in my classroom upon my return. Right now, I don't offer cookie classes. But after teaching at CookieCon, and realizing that "once a teacher, always a teacher", I am definitely entertaining it!
Amy - can you also explain the trick for getting rid of air bubbles that Manu just mentioned? Dying to know!
Julia- I use a cake tester to pop the bubbles. But I don't stab the bubble. I hold the tester parallel to the cookie surface, gently touch the bubble, and quickly lift up.
The surface tension of the icing breaks, and releases the trapped air bubble. It's magical!
I taught her that
The Cookie Widower did not. Always the funny guy....
Sorry, I seem to have lost track of a question and answer, so I am reposting an answer from Amy to a question from Manu: "Manu - Unfortunately, my science background didn't prepare me that much for my cookie career. I was a biology major, and taught middle school life science. Maybe the overall scientific eye/appreciation for small details has helped me in my designs, though!"
Ok, one more advance question and we'll move onto live ones . . .
Where do you get the inspiration for your designs? Do you offer custom cookies? And in this case, are the customers involved in the design process or do they leave you free to create?
Manu - All of my cookies are custom-ordered. The client is involved in the design process, and provides the theme, color scheme, and sometimes the actual design of the cookie. I love those clients who say "just do your thing" or "just make them pretty". I am able to make something that I want to make - and still get compensated for it. Although most of my time is spent with client orders, I try to squeeze in some "playtime" when I can - those times in which I try a new technique or am just inspired to cookie something. The inspiration for those cookies can come from anywhere - a fabric print, a picture in a magazine, something in my garden. Lots of places.
Ok, onto live questions! Are everyone's typing fingers ready?!
For those who couldn't attend CookieCon, can you briefly explain what the rough fabric and sponge textures are? The hammered is easier to understand due to the bunny pic (thanks!).
Good question!
The rough fabric texture was made with a toothbrush! I used about a 15 second icing consistency. I loaded the brush with the icing and just swiped it across the cookie surface (over a dried icing base).
While she's typing, others, please send your questions.
The more times you swipe the toothbrush across the surface, the more lines you might see from the bristles. Turn the cookie 90* and swipe again. You get a woven-like pattern. It's easy!
We have several "guests" today (Claire, Rosie, SherriL, Shorty, and Susan) - Welcome!
Hheeellllooooooo Claire!!!
I believe "Guests" need to join the site and login to enter questions. So if you haven't done that, please do. Takes just a minute or two - the "Join" link is on the home page.
Washi- For the sponge texture- I used a foam sponge that was in a Wilton fondant petal kit. I dipped the sponge in thinned icing and dabbed it on the cookie surface. Think about stenciling walls back in the 1990's- same concept, but on a cookie.
Feel free to elaborate on the hammering technique too! I am guessing you just dimple it after it's crusted?
Thank you for sharing that!
Brilliant, thank you!
A craft sponge attached to a little stick would work too. But there's the question of "food safe". I assumed that if Wilton put it out, it *should* be food safe....
Hi there! It's still early for me in CA so I'm still waking up Great to participate, thanks!
Hi, SherriL!
Hi Sherril! Thanks for joining!
Washi- for the hammered technique- flood the cookie and let it crust. Then use your finger (or some other tool) to break the surface and cause it to dimple. Easy peasy!
All of the techniques that I demonstrated at CookieCon were meant to be approachable and attainable. They are imperfect, which is part of the appeal! It's hard to mess them up. And if you do, just scrape off the icing and try again. No worries!
I find you can get a nice crackled effect with a variation on that dimpled technique. Just take the full palm of your hand and gently press it into large areas of the cookie. The look is different but the concept is very similar.
So clever! You should definitely start teaching cooking :-)
Julia- Ooooh interesting! I will have to try that in my next "playtime" session!
Please also elaborate on your camo stenciled technique. It actually looks pretty complex.
I'll post that picture again in a sec.
Oops! Cookie-ing!!
Thanks for let me join he group!
My pleasure - the more the merrier!
The problem with the camo cookies is they're hard to see
Camo stenciled effect by Amy, again . . .
Am I enjoying this chat? You bet!!!
Me too!
Julia- As I mentioned earlier, camo print is very popular in my rural area. So I had many opportunities to study the print. I realized that I needed to airbrush the trees white before adding in other colors. That made all the difference!
I airbrushed with straight white americolor gel. Not the white Amerimist. That stuff didn't do a thing.
Is there more than one stencil involved? Looks like a stripe and a lead perhaps? If so, can you describe the order of operations and colors used at different times - white stripes first and then what?
lead = leaf, BTW
Exactly what I was gonna ask, Julia! And how did you get that speckled look overlaying the white trees? Super light touch with the airbrush?
Hi, Nana's Cookie Shoppe!
That's adorable
I used two stencils, both of which I made myself. First I used a tree stencil, airbrushed white. Then added in the shades of brown, focusing on one side of the tree.
It is! Clever stenciling too, I think!
Second stencil was a leaf stencil. Once again, starting with white, and then going over it again with a shade or two of brown.
Second stencil was a leaf stencil. Once again, starting with white, and then going over it again with a shade or two of brown.
Okay, so I am going to hit Mike up with a question or two while we wait for others to chime in.
Since camo pattern is not precise, you could certainly mix up the steps and do the leaves first, and then the trees. There are no rules!
I'll put my sandwich down
I understand you were pretty instrumental in bringing Amy's at-home cookie studio/shop to life. Can you first explain to us what it looks like - how big? equipped with what? etc.?
If you've got pictures, they would be cool to see too!
Great question, id love to know!
Its a free standing building in our backyard. its 16'X16'. Built to the latest codes, and inspected by the health department. All appliances are commercial grade as it is treated as a commercial kitchen.
We jokingly call it my "Fortress of Solitude", which isn't too far from the truth...
I find it amusing she has 3 sinks in a building that small.
Kind of what my basement is to me. Though I imagine your "fortress of solitude" is a heck of a lot more organized than mine. I won't share pictures of mine in its current state.
It isn't large enough to have multiple people in there. It's just big enough for me and my stuff. We were fortunate in that we didn't have to install a stove hood or grease traps.
So much better than the "dungeon"!
Lorie- LOL! Yup. And it's much brighter too
Experiencing some tech difficulties on this end. Sorry for the delay in posting some comments. Trying to catch up.
No worries, Julia!
So, Mike (The Cookie Widower), what were the biggest challenges in getting the same designed and built to code and ultimately approved by bureaucracy? What tips would you give to people here to streamline the process if they're considering doing the same thing?
same = space, BTW
Did I miss the picture??
im trying to put a pic up
No, I didn't see a picture.
oh, haha
Ahh, there it is now!
My passion for building things... I enjoyed watching pics of building your kitchen studio on your blog.
Hellllloooooooo...sorry couldn't get into the site 😀
Looks like you just did, Clairebrit! Welcome!
Wow, awesome!!
Curious - why the need for 3 sinks?
Footnote- that is the most organized the space has ever been....
A compartmentalized sink is a Department of Health requirement, which either Mike or Amy can explain!
The challenges were simply learning the codes themselves. Those things are not written for the average Mike. But, I'm not afraid to ask questions so I made A LOT of visits to the building and health departments. They were extremely friendly to deal with.
Oh I would love a space like this!!!!
Thanks! Thought I missed it whe someone mentioned 3 sinks.
Code required that she have a 3 basin sink for washing dishes, a hand washing sink for hygiene and a mop sink for clean-up.
Here in Missouri they also require a compartmentalized dish sink, which often has two to three parts to it - one for soaking, one for washing, and one for sanitizing in a bleach solution.
Aha, thank you!
How do you normally package your cookies for customers?
Because it is a "commercial space" we had to increase the size of our septic tank to accommodate all the extra water.
Exactly. And to be clear, I acted as the general contractor, I did not cut or hammer a single board.
Thecakequeen- Most of my cookies are packaged individually in clear cello bags. I heat seal and tie with a ribbon.
Thecakequeen- I use BRP boxes quite often too! I'll still individually bag the cookies, but then I arrange them on top of paper shred in the BRP box. I'll tie the box closed with a ribbon. It makes a nice presentation! I have a standing order with a local realtor who uses these cookie boxes as client gifts during home closings.
When I had my shop, I bought a preexisting catering kitchen, but still had so many Department of Health and licensing hoops to go through. It was not an easy process. Floors also had to be seamless and lap up onto the walls (there's a word for that which evades me) to allow for easy cleanup; eggs could not be stored above finished goods; strength of sanitizing solutions and refrigerator temps were routinely spot-checked by inspectors . . . the list goes on.
I am bragging about the Cookie Widower to my husband right now in hopes he will adopt some of CW's attributes. More like cookier husband-shaming, really. I hope it works.
Julia, I had forgotten about a lot of that. Thankfully we have some good friends that are local builders and were already knowledgable about all of the flooring, wall requirements.
Great pictures and great info!!
Oh that's an excellent idea....the realtor boxes...
Do the cookies stay fresher longer in a heat sealed bag?
Julia- Yes, the hoops are many! And here in Maryland, you don't have to go through a food handling class to be certified. I had to do quite a bit of research on my own.
Here we did, and we had to renew that certification every so often. Oh, and then I got taxed twice on the equipment I bought with the building . . . but I digress.
Nana's Cookie Shoppe- Oh yes! Cookies last a lot longer in a heat sealed bag. By heat sealing, you are preventing additional air from entering the bag.
Where do you get your cello bags, Amy.
Bette- I buy mine from Papermart. Since they're on the west coast (and I'm on the east coast), shipping is awful. So I really stock up when I can.
Here are 2 our of the 3 sinks...
It's a great space!
How long can your cookies stay at room temperature before eating?
I met Amy and her funny husband at CookieCon and have to say Amy was so down to earth and shared so many great tips and has been so helpful in my cookie journey. really should teach, so easy to listen to and informative. Cookie Widower is a great security guard!!!
Thank you Claire!!!
Okay, I just added a little time to the chat to make sure we can get through the 4 or 5 question that are currently in the queue waiting to get posted and answered. We'll try to go faster, but typing takes a bit of time. Hope that's okay for everyone.
Thecakequeen- I always keep the baked cookies at room temperature. I tell my clients that they're good for 2+ weeks in their bags. Of course, my kids will eat them months later. In fact, my mom just ate one of my Thanksgiving ones a week ago and she said it tasted fine! Not that I am making cookies months in advance for clients. All of my client's cookies are fresh
Shorty's question is up next!
Any advice of where to start for a rank beginner in cookies?
Shorty- PRACTICE. Every chance you get. Be patient and figure out what works for you!
Oh I am going to go to CookieCon next time . . . so upset I missed it . . . I am in Oregon so Salt Lake City is an easy drive for me . . .
Ok for me
Shorty - find a cookie recipe and an icing recipe that works for you, and really get to know it. Once you have the magic formula, stick to it!
Shorty- Also, don't feel the need to go buy every new gadget out there. Become proficient with just icing first. Then add in the other gadgets.
Back to the realtors' boxes mentioned earlier . . .
So am curious, Amy..what is included in the realtors' boxes . . . or are they customized?
Nana's Cookie Shoppe- CookieCon 2017 was just held at the beginning of March this year. I anticipate that the next one will be held in 2018. This was my 4th one- and it's such an awesome adventure!
Thanks! I'll do my best!!!
Nana's Cookie Shoppe- I do 6 cookies in that set: a house, house key, "congrats" plaque, "sold" sign, and some other design that changes seasonally (i.e.: a leaf for fall, snowflake for winter, etc). I can change things up at my discretion- my client is awesome!
The CookieCon hosts, Karen and Mike Summers, are closing down their online shop to focus more on CookieCon event production, and doing them with greater frequency. I've heard the next one will be in September 2018 and that they will then become annual, though this could be hearsay.
Amy, what made your adventure as a cookier begin? A cookier? An event . . .
Fingers crossed that CookieCon will be annually! Maybe they will become a traveling show?? Although the whole flight/hotel thing is part of the adventure of CC.
Yeah, they are talking about moving it around the country. I do know this from having talked to Karen recently.
Wish they would come to Texas!!
Manu- I have to thank my mom for the cookie beginnings. She kept giving me cookie cutters that were still attached to the "suggested design" card. I was already doing some cakes, and thought that spending that time on cookies would be just silly because they're so small. But then I tried it one time- and that was it. Hooked.
It would be exciting to see them move it around. I know they have some specific requirements that make finding a venue challenging.
How many ovens do you have? I would so love two ovens!
Oh that's great to hear..Julia.....oh by the way..I want to learn, and I am practicing using the parchment cones..I have switched to tipless bags but so far the parchment cones are still a challenge for me...haha
Part of Amy's CC presentation was on some creative ways to use tipless bags!
Lorie- I just have one tabletop convection oven that holds 3 regular sized trays. And I hate it. I hate how convection can bake cookies unevenly. But it's what was required by the health department, so I deal with it.
I much prefer cones to tipless bags, so if you can get the hang of cones, that would be a plus. The parchment is less flexible and provides more pressure on the "bag" and thus more control. Plus, depending on the tipless bag, the can sometime have side pleats or seams that interfere with the opening you cut in the end. But, if something works well for you, then oftentimes it's wise just to stick with that approach . . .
Nana's Cookie Shoppe- I am using tipless bags more and more. But I still make use of my regular bags/tips/couplers as well as bottles. A lot of my tool decisions depend on the project I'm working on.
I hate convection with cookies too - can't you turn off the fan in your oven?
Julia- I can't turn off the fan, unfortunately. I just strategically place cookies on the sheet.
the = them, BTW . . . typing too fast!
Amy . . . at times I have problems with time management . . . planning accordingly, any suggestions? I have started to bake and mix colors one day and start decorating the next.
Hi Julia & Amy -- Barb from CA! Just catching up!
Yes..Amy and Julia I am learning I am learning to adjust what bag , tip I am using with what project I am doing....utube has been very helpful..
Clairebrit- I try to bake in one day, and decorate the next. I like giving the baked cookie time to sit before adding icing. I try to re-use colors between sets, since I'm usually working on multiple sets at one time.
SherriL and Washi, your questions are next up, and I suspect they will be the last two we can take to avoid going past 11:15, which is when I must break. Hang tight.
Everytime I see Julia demo'ing w paper cones, I want to give it a go. Much more earth-friendly! (a consideration, on Earth Day!)
I agree - the primary reason I use them is to avoid cleaning reusable bags and to avoid disposing of plastic.
I've tried to get the hang of parchment cones, but I struggle with them. They're too stiff in my hands.
Sorry, folks, no more questions are possible. We now have three to get through with only eight minutes to go.
Pricing is always a challenge for me....the amount of time spent on a design vs what a client woud pay....any advice or experience with this?
Thanks Amy...I do bake on 1 day and then start the next so I don't get butter bleed. I always seem to have icing left over, mix too much in fear of not having enough of that color.
Thank so ladies. This has been great
Washi and Nana, still planning to get to your questions, but I think that's it.
Thank you!
Sherril- Pricing is such a sticky topic. It really depends on your area and what your locals can tolerate. Do some research in your area to see what cookies (and other baked goods) go for.
Thank you, Nana!
Wow, could you elaborate on these creative uses for the tipless bags?
Mike mentioned your creatives uses of them at CookieCon a bit earlier.
Washi- they're the same principles as old- school cutting of parchment cones. For example, cutting it into a V makes a great leaf tip. Cutting it at an angle can make a great teardrop shape. u store your icing that u r not using in the refrigerator? Or where do u store your icing?
The best thing you can do is experiment! Tipless bags are dirt cheap, so it's not super costly to burn through some.
Nana- I store my icing in airtight containers on the counter. I typically make 3 batches at one time, and go through it in just a few days. Since I use meringue powder, it's stable. I may have to re-mix in case of separation.
SherriL - We have a few great blog topics on pricing here on Cookie Connection that you might want to check out. In addition to knowing what your market is currently willing to bear, I think it's crucial to understand your cost structure so you set a price that gives you a decent wage and allows you to make money to reinvest in the business. There is some math involved here, but it's really important to do it if you want a truly viable business.
Ok. THANK U. this has been very helpful!!!!!!!
I do....hard to price worth my time. I just need to become more proficient and streamlined. Thanks!
So helpful, thanks!
Julia- and I need to do a better job at pricing accordingly. I give away too much of my time.
As you see, we can go on forever!! :-)
I know cookie talk has a way of consuming us cookiers - and even our cookier-husbands!
Loved this chat!
I am so glad to have chatted with you today!
Me too!
I did too! Thanks so much to both Amy and Mike (The Cookie Widower) for joining us this morn. It was REALLY fun to have TWO featured guests - loved the different viewpoints, and having you both here kept the conversation more lively! THANK YOU!
Great chat!!
Now I have to make her
Thanks for having us, Julia! And thank you everyone for joining us! (and yes, he makes lunch toooooo!)
We'll have a follow-up in-depth Cookier Close-up interview with Amy in May too - so if you didn't get questions answered here, I'll be asking some different ones there to take this chat even further. Stay tuned!
Fabulous 😀
Ad he cooks!!
Closing the chat now. Thanks again, EVERYONE, for participating and making this chat so fun. Have a great weekend!
This chat has ended.
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