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Live Chat with Stacy Frank of The Frostitute

Welcome, Stacy! It's great to have you here with us today to kick off our new series about cookie competitors and why and how they do what they do!
Welcome, as well, to everyone joining us today! If you're new to these chats, please don't be shy. These chats are always better when everyone jumps right in.
A quick PSA while on the subject of competitions: my competition (Julia M Usher's Cookie Art Competition™), which takes place at the Show Me Sweets show on July 13-14, is open for registrants in both the 2-D and 3-D categories 'til July 1. The 3-D portion is going to be televised (woo hoo!), and, while casting for the TV documentary has closed, anyone who enters still has a chance to win the cash AND product prizes (now over $10,000 in total value, divided by first, second, and third place winners!). The 2-D category has $1,500 in cash prizes and some great product prizes too.
More info about my competition can be found here: Stacy was the first-place winner of it last year when it was held at the Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show (OSSAS). She did an incredible 3-D piano cookie as a tribute to Aretha Franklin!
But, before we get into Stacy's competition history, some quick housekeeping notes about these chats! First, questions are answered in the order received, but they will not post to the public/viewable area of the chat until Stacy 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, we're ready to REALLY begin! While you're formulating your questions for Stacy, I'm going to post a list of cookie competitions she's entered - and won - along with some photos of those competition pieces. Both should stimulate plenty of questions!
Here's a list of Stacy's competitions (a screenshot from her website,, where you can also view all of those entries):
Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 7.52.12 AM
BTW, if you click on any photo or screenshot here, it should enlarge.
Now, here are some photos of her piano entry from my competition last year, and a recent piece she did for That Takes the Cake show in Austin this year.
The OSSAS 2018 piano . . .
that link for her blog seems to be broken
Which one Heather?
Your website, the Can you re-post it?
Here it is, hopefully hyperlinked:
Oh, thanks Julia!
Back to cookie photos . . .
The Austin showpiece from this year . . .
And Stacy's Austin piece from the year before . . .
So great, right?! I have more of her work, along with work-in-process photos, to share, which I'll do in a bit . . . but, first, one kick-off question from me and then I'll open the floor to you all for questions.
STACY: Can you tell us when and how you got into competitive cookie decorating, and why that's the primary way you participate in cookie decorating? (I don't believe you sell cookies or teach classes, right?) For so many, competitions can be scary and daunting, but you seem to thrive on them! How/why is that?
Long (and good) answer coming, so I'll give you all some time to read . . .
[JULIA] I got into competitive cookie decorating because . . . of peer pressure? The week before Austin’s local show back in 2017, a friend sent me the info and encouraged me to check it out. At the time I could count on one hand the number of cookie sets I’d decorated. I had zero plans to make it a huge part of my life, so I believe my exact response was “LOL, I have no business doing something like that!”

As I literally laughed out loud at the thought, my boyfriend asked what was so funny so I told him . . . but he didn’t think it was funny at all! He offered to pay my entry fee if I’d give it a go and, before I knew it, I was registered with absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into . . . like I didn’t even watch baking shows.

I ended up winning not only my category but best of division. After awards, a woman who placed very highly in the professional division approached me to ask what bakery I worked for. I awkwardly responded that I was a web developer to which she said “well . . . you shouldn’t be!” For the record I still am, but that comment really stuck with me.

And you’re correct -- I’ll make things for friends on occasion if I have creative freedom, but I don’t sell or teach (though I'd be open to teaching one day!) Competitions are my passion because they're a chance to push the envelope . . . which you can’t really do when Karen wants 4 dozen blue rattles for her daughter’s baby shower. ”Scary” and “daunting” directly translate to adrenaline for me -- I thrive on that high. Maybe because I grew up a competitive athlete or maybe it's just in my nature . . . chicken and egg.
Okay, everyone, ready to move to the next question?
Hi, Stacy. Have you ever had a really strong idea for a piece and had to totally abandon it and do something completely different because it wasn't coming together the way you had planned?
Reading time required for this one too . . .
[CHRISTINE WILLIAMS - QUESTION 1] No, and I don’t think I would.

When things don’t come together as planned (spoiler: always), I curl up in a ball on the floor and cry. Then I turn my music up extra loud and stomp around. By this point I have scared my dog, so the next step is to coax him out of wherever he is hiding and assure him everything is okay, which is a lie but he’s deaf and also a dog, so what does he know. Next I force a SUPER LUCKY friend or two to listen to me talk through everything I did wrong. Sometimes I take a nap.

This kind of sounds like sarcasm, but it's not. I let my brain feel what it feels, rest, and see what’s on the other side. When I’m ready to start over, I TRY to remind myself it’s not from scratch, it’s from experience. Though my post-breakdown techniques are often different than what I had planned for or practiced, thus far I’ve (knock on wood) never had to completely abandon an idea.

The reason I don’t think I would is that I put a LOT of energy into the conceptualization of my themes. I FULLY expect **** to hit the fan, so when I’m brainstorming ideas I think “what story will move me so deeply that I’ll still want to tell it when the tears dry?” One of my sets had a #metoo component. It was Thursday night (competition Saturday), and my Aly Raisman cookie was not working by any stretch of the imagination. After my breakdown, I admitted defeat . . . but by the time I finished dinner, the guilt had set in. There was NO WAY I was giving up on a piece about female empowerment. I told myself if I worked the next 24 hours straight and it still wasn’t semi-presentable then fine, I wouldn’t go . . . but I couldn’t stomach the thought of not giving it every last bit of myself. So that’s exactly what I did and it all worked out
Yah sorry guys I'm a talker
or... typer as the case may be
LOL - no, the answers are great - I love thorough. I just want to give everyone time to digest.
In fact, I am wearing a sweatshirt that says "thorough" on it right now . . .
HA, I need that.
Long story, but the upshot is my husband thought it would be a cute Christmas gift one year . . .
I was tempted to give him one saying "unromantic" or "unoriginal" but . . .
Back to cookies!
Is there any part of the judging process during competitions that you would want to improve or change?
CHRISTINE - Great question! As a regular judge at a number of cookie competitions, I don't ask this question of entrants as frequently as I should! :0
[CHRISTINE WILLIAMS - QUESTION 2] I LOVE THIS QUESTION! It’d be awesome if the majority of judges for cookie categories were dedicated cookiers (this is the case in some competitions). While I appreciate the perspective provided by sugar artists of all kinds, there’s something to be said for a solid critique that comes from someone else who lives and breathes cookies. A divisional people’s choice award would also be neat. Many times the public is excited by work that lacks a technical detail/didn’t score as highly for whatever reason, and I think the artist should be rewarded for his/her ability to make an impression.
Julia, your thoroughness is what made me the cookier I am today!
^^ true
Glad to hear that, Heather! It can be killer on me sometimes - not knowing when to let go, etc.
While on the topic of judging, how valuable have you found the feedback coming from the judges?
It has varied, honestly...
I know we had a snafu with feedback form delivery at OSSAS last year, but we do spend much of the time we have trying to write feedback. It's tough with 50 or more entrants in a show.
Any feedback on feedback?
At times I've been confused by it. They tell us we can talk to the judges afterwards, but my first few competitions honestly I was too intimidated. Another one the judge I needed to speak to left immediately after awards so I didn't get the chance to connect for clarification.
We'll be trying to "automate" the process of getting the feedback onto the forms this time, so there's not so much writing and re-writing of it, which can take hours. Also, all of the judges are always available to review feedback with entrants (at least in my competition) via email. I do encourage people to avail themselves of that opportunity; too few people do.
It truly is the best way to understand what you guys are looking for.
I feel it's sometimes best for people to email later anyway. People often approach judges immediately after judging, sometimes in the heat of emotion, and that's not always the best time to receive an explanation about a score. Sometimes some pause and reflection is good before having those talks.
It would be cool if there were an app for that. (feedback)
And you could read the feedback everyone else got too
I can't decide if I would love or hate that.
I wouldn't want to ever identify feedback given to another entrant (so personal), but we are planning to show the overall average score on each criteria this year. So you can compare to yours. How does that sit with people?
haha! I can see that.
Oh that's interesting, I'm down.
I would like that I think.
I do like the Platinum/Gold/Silver/Bronze rankings as well. Are you guys familiar with that?
It's not been done before, as far as I know, but I think it then gives you a better chance to see how you stacked up.
Exactly, so:
At the show here in Austin, after judging every piece gets a sticker label. I don't know the exact score ranges but to put it in school grade terms essentially Platinum = A+, Gold = A, Silver = B, Bronze = C. So you can see how other pieces scored in a broad sense, but leaving the personal feedback details out of it.
Yes, know the Platinum/Gold, etc. well. There are reasons I don't do it. One: too many prizes to award and a devaluing of first, second, and third place winners, I think. But open to considering it at a future time.
I believe the "no" was in relation to the Platinum/Gold remark.
How does it work?
Scroll up a few comments to see my answer Heather!
In that system, there are multiple winners based on total points accrued; there are point cutoffs for various levels.
yes, the no was "I'm not familiar with that."
I see it
I think there's a delay
It's okay!
Yes, there's a delay, as I moderate all comments but mine and Stacy's!
I've found it SUPER interesting because many times pieces I love will get silver or bronze and I'm like... ? Helps you see what the judges are really looking for.
Back to the questions we had in advance, unless there's more on judging?
That's why I publish judging criteria in advance, so people really know what the judges are looking at.
Sorry if I repeat a question; I got here late and have to go back to read later. What are some of the criteria when judging cookies. What are some of the fine points judges use to determine a winning entry when two cookies look flawless?
SHAKENBAKE - Criteria vary a bit from competition to competition, but I always publish mine in advance so people can design to those criteria. They include things like # techniques used, mastery of those techniques, overall appeal (look and balance), interpretation of theme, etc. You can find mine listed on the "rules" page of the Show Me Sweets site. I'll find the link in a bit.
And Julia thank you for doing that, publishing in advance, very helpful. That said, how each item is interpreted by the judges vs me can be different, hence my interest in seeing the medal rankings. But I understand your reasoning as well!
We also recently tweaked all the criteria to make them more cookie-specific. In most other shows, they use adapted cake criteria, which aren't always the best fitting.
UGH GUYS can we please make cookies as prominent as cakes?! THEY'RE JUST AS COOL DANGIT
Okay, back to the advance questions. We still have a few more of those.
Working on that! One other thing I've done is move to judges who are all cookiers, at least for this year. I do like to have perspectives of other sugar artists too, as they look at things a different way. But, also, they can be too bound by the convention of what they think a cookie MUST be or has traditionally been.
Those living and breathing cookies tend to see different possibilities with them, and aren't as concerned, for instance, to see a cookie take on a conventional form.
I wish I could insert the hands-up-in-celebration emoji for that ^^ So much agree
There was an interesting debate between cake and cookie decorators/judges about this on Facebook a few months ago. I felt the cake decorators were trying to put artificial boundaries on cookies based on size and such. The debate got a little heated, in fact!
And cookies are more difficult as well. I do both. I agree that they deserve some heightened acclamation.
Oh man I wish I was a part of that I have a lot to say
Why do you say they're more difficult, HEATHER? I've done both too, and I mostly think they just take a different point of view.
Oh yeah, STACY, you would have. It really wasn't altogether pleasant. Sort of a presumption that cookie decorators needed to take cues from cake decorators about how to run their competitions. As if we hadn't been thinking about it already . . .
And that's exactly why we need to keep pushing the boundaries with cookies.
But, I don't want to go negative - generally, it was a constructive exploration of what makes a cookie a cookie, and I think those cake decorators who participated realized that those involved with cookie competitions actually have thought through some of these things.
I guess because cake is easier to shape and it's a larger initial surface...the details aren't as tiny in many cases...
True, HEATHER! Though I find I decorate my 3-D cookies more as I would decorate a cake - from a distance, making sure overall composition and balance is good, and that ideally the piece views well from all angles. With 2-D though, the space is so confined, that decorating is completely different.
Okay, back to those advance questions now. We have a few more in the queue.
How do you create a gingerbread that is sturdy enough to carve?
  1. Swap the all-purpose flour in your recipe for bread flour. It has a higher gluten content and will thus hold its structure better.
  2. Do your best to keep humidity and temps low in your house.
  3. If possible, protect your work from the open air once finished. That one is a struggle for me as my builds often don’t fit well in regular tupperware containers, but things like throwing a trash bag over it (tip from Julia!) can help.
Edit: bread flour was a Julia tip as well, thanks CC forums!
You're welcome!
I often skip the bread flour in my constructions, and just be sure I bake relatively long (til crispy) and store them well-sealed.
How do you pick a theme for your entry?
[PAT GOTTSCHALK] I have the attention span of a fly, so I have to be REALLY passionate about an idea to stay motivated/keep going when everything falls apart . . . I’ve straight up skipped competitions with themes that didn’t inspire me. Though my picking process is never exactly the same, there are a few consistencies:
  1. Turn to a new page in my sketchbook and write down anything that comes to mind, even the dumb stuff because you never know.
  2. Brainstorm with friends. My mind often gets stuck in what I call an idea-loop, so hearing the perspective of others is a good way to break out and consider other options.
  3. By this point I have a few potential directions, so the next step is considering what techniques could be utilized in each. I’ll usually get excited about trying one thing in particular and lean into that direction moving forward.
  4. Come up with a storyline (love this part). I like my work to convey a message, so I do a little research and connect the dots.
Giving some reading time again . . .
Are those friends you ask for input also cookie decorators, or people who don't decorate at all?
super smart! thanks!
I like that idea - really forces one to think through theme, without letting techniques potentially confine what you do.
How did you get the piano to look like it was covered in lacquer?
As a result they don't always grasp that some of the things they suggest are... absurd? lol BUT there are no bad ideas, you never know when something will spark something else.
Right . . . again, love that you do that. I think it shows in the output.
Here's the lacquer answer . . .
[SUGARBEAR BAKING CO] LOTS of trial and error! It’s Fondx Mirror Glaze Piping Gel watered down with vodka and painted on once my royal icing was dry. It’s streaky and far from a perfect solution; I actually got points deducted for it (which I was prepared for because I’m probably harder on myself than any judge, lol) . . . but it's one of those techniques you only get one shot at and well, que sera sera. I’m still proud of the end result! (NOW at least . . . at the time I about lost my ****. Funny how that happens, someone please remind me of this realization the next time I’m on the verge of a meltdown 😛.)
BTW, I didn't deduct any points for streaks and I don't recall any judges doing so either . . . at least it was not a point about your piece that we discussed.
Theme answer continued: Its not always easy, to be honest I'm currently REALLY struggling with the theme of my next piece. Other times its immediate... such is the creative process I guess!
Okay, we are out of advance questions with about 15 minutes to go, so start firing up more questions, folks!
I'll have to pull out the scorecard, its definitely referenced!
Because I remember thinking "called that one!"
But no worries -- yes guys fire up those Q's what else is on your minds!
Working to a theme is always hard - for entrants, anyway. There is value in having one for judges, for sure, as it gives a way to more easily evaluate one piece relative to another.
Could you use confectioner lacquer for the shine on piano?
If I knew what that was then, yes maybe I could have! The problem with being self taught is that I don't know about... a lot of things.
I'm not sure what it is either. SHAKENBAKE - Can you clarify?
How did you get the curved shape of the piano?
I have watched lots of Julia's contour cookie videos but I know others are using different techniques.
Let me see if I can find a pic -- dropbox messed up my photo sync so if its going to take too long I'll answer verbally, give me just a second.
While Stacy types, I'll try to post some of her work-in-process photos she sent in advance.
Oh yah you might actually have one
Here's the curved side in question:
Confectioners glaze it may be called. We used it on a cake in a class one time. It’s usually found in candy making section at cake stores.
I almost feel like you "not knowing lots of things" is why your pieces are so unique. I don't know lots of things either but I'm trying new techniques all the time.
SHAKENBAKE - I haven't used it, so don't know how it sets over time. Maybe someone else does?
I have seen the curved side. I want to know how it was achieved.
I know, Heather! I think Stacy is typing.
And I'm not sure I have a work-in-process photo of it; I am still looking.
Can you give a verbal recap too, Stacy, of how you did it?
haha ok
patience is not one of my virtues.
Me either So its 3 cookies of that shape stacked/glued together with RI, and then I carved it down to get it smooth enough to ice
Were you able to view that gif?
/does that answer your question?
(and thank you for the 'not knowing things' compliment )
Sorry, just got booted out of the site.
I'm back. Yes, I could see the gif. Thanks! I have no work-in-process photo of it.
yes, super helpful. I see you're using an actual meat-carving knife???
yes, super helpful. I see you're using an actual meat-carving knife???
Is it for carving meat? lol I don't even know. It's serrated, and my favorite. I thought it was for bread ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I do have some WIP photos of her Austin entry. Some unique techniques used here.
It could be. I think those two pointy bits are for stabbing meat but I'm not an expert.
We've got five minutes left, everyone. Any more questions? Ask while you can!
Another . . .
okay, so you just made a lot of individual pieces for the skeleton and glued them together. I see.
What is the one tool or technique you can recommend as invaluable to 3D constructions?
The Bones are incredible.
I added a few minutes to the chat to allow this question and perhaps a couple of others to be answered.
Thanks SHAKENBAKE! And Heather honestly, that meaty-bread knife is my favorite tool. I have a cookie only dremel I've used on occasion but I usually find it too powerful... my stuff is very delicate.
The knife looks like a Ginsu knife that used to be advertised on TV.
I watched your GIF on your IG of carving that goat and I couldn't believe his legs were snapping off. Impressive!
What brand is your knife?
Wusthof I believe? There's an outlet between Austin and STL so I stop sometimes when I drive home
Also, I noticed you said you glued the bones together with isomalt. How did that work out for you?
Or rather...
And how did you apply it?
I started connecting the bones around 2am the morning of the competition. I didn't WANT to use isomalt, it was my only option timewise.
Isomalt sets super fast, so you don't have a lot of play with it. In some cases, it's great, but, in others, I would not use it.
with a piping bag?
I didn't want to because there is no forgiving.
Yep took the words right out of my mouth Julia!
I don't use it because I don't have the confidence that I'll set my components in the right spot the first time. I usually shift them around a bit while gluing to make sure all is properly centered, spaced, etc.
Have you ever taken a risk on a design that ended up costing you points but looked cool?
I don't think you can use isomalt with a piping bag? I'd heat a cube or two in a tiny little dish, then I'd stick a bone in, touch it to its neighbor, hold a few seconds and move on to the next.
oh i see
Luckily I had some extra bones because I ruined quite a few, and others ended up being mishapen because I connected not quite right in the right spot, had to rip it off and work with what was left.
STACY: Did you see this question from Heather - Have you ever taken a risk on a design that ended up costing you points but looked cool?
oh no
Yep answering now!
My two cents on that question - if it looked cool, it probably wouldn't cost points in the judging process. But if someone thought it was cool and it wasn't , well then, maybe some point loss!
Design risk question: there hasn't been one specific thing I've done thus far that I KNEW would be an issue, but I see the potential for that happening and know I would without a doubt do whatever I wanted.
Because here's the thing
To remember as well about these competitions: we sometimes get too wrapped up in scores and points. The real win comes from learning as much as you can as you go through the process . . .
We're competing to compete and be judged, of course, that's what a competition is. But at the end of the day YOU have to be proud of your work. I (think) I'd rather love what I did than place first with something that isn't true to who I am.
If you don't take some design and technique risks, then you won't learn . . .
Agree on what Stacy said as well.
I'm asking another one too if that's okay. I need a really sturdy board for my adventure design and it needs to be exactly the dimensions we're allotted...32-14. What do you recommend for the base under all the cookie?
Love that advice from both of you. Thank you.
I can't advise on particulars of entries that I will be judging. Sorry!
Dang girl go big or go home right!
Still not sure how I'm going to implement my idea but I'll try it a few ways and use what's prettiest.
That's what adventure is all about, right?
Stacy, do you have a board reco?
I wish I could be of more help with that but boards kind of allude me as well. For my last Austin piece I just spray painted a 1/2" piece of plywood.
All I can say is make it work with your design, and the more edible it is, the better. Also, the entry needn't be on one board per se. It just can't extend beyond the space allotted.
This was great! Thanks so much!
You're welcome, I hope you may have picked up a tip or two!
Thank you
I did. Julia, one last thing
My board will be covered in edible stuff...does that mean it can't be wood underneath?
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