I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for the cookie community – the patience! Those perfect lines! All that itty bitty detail work! Whereas with cake I’m used to seeing things which look nothing at all like cake, I’m still an over excited puppy when it comes to seeing the incredible work being done with cookies. A few weeks ago I interviewed Rebecca (The Cookie Architect) and today I’m so excited to share with you the work of Amber Spiegel from SweetAmbs. Amber, I have a total fangirl crush on you, so thanks so much for being featured on the blog! You can also find Amber on Facebook.
M: Most of us cake makers started the same way – we saw a TV show or picked up a book, decided to give it a try and then (almost overnight) we found ourselves creating things for family and friends..and then whammo, we’re in business. Can you share with us your story, how did SweetAmbs come to be?
A: I’ve always enjoyed baking and cake decorating ever since I was little. It wasn’t until my 3rd year of studying business administration at Ithaca College that I decided that I wanted to bake for a living. After graduation, I enrolled in the baking and pastry arts program at The Culinary Institute of America. At that point, I thought that I’d have my own bakery one day with cakes, cupcakes, and lots of different kinds of sweets. Halfway through the program, however, I realized that production baking was not for me! I really just wanted to decorate cakes, but it was difficult to find a job where I could focus solely on that. Once I graduated from The CIA, I traveled around and had a few different bakery jobs. It was around that time that I started decorating cookies on the side. I found that it was easier for me to experiment with icing techniques on cookies rather than on cakes since I could make a large batch of cookies and have dozens of blank canvases to practice on! I also liked that I could wrap them up and ship them to friends and family all over the country. After I discovered the world of cookie decorating, I was very fortunate to get a job working in the Wilton decorating room outside of Chicago. That’s where they decorate all of the cakes and cookies for their product packaging and publications. I spent almost two years there. It was a great job, but I wasn’t able to be as creative as I would have liked and I became restless. I decided I needed to work for myself. With the support of my parents, I moved back to New York to start my cookie business, SweetAmbs. I was selling cookies online for a couple of years and after receiving lots of questions about how I made my cookie designs, I began posting tutorials on my blog and YouTube channel. These days I no longer take orders and I spend all of my time teaching cookie decorating classes and producing online tutorials. My business has evolved into something completely different than what I’d imagined it would be!
A: Pricing is always a challenge since consumers don’t expect to be paying upwards of $4 for one cookie if they’re not already aware of time that goes into making each one. When I was selling cookies, I charged anywhere from $4 to $18 a piece depending on the design. One great thing about cookies is that they can be shipped anywhere. Having an online shop allowed me to reach customers all over the world, so I was not relying solely on one location for customers. Of course, one problem with that is that in most states, you need a commercial kitchen in order to be able to sell online, which I was fortunate enough to have. As cookies become more popular, I hope it will become easier for cookie decorators to get a fair price for their edible art.
M: Cookie decorating as a medium is growing rapidly in popularity, and along with that popularity comes more competition, more people entering the industry, more people teaching and so on. What advice have you got for anyone who is new to the industry? Any words of wisdom for those just starting out with cookies in general?
Also, I think it’s important to develop your own decorating style. It’s really neat when I can look at a cookie on Facebook or Pinterest and know right away who made it without even having to look at the name! Of course if you’re a beginner, it’s okay to use other decorators’ designs for practicing your skills. But, if you are selling cookies or if you begin teaching classes, I think it’s better (and more fun) to use those skills to create new designs that are all your own.
M: Your style of decorating is just stunning – personally I love it when you take a basic shape (a circle, square and so on) and just take it so far beyond the boundaries of that basic shape. As an example, one of my favourites of yours is the twin babies in the basinette – major swoon worthy cookie design for me! So while I know your style overall has that gorgeous romantic, soft quality about it – do you have a favourite style, theme or shape to work with? What’s your secret cookie art superpower?
A: I love decorating on round, square and plaque cookies because I find that cookies that are shaped like actual objects give me designers’ block. My mind has so many more places to go if it’s not confined to a particular shape. I’m also really drawn to lacy fabrics, jewelry and vintage tea cups, and a lot of patterns inspired by those kinds of things can be done on a simple shape and still have a stunning effect.
Another reason I enjoy using simple shapes is that I can cut out a few dozen, freeze them raw, and then bake them when I want to create a new design. If I only used cookies that were shaped like objects, I’d have to cut out new ones each time.
M: You are doing so many exciting things – your Craftsy classes, live teaching, and all your generous YouTube tutorials (which secretly I watch and am insanely in awe of.) I’ve heard that you’ve got a book coming out too! What’s next for Sweet Ambs? On a bigger scale, what do you think is coming up for the industry?
A: Writing a cookie decorating book is a dream come true! I’m really happy in my career, so I hope to continue on this path (but maybe with the help of an assistant in the near future!). I’m not sure what’s coming next since I never really had a concrete plan for my business. I just always did what felt right!
I don’t know what the future has in store for the industry in general, but I hope that it continues to grow so that more and more people will be inspired to decorate cookies.
M: Amber, you’re a total cookie goddess and I adore you and your work – thanks so much!