Live Chat with Arlene Chua, CookieCon 2019 Instructor

Woo hoo! Arlene's chat has officially begun!
Hi, Arlene! It's so great to have you back to chat with us today. (Everyone, Arlene first chatted with us about a year ago after her first Food Network challenge! You can find that chat transcript here: https://cookieconnection.julia...-cookie-challengers.)
Welcome as well to everyone joining us today! It's wonderful to have you here! Please start teeing up your questions for Arlene as I review our basic chat housekeeping rules . . .
First, questions are answered in the order received, but they will not post to the public/viewable area of the chat until Arlene 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.
Second, please ask just 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!
Okay, onward! I'm going to start by familiarizing you with some of Arlene's work - in case you don't know it well already!
Here's her winner from last year's CookieCon . . .
One of Arlene's first mermaids! (Mermaids and fairies seem to be a common theme, so we'll have to ask her about that! )
Another mermaid!
I believe the next two photos are also past CookieCon Sugar Show entries . . . Is that right, Arlene?
The second one of the two just mentioned . . .
JULIA: Thank you so much for having me! Good morning, everyone! Just the first photo (Scarlett O'Hara) was a CookieCon Sugar Show entry. The second photo (Oprah in "The Color Purple") was my entry for The NY Cake Show in 2017, which incidentally received second place. The theme was Broadway plays. This cookie is also one of my favorite cookies. I have it preserved in a shadow box.
And, last (for now anyway), a more recent winter set - one I believe Arlene is teaching in an upcoming class (or has already taught).
JULIA: Yes! I just recently started teaching local classes in Staten Island, NY. I thought it would be a great way to break the ice since I will be a Core Presenter at CookieCon. I have never taught classes before or uploaded much video content onto social media. I’ve just recently started to do this as a way to practice my hands-on demo for CookieCon. It’s one thing to execute the technique, but to be able to articulate the steps, all while you are showcasing your work is a lot harder than I thought it would be - haha! Also, teaching in Staten Island has been a very rewarding experience. Decorated cookies aren’t huge here, and there are only a handful of cookiers, so it’s great to introduce people to my passion for decorated cookies!
Congrats on getting launched into teaching!
Hello from Ontario, Canada
OMG! Stunning!!
Thank you Julia!
So, let me start with a couple of questions of my own . . . Arlene, you clearly love to compete (even under extreme time pressure as on the TV challenges). What is it about competing that you enjoy so much?
JULIA: It’s true! I do LOVE to compete! I will admit, in the past, a part of it was the need to constantly seek validation and to remain relevant. There is a saying though that I now try to heed . . . “Always stay hungry, never act thirsty!” - haha (I have a love for quotes). I’d like to think that when I compete, while of course I’m competing amongst others, I am mainly competing with myself. Competing reminds me to never stay complacent of where I am technically. I feel competition is vital. It pushes us out of our comfort zone and shows us what we are capable of. I have this constant hunger for knowledge, which is also why I love to take cookie decorating classes. (I especially loved your class, BTW!). I also like to work under pressure, and I feel this is something that transcends my banking day job as a senior treasury analyst, where meeting deadlines is a MUST!
Hi Jeanne from Ontario! My recent Food Network gingerbread challenger, Beatriz, (and winner!) also hailed from Ontario!
Thanks for the kind words about my class!
Hey from Kansas City!
Hello Arlene and Julia!
Hi, everyone!
Hi ladies! Morning!
How much time do you spend on a typical showpiece for a cake or cookie show, like SoFlo or CookieCon? And what are your primary objectives or goals in designing a showpiece, i.e., to stretch your own skills, to wow judges with what you already do well, or something else?
Long answer coming up . . . I'll give you all some time to read it . . .
JULIA: I spend weeks on a competition piece. The most time spent is in the beginning stages when I am brainstorming the theme. I actually find “Interpretation of Theme” the hardest hurdle to tackle! I will spend days sketching my piece to see of it is something I can actually bring to fruition. My mind races a million times a minute with ideas floating in my head. I keep a notebook and jot them all down. It’s a HUGE complicated mess in the beginning. I must change my mind a gazillion times, but there is this “aha!” moment, when it just clicks and I am able to really zone in and focus on my concept. This is when I am at the peak of my excitement. I can NOT sleep. I want to work on my ideas right away or I feel like I may lose them. I will hardly eat or sleep once I am on a roll. I don’t like to take breaks and am easily irritated when I am interrupted. It’s not the healthiest way to be emotionally, but it’s like I can’t rest until this idea is out of my mind and is something I can physically see and touch. So, while the brainstorming aspect takes weeks, the actual construction is typically less than a week because I work at a feverish pace non-stop. BTW, I’m already brainstorming for the NJ competition. I have to say, the theme you picked has me anxious - haha!
Ahh, but you must also start brainstorming for my namesake competition at the Show Me Sweets show in MO in July! It's going to be HUGE this year, with a surprise I hope to announce in the next week or so. A competitor's dream!
Sorry, if my typing is slow. My keyboard is having some issues that need repair!
Yes, I'm still working with trying to get the days off at my banking day job haha!
Hi from Albany, NY- can’t wait to see you in Reno!
Hi Kim! Soooooo excited for CC! Cant wait to meet you as well!!!
I see questions in the queue from Kat and Jeanne. We will get to them in a bit; still working on advance questions.
Hi! Big fan here! What do you find to be your biggest cookie challenge (for example . . . for me it's the time it takes to mix colors)?
NATTY: Thank you so much! (Natty also recently took one of my local workshops!) I am so thankful for your support! I actually have to agree with that! Colors (and cleaning up - lol) are a HUGE challenge for me! I constantly have to refer to LilaLoa’s book and her color chart to mix and match colors. It does not come naturally to me. I always have to look at a color wheel . I’m always so impressed by mintlemonade’s use of colors.
For those of you who don't know mintlemonade, she's got a series of gray hearts circulating in our home page photo feeds right now. Very subtle and sophisticated use of color, indeed!
Do you bake other things (cakes, bread, pastries, etc.) or just primarily cookies?
Hello!
Hi, Beverly!
NATTY: Yes! I have the worst sweet tooth. I will forego a real meal for dessert. While I luv to bake almost anything, I sadly only have time for cookies nowadays.
How long does it typically take you to complete a showpiece?
Hi Beverly! Thanks for joining us!
ANN: Hi, Ann! I answered a bit of this earlier. While brainstorming takes weeks, I can typically complete the cookie under a week. For 3-D pieces, I always assemble on site. If I have to travel, I will arrive one day early and am usually up all night assembling my competition piece.
Hi, Arlene, I noticed you incorporate a lot of isomalt on your cookies. What is it about isomalt that you like so much? Can you give us some tips on how to get it clear and not sticky? I really love your signature mermaids!
Hello Julia and Chua Cookie! Nice to have this opportunity to chat.
CAMILLE: Hi, my friend! Thanks for joining the chat! I am OBSESSED with isomalt! It’s my new favorite medium to incorporate into cookies. I like using the Simi brand because it is already pre-made and super convenient. (Full disclosure: while I am not paid to advertise her brand, she has gifted some of her products to me. Just also want to note, I was paying for her isomalt long before she started giving me some samples - haha!). I’m hoping to plan a big part of my CookieCon demo around isomalt because it is something I have used frequently in my recent competition pieces. Obviously, I use it often for my mermaid tails, but I actually also use it to assemble my 3D pieces. For my Food Network creation, I was required to build a 3-foot tall gingerbread display. My partner and I were able to have the piece assembled so quickly (faster than our other challengers) because we used isomalt to glue the cookies together, thus reducing the drying time. Isomalt can get cloudy if you live in a high humidity area. There’s a simple solution to remove the cloudiness - just lightly torch the isomalt and it will come out crystal clear. If it remains tacky, I seal it with PME Clear Glaze.
This is Angela with All Mixed Up Bakery. Fairly new to the cookie world but I credit Julia as being my teacher as I watched her U tube videos over and over!
Hi, Angela! Great to have you here, and so glad my videos were helpful!
Do you have any great resources for learning to do more with isomalt?
ANN: Yes! I like to use Sidney Galpern’s (aka Simi Cakes') YouTube channel for tips on perfecting isomalt. One of my favorite things to do with isomalt is to make cookie pops. It’s very versatile and I think it’s a fun and playful take on cookies (like the shaker snowflakes, etc.) Here's a link to Sidney's channel: https://www.youtube.com/channe...JLsZTKQaaFeVnphpLbmA
Hi Angela! Im still considered "failry new" to the cookie world, too! Almost 3 years now since I discovered cookies haha!
Photos of cookie pops and shaker snowflakes coming up!
Here’s an example of cookies I made using Sidney’s SimiCakes Isomalt. I call the snowflake “shaker cookies”. They are a fun and whimsical and my nieces love playing with them. The other is a cookie pop . . . a cookie and a lollipop all in one - ha! I used Simi transfer sheets for the heart center. The Rose is wafer paper (technique from Angela Nino of The Painted Box). As you can see, I really love incorporating many different mediums and techniques into my cookies.
So the sugar beads are encased between two layers of isomalt, hence the "shaker" effect, right?
Yes! That's right, Julia!
Good morning, signing in from Florida.
Hi, Heba and Kim! Kim, I see your question . . .
We are still working through advance questions. Will get to it in a bit.
Hi Heba! Thanks for joining in! (I "met" Heba last year when I participated in her Mardi Gras sugar art collaboration.
Everyone, guest comments are moderated, so they can take a bit to post. I can see them all, so please do not re-post questions or comments.
These are so pretty, I have just ordered Isomalt to try my hand at something like these cookies. I’m a bit nervous about handling something so hot because I was seriously burned one time in a kitchen (not my fault).
In the event I cannot be here later, I’ll post these questions now. First, I'd like to hear about your design strategy in creating such beautiful pieces of cookie art that have won the hearts of judges and cookiers alike.
Thanks, Julia and Arlene, and hello to all from Greece. ❤️
TINA: Hi Tina! Greetings to Greece from NYC! I was saying earlier that “Interpretation of Theme” is so hard for me! Thank you for saying that it “wins the heart of judges/cookiers”! That means so much to me. I think that one thing I am very cognizant of when I compete is that I know it will be seen on a national level (especially with my Food Network appearances) . . . And well, one of the things I really like to do is use it as a platform to show that “representation matters.” I love to “cookiefy” different cultures and especially women of color. I think that is why it wins the heart of so many people. I create things that are “relatable" . . . for example, for the Food Network challenge, it was really important to show all the different cultures that celebrate Christmas, which is why I made all my elves different ethnicities. I’ve also embodied all my mermaids in different sizes and colors (not that mermaids or elves are real - haha!). So while I work really hard to try to create something beautiful for my competition pieces, I also try really hard for it to have meaning that can resonate with all.
Yassssss!!! Extreme caution with Isomalt! I use the double gloves Sindey sells at her shop! It only costs about $5!
I love how you think about the messaging in your competition pieces too!
Thank you so much Julia!
I also use Simi Isomalt, and just like Arlene, I bought alot of it at the start and now that Sidney and gang know of my work and my collaborations, they do sponsor me because I'm a huge supporter of her products and her molds are beautiful too There are other companies that sell Isomalt but I like Simi's because they're already precooked.
I agree Heba!
A live question coming at you now, Arlene. A bit out of order as still some advance ones to get through, but relevant to current topic . . .
Good to know! Thank you! Also, I notice Sim uses a torch a lot. Is it a good investment to have one, or should I wait until I do a lot of work with isomalt first?
I have long hours in my banking day job, coupled with a rough long commute full of NYC traffic... so to me, convenience is everything! I love that I don't have to spend time cooking the isomalt!
Sim = Simi
Julia, yes.
The torch can be purchased for about $20, so it's a relatively inexpensive investement. Plus, I use it for other things, not just isomalt (crème brulee haha)
Our last advance question . . .
Sorry, tech issues here!
Computer very slow to type and keyboard not registering . . . sorry!
And, second: I don’t mean to put you in the hot spot, but, of the several workshops you have attended over the past two years, is there one you found most influential or was it a combination of them?
TINA: I love being in the hot spot (otherwise I would never compete - haha)! I love them all! I feel like I am a sponge sometimes because I love soaking in all the techniques I have learned. For example, for my recent CookieCon entry second-place win, I learned how to bake curved pieces from your class, Julia! I really feel that in all my pieces, you will see combinations of cookie artists who have influenced me. While I love all the unique styles from many of the cookie instructors' classes I have taken, I would say that the ones who have influenced me the most are Marta Torres (Cookie Lab) and Sandy Beltran (You Can Call Me Sweetie). I am lucky to live in a huge city, where many cookiers will travel to teach. I love Marta’s pressure piping technique and use it for all my characters. Marta uses colored royal icing. I often do not color all the icing and will use Sandy’s painting technique to create shade and depth, or what she refers to as “The Sweetie Shade” - haha! I also love incorporating Angela Nino’s (The Painted Box) use of wafer paper elements into my design.
Diplomatic way to answer a possibly awkward question - LOL!
hahahahhahaha!
What are the steps you take in designing a cookies or set of cookies? Or do you just wing it along the way?
All live questions from here on out.
I definitely am NOT a "wing it" type of person. All my cookies are always sketched out first! I have OCD and have a timeline and steps for everything! Here's an example... even with cookies that are NOT competition pieces, I always sketch out the designs & label the colors!
When you are in a competition, do you pre-bake all your pieces or do you bake them at the competition?
I live in a small city (80,000 people), and I am fortunate to get the last spot in a two day masterclass with Marta Torres here...this Spring! we NEVER see people like that come here.
They are all pre-baked! Except for the Food Netowrk Christams Cookie Challenge.... man was that a tough one haha! as you can tell from the cookies in that episode, speed decorating and "winging it" are not my thing!
Will you be discussing how you juggle working full time and all the cookie things you do ?
Here’s Cookies I sketched out first
She can now, Kim!
And here they are finished
Beverly, you wil absolutely luvvvvvvv Marta's class!
So pretty and so true to the sketch!
I do that too, Arlene! I sketch and label everything, cakes and cookies and cake pops, anything LOL
Question from Kim again, in case it got lost in the above shuffle: Will you be discussing how you juggle working full time and all the cookie things you do ?
KIM: It's definitely a struggle!!! I try to plan a year in advance the competitions I will choose to enter and try to center my vacation days at work around them lol!
Omg!! Those are beautiful! And you’re an amazing sketch-er! I’m totally a “winging it” person when it comes to cookies. I’ve never taken any classes . . . yet!! I can’t wait for Reno, but I find some inspiration and just hope it works out - haha!
Ok. I think I will treat myself to a torch. I liked how it took care of air bubbles and cloudiness on the poured isolmalt, very quickly. I do everything in my home kitchen, so would I need to do all pouring on silicone mats? I am talking about a surface that would be a safe pouring station area, as opposed to just my bare countertop.
I have to really plan my time off wisely! I'm luck to hold a senior position at my banking job and have six weeks off, which is pretty unheard of for an American job haha!
Yes, DEF a silicone mat! Sidney's YouTube channel has all the cautions one should take when playing with isomalt! It's extremely helpful!
Yeah, that's a terrific amount of vaca. My husband's a doctor (chief of staff), and gets just three weeks. We hardly see each other these days . . .
In the beginning you mentioned you saved a cookie in a shadow box, is there something you do to preserve the cookie before you put it in the shadow box?
I also love that isomalt is becoming a thing now with cookies! More and more are incorporating it into their designs!
Cookie Chua, I thank you . . . and I know I will love it! I am already an accomplished artist here and my skills with cookies, painting on cookies, etc. are expanding day by day!
Chua Cookie, I am pretty sure I saw that Christmas episode. And I have to tell you...I was in hospital waiting for emergency surgery. They gave me a TV to watch and all I watched was the Christmas cookie competitions. That show and Julia (who I "accidentally" discovered on YouTube a week later) are what set me on my cookie decorating trajectory! I cannot believe it took an emergency situation to literally turn my life around in more than one way!
I don't do anything special to preserve the cookie, other than keep it out of direct sunlight. I know some people spray it with shellack, but I don't do that. The sugar acts almost like a preservative, and the cookie never gets moldy. Although I would never suggest consuming it haha
BEVERLY: haha! I luv that story!
Glad you discovered my channel, Beverly, and that it helped launch you! The cookie world is a fun place!
Any isomalt demos in Reno?
Chua Cookie, LOL! It’s a true story . . . just this December!
KIM: Yes! My lecture in Reno will showcake isomalt. I plan on doing hands on demo in my presentation!
I'll show an easy way for beginners & a more advanced way which involves pulling and sculpting it!
By Reno, people are referring to the upcoming CookieCon event there, BTW. I am not sure everyone is familiar with it, but it is a great cookie-only conference and show. www.cookiecon.net
Here’s a picture of how I store my cookies in shadow boxes
Yes, I am super excited to be a oresenter this year, along with Julia! HUGE footsteps to follow haha!
The cookie world, as I am discovering, is an incredible place! Very happy people (overall), and extremely sharing people with tips and ideas. Julia, you got me out of a pinch with 5” cookies a few weeks ago. My customer absolutely gasped when she saw my cookies! I thank you for your help with directions to flood them well!
BEVERLY: Yes, I absolutely agree! And it's many thanks to the pioneers in the cookie world, who have set a wonderful and kind tone for this community!
Not sure how huge those footsteps will be; I can't really start prepping for my CookieCon presentation until after 3/3 and it sounds like you've already started. I have an outline, but the execution is going to take loads of time and I have a large event coming up before it . . .
Awesome !!!!
I live in Joplin, MO. Are there any upcoming cookie/confection events in the Springfield, St. Louis or Tulsa area that would be beneficial to a newbie like me, and where is the best place, i.e., website, to find out about events in the cookie world?
I'd like to take a tab at All Mixed Up's question, since I live in St. Louis.
The biggest sugar event here - BY FAR - is the Show Me Sweets Show in July (13 and 14 this year). It's in its third year, and it showcases both cakes and cookies. They're really trying to amp up their cookie coverage this year . . .
The show is in St. Charles, and has vendors, classes and competitions.
It's now home to my competition - Julia M Usher's Cookie Art Competition - which used to take place at the OK State Sugar Art Show, but that show has been retired.
JULIA: I am so intrigued and wish you can share more details with the "coverage" haha! I'm working so hard to try to make that event! I was so sad about Oklahoma retiring, but am so glad you found a home for your namesake cookie competition!
My competition has both 2-D and 3-D categories, and, as I said earlier, is going to be HUGE this year with a major surprise to be announced in a week or so.
I can't wait to hear all about it! Gah!
As for sites to find out about events, if I can be so bold, I would say this site. We have a community calendar where people routinely post their cookie and cake classes, and where I post all known cookie shows. You'll find it under the "Main Calendar" under "Calendar" in the main navigation line.
Thank you, Julia. I will check into that one. I love St. Charles!
Great. Does that mean if I attend I will get to meet you in person???
Yes, All Mixed Up, I will be vending and judging there all weekend!
Chua Cookie, I am so new at this, but I must say that people see me and express how happy and well I look! I love doing this cookie decorating. I have a lot to learn yet. I cannot believe how many different techniques can be taken to cookies! I suppose people find their own "niche" and work more in that area. You just cannot master everything!
Beverly, cookies are truly my happy place!
Enough from me . . . any more questions for Arlene? We have about 15 minutes left in the chat.
I wish there was some kind of cookie decorating tutorials through a sugar school or something like that, where I could systematically learn more, be advised in my progress, and grow. I do not know if there is anything like that. I feel like I am learning ‘hit and miss’ style, and I can’t keep up with everything I see that I would like to learn!
It's so true how cookies can be therapeutic! They helped me when I was struggling in the beginning...
There are actually many! McGoo U is an amazing example...
Beverly, Craftsy (now bluprint) has some classes like that - not all under one curriculum, but each class has an instructor with whom you can interact and share your course work for feedback.
Any suggestions on systematic learning of decorating skills? I am on my own here.
There's also Avalon Cakes....and there are also tons of "free" tutorials like Julia's YouTube site, Haniela's, LilaLoa & Montreal Confections!
I subscribe to all of them on Youtube haha
Also, Beverly, we have a load of awesome tutorials on this site, for all skill levels. They are categorized by skill level under our "Blog" section. Manu, who is on this chat, is one of our wonderful tutorial contributors.
Thanks Julia and Arlene for making this chat possible. I am inspired to look into some new things and to go to St. Charles in July!! I'll put my husband to work on making the reservations!
Great, hope to see you there! Please spread the word!
I can say that also attending some cookie decorating classes for hands-on personal learning is a great way to do it, Beverly.
Arlene, what size cookie sells best with you if it has Isomalt in the design? And if I may ask, for the sizes, what do you price them at?
I really love making giant sized cookies! For my isomalt cookies... they are aprox 4"
All Mixed Up - Here's the Show Me Sweets show link: https://www.showmesweets.com
That's what I was thinking too, we're on the same lines Thanks!
Thank you both! Yes, Julia I have every one of your tutorials saved and I watch them over and over. Marta Torres will be the first "real time’" learning experience for me.
I typically only sell "Keepsake" cookies... these are all portrait style cookies +6" and start at $25-100
It's hard to find a site that sells giant cookie cutters and I hate to hand cut dough. My namesake portrait cookie cutter plaque can be found on Cari's site.... "Sinful Cutters"
Beverly, I wasn't speaking of my tutorials . . . I don't have any on this site (Cookie Connection). All of the tutorials here are written by very talented others. You should read them if you haven't.
Thanks for the link. I didn't want to bother you by asking but I'm glad you sent it.
Any tips on making a delicious cookie that has a soft bite?
Slightly underbake them! I make my cookies soft bc that is what the American taste prefers.... but I actually love a crunchy cookie!
All of our tutorials can be found here (literally hundreds): https://cookieconnection.julia...hnique-tutorials-all
Chua Cookie....keepsake cookies...I like that idea. I am much more of an artist than a cookie baker. I can see myself going more into the direction of cookies as an art form.
Julia, yes...I understand! And I will go and look at more of the blogs. Thank you!
Me too, I prefer crunchy cookies LOL
I also use very good quality butter and vanilla bean paste
Me too. I find some of the soft ones very pasty, especially once iced.
I just extended the chat a bit in order to handle the few remaining comments.
Thank you, Julia, for the shout out. I learned a lot from your videos and from all the material shared online by “pioneer cookiers”. Arlene inspired me to take cookie classes in Milan (with Evelindecora and Marta Torres); unfortunately, I missed Dekoekkenbakkers in Bangkok, but wish I attend your class in person as well one day!
Yes, Julia I agree! Manu's tutorials are amazing!!! I especially love her new "felt" technique!
Would love to meet you in person too, Manu! But I hope you know that! XOXO
Thank you for all the insight and info! I can’t wait for Reno and hope to meet you there! All the best!
Thanks for the great questions, Kat!
Thank you for joining us Kat! Can't wait to meet in Reno! I'm planning a sweet tooth goup outing haha! There are some pretty cool spots to get dessert in Reno! Hope to have you join us!
Moreover, super thanks to Arlene for spending her time with us today, and for sharing her expertise! I wish I could take her class at CookieCon - it sounds fabulous!
Thanks for hosting these amazing chats, Julia! I can’t wait to (hopefully) meet you in Reno too! 😊
Arlene, I wanna go too!! I'll be in Reno and I sure hope to meet you all there!
Thank you for having me Julia!
Yasssss Heba!!!!
You will - I'll be there! Got my plane ticket already!
Woohoo! Partayyyyy! haha!
My pleasure, Arlene! Best of luck in all of your upcoming competitions as well! XOXO
Thank you to both of you for this chat! It’s wonderful to connect in a live stream and discuss ‘real time’ questions.
Thanks for all of your input, Bev, and much continued success and joy from your newfound cookie journey!
Best of luck in your completions Arlene! I will keep my eye out for you!
Have a great day everyone! Thanks for the chat again ladies
So true Beverly! So thankful that cookie pioneers like Julia are able to provide this kind of forum for us!
Have a great weekend all!
Thanks, Heba, especially for your extra isomalt insights!
Thank you Julia!
Whoops...meant competitions!
Okay now, I'm signing off. Thanks again to Arlene and have a fantastic weekend, everyone!
This chat has ended.
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