Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Santa saga

I know I already talked about it, but I wanted to SHOW the work that goes into these gosh darned Santas. Someone ordered 7 dozen cookies from us last week and, when they had come in to look at what we had to offer, had seen the Santas and specifically requested that those be part of the 7 dozen.

Now, this is almost step-by-step. I skipped photographing a few steps every now and then along the way (like where Santa's suit goes from being just a red outline to being totally red AND having the first part of his arm done--there's drying time between those two steps). But just take a look, and remember that between each of these steps is about 30-45 of drying time (if not more) to try to keep it clean. Takes foreeeeeeever.

So, without further ado, the Creation of The Santa:

And there he is--all done and ready to go out! (Until you come in the next day and find that the red has bled into the white and the black had bled into the red and have to do some emergency cover-ups....oh, the epic joys of royal icing...)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dipping v. outlining-and-filling

So, first of all, the invitation ornaments. With their phone number blanked out--I don't just have weird spots like that on my cookies, I swear. :-)

In other news...recently, one of our suppliers showed us a recipe and a technique for dipping cookies instead of outlining and flooding. Now, I still prefer the outlining and flooding technique because, in general, it produces a sharper, cleaner look to the edge of the cookie.

These little suckers were dipped in the red, rather than using the outline and fill technique. See those bottom edges there? They make me cringe. And they make me worry at night when I'm trying to go to sleep. I kid you not. Cookie anxiety--it's a real problem, people, and the only solution is to raise awareness and find a cure. :-)

So far, the cure consists of practice and experimenting with this stuff. It's awful--I mean as far as a product to work with. It tastes fine. I swear. Please keep buying my cookies. :-)

But when it gets mixed up (it uses a special kind of sugar), the consistency is kind of like a thick, gloppy glue. And then you have to heat it and thin it down to a dipping consistency. So, more high maintenance than a simple royal icing. And if the consistency isn't juuuuust right--drips. Drips all over the place.

HOWEVER, we're learning as we go! Take a look at these trees--not bad, right? They were dipped!

We learned that the simpler the shape, the more successful we are at getting the icing to stay on the cookie. And sprinkles on top of wet icing? Not a good idea--pushes the icing right off the side. I'm sure there's some scientific explanation, but I'm going to go with, "sprinkles are heavy." We have to let the base dry, then put on sprinkles with royal icing afterward.

The bottom line is...well, our bottom line. We have to have sure that we can supply the product being demanded of us and make a profit doing so. And once we get a few people who can master the technique, this is a much more efficient way of getting the base color on the cookies. It goes on faster and dries to the touch quicker than royal icing, allowing us to get through more in less time. And when we have 500+ cookies going out a week, efficiency is our friend, so long as we can balance that with pretty.

Because I refuse to send out not-pretty cookies.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Christmas cookies

I imagine this will be the first of multiple Christmas-themed posts. Our pastry chef found the Elf and Santa ornaments at Williams-Sonoma and brought them in to see how they baked up. They're definitely cute, but boy-howdy do they take some time to decorate.

Santa here consisted of multiple steps. I had to outline the different parts in the different colors, but couldn't do all the outlining at once, lest the colors bleed into each other, so that took some time. And then there was the experiment of creating that arm holding the bag out of icing. I had to let the red fill of his coat dry, then do a chunky line for the first part of the arm. Then I had to let THAT dry before adding the forearm. And then THAT dry before tacking on the hand holding the bag. So, this one definitely won't be a regular in our rotation. Not cost-effective. But he's available for special order!

Then we have his elf who was only slightly less time-consuming. And that darn face. I couldn't figure out a way to make it look any less cartoon-y. But still, available for order if he floats your boat!

And then we have the ornaments. Oh, how I love the ornaments. They fall just below snowflakes as my favorite. There's just SO much you can do with them.

For example, I had a woman order 30 of these with a sugar sheet on top to where they were turned into invitations to her Christmas party. And all the info was right there on the cookie. I'll definitely have to see if I can find one of the sample cookies I did and take a photo.

These are so fun. One of my bosses ordered a stencil that you just lay over the (dry) iced cookies, and you just swipe some buttercream over it. Lift it off and...ta da! The unfortunate part is that our bakery's awesome Italian meringue buttercream doesn't crust over like some other buttercreams. So if I want to do this in the future, I'll have to whip up a special batch of the kind that gets hard after awhile (American buttercream, made with shortening, if I'm not mistaken) to make them shelf-stable. Otherwise, they smudge waaaay too easily (see on the right hand cookie down near the bottom?).

And I tried to sub in some white royal icing rather than buttercream....yeah, not so much. It comes out a lot messier and less pretty.

Winter cookies!

Not to be confused with Christmas cookies, which will be right after these little suckers. As you can imagine, this time of year is a pretty popular time for baked goods, in general. And it leaves no shortage of winter and holiday-themed cookies to decorate.

These, though...I think of all the cookies I've been doing for this time of year, these top the list as my favorite. Just like those leaves I played around with before I was hired, I like to go for a more whimsical approach when I do the snowflakes. Hence the swirls and dots and whatnot.

And I'm not the only fan! Someone came in and got one of these when they were out for general sale at some point, then came in last week to put in a special order for a dozen of just snowflakes. So, I'll get to do these Monday or Tuesday for that person.

I LOVE special orders. It can sometimes be a little chaotic to balance them with the day-to-day decorating needs, but at the same time, it makes me so excited to know that people have taken note of the cookies and like them enough to put in a special order for more.

The first ginormous order

(Disclaimer: Dear HP, please don't sue me for posting your logo--I just wanted to show off the cookies you commissioned. Since you e-mailed my boss saying you loved them and all. Thanks! Love, Cherron)

Not a week after I started at the bakery, I was told that HP (yes, the computer company) wanted an order of 400 cookies to celebrate the opening of their new branch or something here in ABQ (you can tell I'm real big on the details here). Luckily, they wanted then in two batches--150 packed individually in bags (above), then 250 on platters 2 days later.

The cookies were cut in the shape of NM, iced with plain white royal icing, then topped with a sugar sheet of the HP chrome logo.

Oh, sugar sheets...the love/hate relationship I already have with them. They're awesome in that, by using them, we can put nearly any image a customer would want onto a cookie or cake. they suck in that they don't handle the NM dryness all that well.

As can be seen with these ones. If you look closely at that one on the left, the right hand edge is all jagged and cracked. That's what happens when you try to cut them when they've dried out too much. They just shatter. So I ended up trying to rig a system using damp towels, parchment paper, and baking pans to make them more flexible to make them easier to handle and make them dissolve into the icing better.

This was only a portion of that order. I had some help in the form of our lovely cake decorator and one of the other employees at the bakery. I could never, ever have gotten it done without those ladies unless I was willing to put in some serious overtime and lose feeling in my right hand from all the bagwork.

Wedding cookies

These wedding cookies weren't for any specific occasion--just playing around during my first week at the bakery. I didn't get any close-ups of the green ones, but the boo boo there was that the green bled into the white after a couple days. I think that it would help if I colored the white even whiter (I just learned the other week that they make white icing coloring). Basically it just takes the royal icing from being sort of translucent into being a real white.

The same thing happened with the brown on the cookie in the back here. You can actually see it in this photo, and even better in the one below.


Then there's the globbiness (spell check doesn't like that word, but I do!) of the detail work on them.

So, these were kind of a learning cookie. If I were to to do them again, I now know a couple of mistakes to avoid. It's better, I think, to find this out now, rather than if/when I'm doing them for a bride.

The second experiment

Experimenting more before the trial day, I did some of these butterflies and flowers. The flowers were just me playing around. The butterflies, I had tried out after seeing a similar design on another website (which I should have bookmarked and didn't).

I like the stained glass kind of look the wings ended up having. I think if I did it again, though, I would try for some bolder colors against a pale background so that design pops a bit more. But at the same time, I liked the spring look of the pink, light blue, and light green. I'll have play around again when spring rolls around at the bakery.

My first experiment

After I got word that I was going to be going in for a trial day at the bakery, I started poking around online to get some ideas to play around with. These are two that caught my eye that I decided to try at home.

The filigree work looked intimidating, but actually wasn't so hard--the hardest part was the thickness of the icing. I found out pretty quickly that if it was too thin it would just become one big blob.

And I liked the whimsy of the swirls on the leaves over the plain old lines--I think that's the most fun part of cookies. It's not always required that the cookie look just like its real-life counterpart.

The cookies that started it all...

While working on the second season of the TV show, "Crash," I found that baking helped me keep my sanity. And probably was the one thing keeping my coworkers from thinking I was a totally mean crazy person (hey, diva actors and producers demanding sold-out hotel rooms and seat assignments on Southwest will do that to a girl).

I constantly brought the results in. That was the best part for me--I got to bake it and have myself a little bit, and then I got to unload the rest of it on coworkers and avoid becoming a prospective Biggest Loser contestant. And the praise and compliments and thanks were always nice to hear. :-) People under that kind of pressure love their baked goods.

So, after the end of the show (for me--other folks were still working though), I had a little extra time on my hands. I'd been making basic stuff--chocolate chip cookies, banana bread, pumpkin cookies. Stuff that was tasty, but didn't require too many extra steps after it came out of the oven. As a last gift to the people who had helped me stay sane (you know who you are, fellow office people), I decided to make up a box of baked goods for each of them. And these cookies were part of it.

I had some of these leftover after I made up my coworkers' boxes. I had been toying with the idea of applying to a local bakery that had posted a help-wanted ad for a decorator's assistant. I submitted my application with a bagful of these little suckers--5 minutes after I left the bakery, I got the call asking me to come in for a trial day.

I did my trial day, and ended up being hired on not as a decorator's assistant, but as the bakery's new cookie decorator. All because of what had previously been a fun hobby for me.

So, now I've started this new career (quite a change from my last) and--even though it can be craziness at times--I'm already loving it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

First post!

I wanted a place to keep track of my adventures (and sometimes MIS-adventures) in my new career of cookie decorating, and I thus finally succumbed to the world of blogging. :-)

Once I get going, I might try to do step-by-step photos--but for now, just a few of my latest end results!