Live Chat with Chris Taylor, CookieCon 2018 Instructor

Hi, Chris! Thanks so much for being with us here today. I can't wait to hear more about both your cookie and pie exploits!
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 Chris 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 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!
I'll be posting some of Chris' cookie work shortly, as food for further discussion, but I wanted to start with a couple of ice-breaker questions for him!
I know from your bio that you do both pies and cookies, and that you are at work on a pie cookbook due to come out in March 2019. (Everyone, Chris' bio can be found under the "i" icon at the very top of this post, if you haven't read it already.) This all brings me to my first question: Are you more of a cookie or pie kind of guy, and why?
[JULIA'S QUESTION #1] That’s such a hard question; I don’t know if I could choose! I’m a baker at heart, and both cookies and pies are two really great creative outlets for me. I love cookies because I can be so creative with how they look (and they taste good!). I love pies because I can be so creative with flavors, and I can use many of my cookie-decorating skills to make them look great, too!
Your upcoming book is entitled. "The New Pie". Can you share a little more about the premise of the book? What about your pies makes them "new" and different?
[JULIA'S QUESTION #2] In our book, we take a fun and modern approach to the world of pie making. We created pies in fun flavors like root beer float, bubble gum, and caramel popcorn. We’ve also found inspiration in classic cocktails like the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, and Bloody Mary. In addition, we use modern techniques, like sous vide, to perfectly cook fruit fillings for pies ensuring bright fresh flavors with fruits that hold their shape and slice perfectly.
I should note that you are co-authoring your book with your husband Paul, right? More on how you work a co-authorship in a sec. Onto more of the advance questions first!
The book sounds amazing, BTW!
A few of the cookiers with whom we've recently chatted have aspirations of one day writing their own cookbooks. You have a wonderful publisher (Clarkson Potter) for your book. Can you share how this book deal came about? Did Clarkson Potter find you or vice versa? Did you have to write a book proposal in order to sell them on your book concept? If so, how long did that take and what form did it take?
[JULIA’S QUESTION #3] Yes—we are so fortunate to be working with Clarkson Potter! They have published some of my favorite cookbook authors, including Martha Stewart and Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. In 2017, I won the Best of Show Award at the National Pie Championships. After my win, the New York Times wrote a story about my husband and me and our pie baking adventures. After the Times story came out, we were contacted by a few publishers and literary agents. After working with our incredible agent to develop a formal book proposal over several months, we ultimately ended up with a contract with Clarkson Potter. The book proposal was a great exercise, because it really got us to think about what our book would “look” like and how it could be different from the other books on the market—important things for a publisher!
Congrats, I'm going to come back to more book questions in a sec . . .
But first for those photos of Chris' that I promised, I'll start with some of his cookies. I love this handpainted Cosmopolitan - one of my fave drinks back in my college days!
Handpainted Oscar cookies - also fantastic!
Pathogen cookies! Odd subject matter?! Perhaps for you, but Chris's full-time job is as a public health researcher!
Now, for a virtual "taste" of some of Chris' pies. First, his raspberry-lemonade pie . . .
Also a Jackson Pollack-esque cherry pie . . . yum!
Gosh, they all look delicious!
Welcome, Wendy and Donna!
Thank you!
We've just finished all of our advance questions, so if you ladies have questions for Chris, now's the time!
Hi, Beth! We're taking live questions for Chris now!
While our guests compose their questions, I have some more about the book. How do you manage a co-authorship especially on top of a full-time job? Do you do certain things while Paul does others?
Writing a book is hard work, and it’s been so great that Paul and I can both work together on it. He’s a baker (and scientist!), as well, and he focuses more on the fruit and nut pies. I focus mostly on the cream pies. We “crossover” and do the other’s occasionally, but we sort of have our specialties now.
I ask, because when I wrote mine I worked on each for over a year (solid) and I wasn't working on anything else. It was exhausting - lots of testing and re-testing of recipes, writing, etc.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to write a cookie book? Top three.
It was exhausting! We bake throughout the year, so we had a lot of pie ideas and recipes on standby, so those were the first ones that we worked on for the book.
Hi, Carol! We're accepting live questions from viewers now. So please submit. You'll have to log into the site in order to enter questions though. There's an area on the right of the home page to do this.
Hmm...for a cookbook, I would say (1) know WHY you want to publish the book and what you want out of it; (2) know WHAT you want in the book and know the book market to know how your book would be different from others like it, and (3) get an agent! There is a lot to navigate as part of the publishing process, and our agent has been a HUGE help. We have a great publisher, too, and a fantastic editor who has made the process really great and fun.
Great tips, but I'm going to turn the tables on you and ask you your very first question. Why did you want to publish a book versus online classes or tutorials? What do you want out of it?
I can not hear the chat. Any suggestions?
Beth - the chat is not in audio. It's a text-based chat. You should be able to see all that's being "said" to the left side of your viewing screen.
me too
Lilly - see above. It's a text-based chat. You type in your questions, and Chris types back his answers live.
A few reasons, I suppose. For one, I've always loved cookbooks, and I love the chance to contribute to such an incredible legacy of American cooking, especially with a classic American dessert like pie. I like cookbooks, too, because they are a "forever" kind of thing, and I like having a cookbook that I can feel and hold and take into the kitchen. Certainly, online tutorials would be a great supplement to the book.
But you won't be able to type in questions if you are viewing the chat as a "guest"; you need to log into the site as I described above to interact with the chat.
A follow-up to that question: why did you decide to go with a mainstream publisher as opposed to self-publishing?
BTW, I am pleasantly surprised by how many people seem to covet real books still. I have ebook versions of mine, but there's still a core audience that just wants to hold and flip through a real book. (Sadly, though, my books are both out of print . . .)
I'm not contemplating self-publishing it, though I could now, as it's just too much work for too little gain, I think.
I hadn't had publishing a cookbook on my radar at the time. It was something I had wanted to do, but I wasn't sure if it was the right time. When the New York Times article came out, and we started the proposal process, it ended up that we partnered with Clarkson Potter (who are fabulous, by the way!). I guess the time was right.
Perfect alignment of the stars! Now onto a cookie question from one of our guests!
Yes, and it's definitely great to have an editor and a design team at a publisher who knows what works in a book and can guide authors in the right direction.
How did Chris get that perfect Gold for the Oscars cookies?
While on the subject of gold, I wanted all to be aware of the Rolkem gold recall in the UK: http://cookieconnection.juliau...ld-special-rose-gold
Great question, Lilly! The cookie itself was covered all in white royal icing. I then used edible paint (just food gel colors diluted with alcohol) to create the different shades of gold and brown for the color. I worked off of a picture of an Academy Award to help get the tones right.
Do you have any time for cookies now that you're writing your book? What's your next cookie project?
I mostly used Gold, Egg Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Warm Brown, and Black from Americolor to create the shades.
I think my next true cookie project will be to set up for CookieCon! I want to make sure that I'm organized and ready for the course in Indianapolis.
Interesting how you created the effect of shimmering gold without the use of any lusters!
Thank you! My bad!
I miss doing cookies as much, but focusing on pies has been really fun, too.
Not sure what you're apologizing about, Beth! All's well here!
So tell us more about your upcoming gig at CookieCon. Can you give us some highlights as to what they asked you to speak about, or what you plan to share?
I'm going to focus on painting cookies, but I haven't quite narrowed down exactly what yet. Luckily, I still have some time before I have to know for certain. I have so many ideas, sometimes I get frustrated trying to pick just one!
Others, please feel free to ask questions. This chat is for you! I am happy to stop asking my questions at any time!
This will be my 2nd CookieCon, and I can't wait! I had such a great time at the last one--such a great group of people!
Let's talk about your painting then for a bit. From the cookies of yours that I've seen, it seems to be one of your preferred techniques. Is that fair to say? If so, why?
Yes, CookieCon is fab. I encourage everyone to go! Sadly, the last few years it's always coincided with my teaching trips, so I have missed it.
I definitely do like painting the cookies. I think it's such a fun way to really make a showpiece unique. Someone may be able to do a similar look with 20 shades of royal icing, but I don't have the patience (or the skill!) to pull that off!
Do you have an idea of what we can look forward to from you at CookieCon? (Subject wise)
Beth - I think Chris addressed this earlier (something about painting), but perhaps he has more to add?
Will you be able to go this year Julia? I seen you have multiple trips coming up.
Hi Beth! I will be focusing on painting on flooded cookies. I'm not sure exactly which cookies to painting techniques yet, though.
No, Beth, I don't think so. I am supposed to be in Patagonia teaching at the very same time. There's some risk of that class cancelling (due to personal issues with the host), but I have two shows (Show Me Sweets and OSSAS) straddling CookieCon, and I need to be at both of those too. September is cray-cray!
Chris, will you be sharing any of your cookie painting how-tos in online tutorials?
Yes, Lilly! Wouldn't that be great! I'd love to see more info about his shading and highlighting techniques!
Good question, Lilly--I haven't done any painting tutorials. Really, all of my ideas on how to paint on cookies came from Liz Adams (AKA Arty McGoo). I use her techniques most of the time, and her online tutorials on McGooU are fabulous!
Can you tell us a little more about your paint composition? You mentioned you used AmeriColor gels (I believe), but do you dilute them with anything? If so, what, why, and when?
I do have a setup for filming myself decorating, maybe I'll set it up the next time I start painting@
Go for it, Chris! (In your vast amount of spare time, that is! )
I mostly use Americolor gels, and I dilute them with alcohol. I prefer Everclear because it's very high in alcohol and it evaporated without pitting the royal icing. The paint then works like watercolor paint. The more alcohol you add to it, the lighter in color it gets. That's how you can create such a range of shades using just one color!
Welcome, Carouselselsel! Great to have you here. Your question is up next!
Hi, Chris! Correct me if I'm wrong, from what I know, apart from delicious pies, you do beautiful cookies. But why cookies? Why not cakes or anything else?
Cray-cray is an under statement girl! Wish you luck with everything and safe travels!
Thanks, Beth. I'm really struggling with life balance at the moment . . .
Thank you, Julia! Sorry for the spelling
Live-typing makes spelling errors inevitable!
Actually, I do all kinds of baking! Every year, we enter the Georgia National Fair's culinary contests, and I enter about 40 things, including cakes, cookies (drop, bar, and decorated) as well as candies and sometimes breads! I don't have a lot of experience with decorating cakes, so my cakes are usually simple buttercream cakes with a few flourishes.
I love all kinds of baking--it's just finding the time to do it all!
So, let's talk about this competition thing that you do! You seem to love them. Why do you do so many? And what tips would you give to others who might be considering to enter a competition? There are a lot of great cookie decorating competitions opening up around the country, and some (like mine - shameless self-promotion!) that have been around for a while.
In other words, what's the key to winning, and winning as big as you did?
Any more questions from those online?
It's funny, I don't consider myself a naturally competitive person, but I love baking contests! What I love the most is creating the recipe---I can be creative and regardless of whether I win a prize or not, I come away with a great recipe that I'm proud of.
Yeah, it sounds like your competitions have been a great source of recipes for the new book!
I think, if someone wants to enter a competition, one of the best pieces of advice I have is to READ the RULES. There are so many times where people walk away without a prize because they mistakenly didn't meet the criteria for entering or misjudged a technical aspect that put them in violation of the rules.
Have you ever entered a cookie decorating competition? If so, how do they differ from other baking competitions, in terms of how you approach them/design your entry?
Definitely! Because we test our competition recipes so much, they are perfect for inclusion in the book, because we know they work and are reliable--musts for publishing a book!
I agree with what you said. I recently disqualified someone at SoFlo because she submitted 3 cookies instead of the required 6. The set probably would have placed if she had followed the rules.
I enter the decorated cookie categories at the state fair, and I often get a blue ribbon. Other than that, I've only enter in the Sugar Show at the past CookieCon. I didn't earn any prizes, but the competition is pretty stiff! I entered the Academy Award cookies and a set of painted drink cookies that included the cosmo cookie shared earlier.
I would also add that people should read the judges' evaluation criteria if they are published in advance (as they are in most cookie competitions).
People are sometimes surprised when they don't win, but, to win at OSSAS (my competition is there), SoFlo, Show Me Sweets, etc., you have to score reasonably well on many levels in order to place. If you focus on just one technique, for instance, it's much harder to place.
Do you think you'll ever write a cookie decorating book? And, if so, what would you do to distinguish it from those already out there?
Exactly! And the same thing goes for baking cakes or pies, too. Taste, appearance, consistency, crust, and crumb all go into the scores--a lot of things to think about!
Thanks for your question, Beth! It's coming up next, after Chris answers this last one.
Oooh, I don't know about that! I never say no to anything, but there is such an incredible amount of talent in the cookie world, I'd have to really think about what I would want to share and how it would differ from other great books on the market. And Paul doesn't decorate cookies, so it would be even harder to write on my own!
What advice does Chris have for the newbie just getting started?
I would say, don't be afraid to ask questions! The cookie community is full of so many great people! I find that most cookie artists are all to eager to answer questions about how to do something to accomplish a look. There are several great cookie communities on Facebook that are very active and the members provide a LOT of great advice--many questions asked and answered every day! Seek those out!
Also--practice, practice, practice! No one is born an expert!
I think people would love to hear about your competition experience at CookieCon too. You're clearly fearless about putting yourself out there, and have done remarkably well at them. I mean, to land a book deal from the National Pie Competition is a pretty huge success story.
Thank you Chris and Julia for this live chat, I truly enjoyed it. Wish I could go to CookieCon, but they sold out of tickets the first day! Dollar short, and a day Late. Next year for sure. Hopefully Chris you'll have a class. I attended Julia's class at Wilton; it was so fantastic!
Thanks for being here, Lilly, and for the kind words about my class. I'm returning to Wilton for two classes in 2019, where students will get more involved in the baking and icing making, along with the decorating. Hope to see you again there!
Having never been to CookieCon, I didn't know what to expect at the Sugar Show competition. I went in doing my best, and I was so proud of my entries, even without an award for them. That might be different for someone who is more competitive than me, but I really think it's all about the process.
We have about 7 minutes left on the chat, so there's still time for a couple more questions from you all!
Yes, agree! More wise words about competing. It isn't really about winning or losing, it's more about the skills you develop in the process and testing personal boundaries, if you ask me.
Well, if there are no more questions, I'd like to extend a HUGE thank you to Chris for being here today, and a HUGE congrats on his various competition wins and new book. I can't wait to see it!
Thank you--this was so much fun!!
We'll also be doing a more in-depth Cookier Close-up interview with Chris (if he's still up for that), which will dive deeper into some of the topics we brushed on today, so be on the lookout for that!
Sounds great!
Oops, I inadvertently deleted your comment Lilly! Sorry. Feel free to re-post!
I have nothing else. Just want to thank Chris for his time and Julia for putting this together. Julia I love to watch you on Youtube! I learn a lot! Thanks again to you both!
Thank you, Beth!
Thanks too to everyone for being here! I enjoy making these connections even though I can't hear anyone!
Gotta say its amazing the cookie decorators out there and what they can do. I'm like a sponge trying to learn as much as possible!
Ha! I found your comment, Lilly! Hadn't deleted it after all!
And on that lovely note from Lilly, I'm closing the chat. Have a great weekend and Mother's Day, everyone! I look forward to catching up with Chris again in his Cookier Close-up!
This chat has ended.
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