If there’s one person who’s the source of our creative baking inspiration right now, it’s Patti Paige, an artist, baker and owner of Baked Ideas, a custom bakery in New York City. At her studio in SoHo, she creates a prolific number of baked stunners each week on Instagram, from gingerbread men in yoga poses to Hollywood’s best red carpet looks. Patti, a lifelong cookie lover and classically trained painter who’s become known for her creative use of cookie cutters in her book, You Can’t Judge a Cookie by Its Cutter, has become of favorite of everyone from Ina Garten to the White House and Oprah.
We picked Patti’s brain to find out how she got into cookie decorating, where she finds inspiration and her favorite creation that she’s ever made. Plus, see her suggestions for the best beginner and advanced cookie decorating ideas this holiday season.
How did you first get into cookie decorating, and how has your style evolved over time?
Patti Paige: I began my business with a cookie that my grandmother used to make and I sold them to stores in New York City. I added chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies to the mix, but I soon felt the need to get more creative and began making gingerbread houses one holiday season. I guess the gingerbread reminded people of cookies, and I started getting requests for special custom shapes. When I couldn’t find the cookie cutters I needed (back in the day), I figured out how to make my own and the cookie decorating possibilities were suddenly endless!
When I look back at my first year of cookie decorating I can’t believe how crude the cookies look. There were no videos or tutorials to learn from, so I invented my own methods and process. My cookies are more graphic now and I think a little more sophisticated, though I hope they are still funny and whimsical. It’s also so much easier to find imagery references now. I used to go to the picture files at the New York City Public Library to look at photos and get ideas!
What’s your favorite cookie that you’ve made?
PP: I recently made cookies of vegetable slices, including onions, radishes, carrots, beets and tomatoes. I used real sliced vegetables as models and it was interesting to really pay attention to the patterns, lines and colors in the slices and try to use icing and the shape of the cookie to capture the essence of the vegetables.
Let’s say you’re a beginner and you’ve never decorated holiday cookies before. What foolproof cookie shape would you suggest, and how would you decorate it?
PP: I might try decorating a tree. The shape is already very distinctive, it can be made to look Christmas-y or just wintery, and you can decorate it any way you like. I would first ice it classic green or alternately, white (my favorite this year) or pink. After that the decoration is pretty much open ended. I like to do simple lines draped across the tree with little dots of icing along them for colored lights. Just colored dots everywhere are even easier. But any decoration will do because the shape says it all.
How about the opposite scenario – you’re a cookie pro and want a real challenge for the cookie exchange this year. What would you make, how would you ice it and why?
PP: If you are comfortable with using royal icing for more intricate and controlled decorating I have been having fun doing a twist on “ugly” christmas sweaters by putting them on dogs. To get it right you would want to first ice the dog cookie and let that dry. Then with an icing tip, outline where the sweater would be. An easy way to do this is to look at a picture online if you can’t imagine how it would look. Flood the sweater with the icing color of your choice, let that harden, and then have fun decorating the sweater. Go crazy, because the more stuff you add, the better the ugly sweater! Or sometimes I just add snowflakes or dots for something more restrained.
What’s one thing people don’t know about decorating cookies?
PP: People don’t know that the consistency of the icing is the biggest factor for success when decorating cookies. You need one consistency (looser, like thick maple syrup or honey) for flooding the cookie and another consistency (tighter. like toothpaste) for piping the lines of icing, and many consistencies in between. It can be frustrating, but once you get it right it makes all the difference in the end result.
What’s the most unexpected cookie you’ve ever made?
PP: The most unexpected cookie I made recently was a dead rat cookie for a celebration of the author Roald Dahl. It was supposed to be a mouse from one of his books, but everyone thinks it’s a rat, and although it is not super realistically rendered, it perfectly captures the creepiness of a dead rat and I am kind of obsessed with it.
How has your business changed since the arrival of social media outlets like Instagram?
PP: Instagram in particular has changed my business so much. Early on, I would get ideas all the time for cookies or groups of cookies i wanted to make. It was frustrating because there was no way to share them, so I usually just kept a list of the ideas and rarely bothered to turn them into cookies unless it was something for a client. With Instagram, I can have an idea, make the cookies, style and photograph them, and display them on the huge stage that is instagram. Instagram is a natural for me because I am all about the pictures and the storytelling and I love getting the responses and reactions from so many people. Plus, all the opportunities to collaborate with other brands is amazing, and I absolutely love doing that.
Check out a creation Patti made exclusively for us below.