Live Chat with Chef Nicholas Lodge

Hi, Nicholas! It's wonderful to have you here chatting with us today! It's not every day that we have a world-renowned sugar artist in our midst! Thank you!
I'm very excited to be part of this amazing cookie community !
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!
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 Nicholas 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.
Im excited to be here julia
So glad to have you!
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!
Hi, Barb and Rebecca!
And Sweet Prodigy!
To kick things off (and hopefully stimulate some thought-provoking questions), I'm going to post a few images of Nicholas' cookie and cake work . . .
Here's the first - a fondant base with royal icing piped on top.
Next up, a cake and cookie extravaganza in green with mostly stenciled cookies . . .
And the last one (for now, anyway), some Tiffany blue fondant-covered gift packages . . .
So, while others are lining up their questions, I have one or two for you. You mentioned in an earlier conversation with me that you "loved being a presenter at CookieCon and passing on a lot of technical things about royal icing from my 40 years in this industry, to hopefully make the audience understand the differences between fresh egg whites, dried egg whites, and meringue powder . . ." That being said, I'm super curious to hear what you see as the key differences between royal icing made with fresh egg whites and that made with meringue powder?
Thank youn
I had a fabulous time at CookieCon and look forward to receiving your questions for our live chat today! Sweet wishes! Chef Nicholas 💚
Julia: At CookieCon, I spoke a lot about the technical side of royal icing. The main difference is structural strength, as well as finish and lustre! Meringue powder, depending on grade/ cost, contains anywhere from 20%-40% egg white; then a lot of powdered sugar and starches. So the structural strength is not the same as icing made with dried egg whites, sometimes called albumen powder, which is 100% dried egg white with only one other ingredient - sodium sulfate, a preservative, also found in meringue powder. I never use fresh egg whites or even pasteurized egg whites for royal icing, as the icing is very dense and heavy, especially to pipe with. You have to add acetic acid or lemon juice to balance/neutralise the pH balance, as it is a little on the alkaline side. Plus, in fresh egg whites, there are health risks associated with salmonella, and also fresh egg white icing will yellow over time if making decorations, etc. So, in my world as a cake artist, I only use meringue powder or dried egg whites to make royal icing for basic piping and simple decorations on a cake or cookie, but I use dried egg whites to do anything on acetate or waxed paper, including piped flowers, as it is very strong. I always use this icing when flooding cookies, as it dries with a beautiful sheen and lustre. Remember that royal icing is hygroscopic, so the longer the surface takes to dry, the duller the finish will be. Using a lamp 12 inches away, or a food dehydrator, will help to achieve a lovely finish! If you put two cookies side-by-side, one flooded with meringue powder and one with dried egg whites, you will see a huge difference. The surface of the dried egg white cookie will be a lot silkier and not porous, so if painting on it, it won't bleed.
FYI, everyone, we're working through previously answered questions now, so I will give you a little time to read the responses before moving to the next one.
And a follow-on question . . . what are the key differences between royal icing made with meringue powder and that made with dried egg whites? Is one type of royal icing better for cookie decorating than another, in your opinion, and, if so, why?
Dried egg white always as i can use for everything
I think you answered this one already in the above response! Oops! Onward!
Julia: At the French Pastry School where I'm a chef instructor, and at my schools in Atlanta and Japan, I teach my students a lot about the technical differences of royal icing. Sadly, most people make icing incorrectly. You should never, as Wilton teaches, dump everything in your mixer bowl and mix up. Even using meringue powder, I still add the meringue powder to the water, mix, and strain with a fine tea strainer into my usually 10x powdered sugar, as otherwise you will get gritty icing because small lumps of egg white in the meringue powder may not dissolve. When using dried egg whites, you have to let the egg whites dissolve in the water for 20 to 30 minutes and then strain into the powdered sugar.
Yes, I learned about dissolving and straining the hard way!
Wow! Thanks for that treasure trove of royal icing info. (P.S. Everyone, in case you didn't know, "hygroscopic" means "tending to absorb moisture".)
Welcome, Alya and Kristine!
Please send along your questions. We still have a few more in the advance queue to go though.
What are the most important criteria you look for when judging a competition (originality, clean design, technical difficulty, taste, etc)? Or perhaps you could rank in order what matters most to you?
Chu-A-Cookie: (1) When judging competitions, including cookies, I'm looking for originality of design foremost. In a recent show in NYC, the cookie division included 20% for the cookie taste. Each competitor had to submit 6 undecorated cookies, including the recipe, as well as 6 decorated ones! The public did not agree with some of our judging, as they were only looking at the decorated ones and did not taste any of the entries.
More questions from Chu-A-Cookie that came in advance . . .
1.) When judging a competition, what is the biggest mistake you often see competitors make? 2.) What do you dislike seeing? 3.) How should an ideal sugar cookie taste? (I recently entered the NY Cake Show competition, where you were head judge. I loved that the judges took the time out to give me very thorough critiques and constructive criticism. I found this to be extremely helpful, and very much appreciated the time they took to converse with me. I lost the most points in the taste component b/c my cookie was too soft and tasted more like a brownie. I thought this was great feedback to work on, but was wondering what you prefer in the tasting element.)
Chu-A-Cookie: When 20% of total points are for degustation/taste, it's a package and, ultimately, just like in cake, a cookie not only has to look amazing, but must also taste good!
Chu-A-Cookie: (related to your Q3) Yes, taste is very important! We loved your cookie as an "eating-undecorated" cookie, but it was very much like a brownie, and it would be difficult to package for example for a wedding.
Chu-A-Cookie: (related to 3, continued) Typically, I use shortbread, french sable, sugar cookies, or gingerbread for judged cookies, as I did on a Food Network Challenge. For just an eating-only cookie with no decoration, the cookie can be more cake-like, chewy, etc., but typically this type of cookie does not do well if kept too long or decorated with flooding, rolled fondant veneers, etc.
You have such an amazing and impressive portfolio! 1.) Besides the royal wedding cake, what are some other memorable sugar pieces that you are most fond of having created? 2.) At CookieCon, you performed demos using a combination of royal icing and fondant on cookies. If you had to choose one, which do you prefer working with on cookies? 3.) I would love to one day travel to Atlanta to attend your school. Out of all the techniques you teach (sugar flowers, royal icing, fondant cakes, etc.), which do you prefer teaching and what technique do you prefer using the most and why?
Chu-A-Cookie: As an educator, I only teach what I love to do. I don't believe you can pass on to your students techniques or mediums that you're not passionate about, like I do not like doing figure modeling or sculpted cakes, so I don't teach them. I leave this area to cake artists who have a passion for this! Sugar flowers and royal icing are my true loves. Just finished some lilacs today for a demonstration in Spokane in 2 weeks time.
Turning to live questions now. I had one more as a follow-up to Chu-A-Cookie's questions above. She wondered if, in addition to the wedding cakes you've done for the royal family, if you have another (other) sugar creations that are super memorable to you? Do tell!
Prince harrys christening cake , queen mothers birthday cake
But all of my clients are special
Amazing! What a thrill those projects must have been!
In the event I will not be available for this marvelous chat, I want to thank you, Julia, for your endless energy in giving us so many tools to grow as cookiers. I am humbled to be asking one of my secret idols any question. Hello, Chef Lodge.
Yes a great honor
Tina: You are very welcome! Thanks for always participating so enthusiastically here on Cookie Connection!
(1) Since I am one of the many unable to attend CookieCon, can you review the differences between fresh, dried egg whites, and meringue powder in royal icing (RI)? (2) What is your opinion on ready-made RI mixes like Squires Kitchen Professional? I've had such difficult times using a PME 0 tip; I don't even attempt piping with homemade RI with a zero tip.
Tina: Chef Lodge already answered Part (1) of your question (scroll on up the chat transcript to see the answer), so he'll focus on Part (2) about ready-made royal icing mixes.
Ok royal icing mixes vary alot
Are there any you prefer more than others, and why?
commercial ones like ck are very gritty made with meringue powder , Dawn parrott has a great one on super fine can use 00 tip no problem as made with super fine powdered sugar
Welcome, Imsothere and Julia (Richardson)!
Ooh, good info, will have to try Dawn's. I've worked with Squires Kitchen and had no trouble with very fine work.
Do you have a cookie recipe that you will share with us? I'd love to try one that you think is truly a delicious cookie. So far, I have only used Julia's recipe which I do enjoy. However, it's always fun to try new recipes.
So most mixes are not good for piping a no 1 0r smaller but if you add the water , mix untill cimbined then cover with wet towel for 30 mins then mix up it will be fine as the water will dissolve the particles of sugar
Rebecca's question is the last one I have in the queue, so please send along questions for our esteemed guest!
Im about to leave to fly to London when i get back i will share some recipes with yall
I work in a retail bakery that let's me be creative instead of cookie cutter store to store stuff I don't have royal icing to work with though. Only donut glaze. I'm limited to what I can do with it because it's so runny and takes forever to dry. Any advise on how I can utilize it and still give off that "wow" factor?
Yes julia squires is fine too
Thanks, Mr. Lodge. That would be so nice of you to take the time to share with us. Julia, please give us a heads up when Mr. Lodge shares his recipe.
Will do. Nicholas, did you see Kristine's question above about using donut glaze and getting it to dry?
You can add powded sugar to donut glaze to flood with a lot of large bakeries use this glaze
So just thicken it up to facilitate faster drying then, right?
Tell us more about making cakes for the royal family. Do you go to the palace to discuss what you'll make for them? Do they let you do whatever you'd like or do they have very detailed requirements?
Yes it helps a lot
I got to meet the royal family yes to discuss
So cool!
Thank you for the invaluable information about royal icing that you have shared. What do you see as trends for cakes right now?
It was taking my ideas and for exsample lady dianas and coming up with a cohesive design
Cake trends are all about texture , metallics still hot , geodes , large flowers like peonies
Thanks Chef Lodge - that's such an easy fix. And I don't have to worry about the ingredient label having powdered sugar listed - already there! Same go for chocolate too?
Above is a follow-up to thickening donut glaze with powdered sugar.
Just like fashion we as cake and cookie artists are influenced by bridal and color trends
Yes kritine an easy fix
Yes, the metalics and flowers are beautiful.
Two questions coming at once about your reference to consulting with Princess Diana on a cake . . .
How exciting! Are you telling me you made Diana's wedding cake?????!!!!!
Were you a nervous wreck on the day of delivery???
Were soon launching a fda compliant rainbow dust metallic line
Yes i was very nervous and only in early 20 s
Did you work on her cake solo, or with a team of people? I imagine it was a HUGE undertaking!
No julia a team of 5
Are you mostly teaching at this point or are you still baking for clients? Do you have help when you are creating for a client or do you do all the work at each step?
Mostly teaching and consulting i dont make many cakes now just mostly pastry chef friends getting martied
WOW - so young! Where did your notoriety actually begin that the royals would sign you up?
I wrote my first book at 17 years old then another 11 all before i was 30
Rebecca - I'm posting an excerpt from Chef's bio that's under the i icon at the top of this chat. It gives his extensive and impressive history.
Here's that excerpt: Nicholas was born in Essex, England, and became interested in cookery and cake decorating at an early age. When he was 10 years old, he designed his first cake for his parents' anniversary. Upon leaving school, Nicholas worked in a bakery as a cake decorator to gain practical experience and commercial speed in decorating. He was then offered a position at The National Bakery School of England, located in London, where he completed a two-year course in cake decorating and design. After gaining distinctions in all his assignments and examinations, Nicholas received the award for the Most Outstanding Cake Decorating Student at his graduation. Moving rapidly to even higher achievements, Nicholas became Principal Wedding Cake Designer at Woodnutts, one of England's top sugar art schools. There he created cakes for high-end London hotels, including Claridges, The Ritz, and The Savoy. After two years at Woodnutts, at the young age of 21, Nicholas became the tutorial manager at Mary Ford's School in Bournemouth, another top sugar art school. During this time, Nicholas and a team of decorators were commissioned to do work for England's royal family and other celebrities. Most notably, this work included one of the official wedding cakes for Lady Diana and Prince Charles in 1981. Nicholas later reproduced this royal wedding cake while the Prince and Princess of Wales toured Tokyo, Japan. Nicholas was also commissioned to create cakes for the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday and the christening of Prince Harry.
Do you do anything special to offset the high humidity that can occur during the summer month? Special tips or techniques?
Miss Wiggles - Can you be a little more specific? Did you have a certain task in mind - like working with royal icing, or something else?
Thanks for posting the bio, Julia.
Just with royal use a dehumidifier to help drying and generally any sugar flower or cake try and keep in the AC
No prob, Rebecca - our guests' bios can always be found under the i icon and also in a separate forum post that precedes each chat.
Tell us what a usual day is like in your life.
Like in Atlanta yesterday it was high 90 s and humid so royal will take longer to dry especially flooding as your adding liquid
My normal day is work , work , work like julia ,
Ugh, it's supposed to hit 107F here today! If that isn't global warming-related, not sure what is!
Having a school , being brand ambasador for Renshaw , travel . Emails , facebook keep me very buzy
Yes crazy weather were having
I know - the work never ends. How much time each day (on average) do you spend dealing with email and social media?
I guess it's not really work when you love what you're doing.
3-4 hours a day yes i love my job
I can't speak for Chef Lodge, but I must say it is work - even though I love what I do most days, there are days when it becomes too much, and it is exhausting.
What is your secret for staying so slim? I have a terrible time wanting to eat the cookies while I'm baking and icing. Do you chew gum? hahaha
Good one!
Yes i often work 15 hour days
Wi worked in a bakery at 16 that cured me of ever wanting to eat cakes or cookies again lol
Yeah, social media easily takes 3 to 4 hours a day for me too. I try to answer every question I get; I feel that's important to do if one is putting his or herself out there as an educator.
LOL - re: bakery reference! Too much of a good thing!
Good question Miss Wiggles - So many barn wedding themes here in the midwest going on. Clients asking for "Freezflo" It's nuts - Preventing buttercream from melting is challenge enough. Any advice on the in's and outs of delivery and setting up in extreme temps for outdoor events?
I have 11 craftsy classes too answer questions from as well
Wow - that's a lot!
Yes, Julia. There are times when I comment on Youtube videos and I never get a response from certain folks.
You're right Rebeccas-Sewing it's more like ongoing therapy for me. Until sleep deprivation sets in.
I love your classes! They are among my favorites on Craftsy.
Yes out side weddings are a challenge i use half butter and half high ratio shortening to make a more heat stable buttercream
Okay, onto some new questions. We have 5 in the queue . . .
I would love to attend your classes one day, and perhaps more importantly, receive a critique. Do you ever travel to other places to teach?
Fondant can be a challenge too as hydroscopic
Yes, and I've signed up for many of them. You are such an awesome instructor, Mr. Lodge. Craftsy is such a wonderful teaching site. I've learned so much from you and some of the other instructors that teach there as well.
Yes all over the world and usa at cake shows then do classes
Yeah, when I had my bakery here in the midwest, I refused outdoor weddings between certain times of the year - basically between May and September. It's not worth it to have a cake melt down or the fondant dew up from excessive humidity.
What is the weirdest request you've had for making something for a client?
A life size pair of ladies legs with fishnet stockings
I just added a few minutes to make sure we can get through the remaining questions in the queue, and give you more time to answer. Hope that's okay with everyone.
I'm getting ready to make some cookies to take to the U.K. with me when I go to visit friends. Will I have any trouble getting with customs or security?
No problem its only meat and dairy
I've never had a problem with cookies on planes. Only once have the TSA folks asked to open one of my packed cookie boxes. I supervise that closely!
Do you cook or does someone cook for you when you are at home?
Have a good trip i going this afternoon for 4 days was there 2 weeks ago
I love to cook and entertain when i have time
You seem to go to London a lot, but I'll ask more questions about your travel classes once we get through others' questions. I'm super interested to learn more about your teaching experiences, but onward . . .
Do you have a favorite flower or design element?
Oh, I meant to comment on Chef's school when someone else (Christine) asked about it. It's very cool - so much attention to detail even in the decor. The various classrooms have different color schemes, which carry through to the littlest things like the mixers and bowls. I love that sort of attention to detail!
I have made over 400 types of sugar flower roses are my favourite especially garden types
Comments in reference to the legs cake . . .
Yep, that's a pretty weird request. hahaha
Great! Thanks for that.
Bahahahaha Did you do the legs cake? Sounds like the leg lamp from that old movie.
Similar but a pair
Next question in relation to shortening used when making icing for outside display . . .
What brand of shortening do you recommend in that scenario?
High ratio shortening you buy from a bakery supply store or cake decorating store is more stable in heat than crisco and has much better flavor
So there's no particular brand of high-ratio that you'd recommend? All pretty equiavlent?
All similar we sell the CK brand
What brand of fondant you use?
Renshaw im Brand Ambassador for them
Can you tell us a bit more about why you prefer Renshaw over other brands? What makes it special?
Its fabulous
Mr. Lodge, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share with us. I'll be looking for that recipe when you get back from London. No pressure - hahaha
Rebecca - We've got a couple of more questions from you in the queue. If you have to leave, please be sure to check back to this link for his answers. Your questions are coming up next. Thanks for your many great questions today!
Moving onto posting Rebecca's questions . . .
Two related to where you live and lived . . .
Of all places, how did you end up in Atlanta? Seems like such a switch from living in the U.K.
We lived in central London for four years. Joe and I would move back in a flash if the opportunity were to come around. One of the best and most memorable times of my life. Where did you grow up in the UK?
Julia, a big thank you to you as well. You are both tops in my book!
You're welcome. I'm hanging on a bit longer to avoid painting my foyer. hahaha
Folks, we still have 5 questions in the queue, and we are over our chat time, so I am going to ask that you hold off on new questions. I want to be sure we can get the remaining 5 questions answered by 10:15 or so, as I know Chef Lodge has a plane to catch later in the day.
Natural flavor , no chemical after taste , never cracks or forms elephant skin , crazy non gritty texture , by appointment to her majesty the queen
Thanks! Sorry, I got a bit ahead of you! Rebecca had two questions about your places of residence, posted above. Wondering why you ended up in Atlanta and where you grew up in the UK?
Grew up in Chelmsford , Essex just outside London
been in Atlanta 26 years chose it for the airport as I fly about 150,000 miles a year
Ahh! I see!
I live in a "podunk" town. Is there a recommended online bakery supply store you recommend?
Plus I fell in love with the south and can grow amazing flowers to create in sugar
Atlanta is a really fun city besides.
Where can you Renshaw fondant in the United States?
I'm assuming you carry Renshaw too, right?
but simetimrs a local bakery , Sams club , Walter Mary will sell you a bucket
I get a slight greasy taste when I use high-ratio shortening. I don't want to add too much sugar because it ends up tasting too sweet. Is there a balance?
Just googled images of Chelmsford. Looks like a lovely place. Wow! You must have some serious points. hahaha Okay, that explains the move to Atlanta. Just wondering. My mother-in-law lives in Valdosta.
Yes renshaw Americas has Facebook page and we're to buy including my online store
I would love to live in savannah or charlston just not good living in a small airport town
Charleston is soooo nice - great food town too, but I hear you.
Yes travelled close to 4 million miles in my career
Re-posting Christine's Q about hi-ratio shortening, in case it got lost in the shuffle: I get a slight greasy taste when I use high-ratio shortening. I don't want to add too much sugar because it ends up tasting too sweet. Is there a balance?
I use half plugra butter and half high ratio it's perfect
Have you been to Keukenhof in the Netherlands? Talk about a feast for the eyes.
Yes several times flew through Amsterdam 2 weeks ago spring time in holland is amazing
Last question . . .
There is a new product in the market that allows you to dip and encase your wired flowers for cakes. Would you recommend it, and what would be your advice on flower-decorated cakes?
Yes love safety seal just melt and dip your fresh , sugar flower , twig in it let it harden and forms food safe barrier
After this one, we'll have to sign off, but I am hoping to convince Chef to do a more in-depth written Cookier Close-up interview with me in August, where I can explore some of these subjects and more in more depth!
Thanks to everyone who attended and offered up such great questions!
we sell it and until Sunday night have 25% off at
Safe journey, Chef Lodge.
I definitely learn a few things today. Thank you Chef Lodge for this chat. And thank you, Julia for hosting.
use code YEAR25
Yes, I learned a bunch too.
Thanks for the coupon code!
Thanks, Julia.
Thank you
Thank you everyone
happy cookie decorating sweet wishes N x💚
Above all, thanks to Chef Lodge for taking time out of his busy schedule to share so much knowledge with us.
Much appreciated!
Thank you Julia, and Chef Lodge - safe travels... happy decorating.
Thank you Chef Lodge, and thank you Julia.
Have a great weekend, everyone. Travel safely, Nicholas! XOXO
Closing the chat now!
This chat has ended.