Hop on Instagram and search for the tag "#cookier." Prepare to be blown away by the artistic skill achieved using a few simple ingredients, mainly sugar. The cookier community, as it's been dubbed by its members — practiced bakers and pastry decorators who use royal icing (water, meringue powder and confectioner's sugar) to turn sugar cookie cutouts into everything from movie characters to unicorns — has taken off globally, and here in the Inland Northwest. The following four women are right up there with the best, delighting customers of all ages with their colorful, creative and intricately detailed frosted designs.
Flour & Frosting
A year and a half ago, Amber Stout found herself mesmerized by Instagram videos from fellow cookiers sharing their decorating process. She tried out what she'd gleaned for her own Christmas cookies that year, and "immediately fell in love with it."
The former preschool teacher got business and cottage kitchen licenses for Flour & Frosting just a month later, in January 2018.
"It's been cookies ever since," Stout says, smiling.
That includes for her appearance, filmed just six months after launching the cookie business, for the Food Network's Christmas Cookie Challenge show. In the episode, she competed alongside Spokane chef (and show winner) Ricky Webster.
After a scroll through Stout's Instagram feed, it may seem like decorating sugar cookies with detailed designs of Disney characters, local university and business logos and other pop culture symbols is something she's been doing for much longer than 18 months.
"I'm not a baker, and I don't consider myself an artist — I can't draw worth anything," Stout confesses. "But piping bags are way easier to work with."
While her calendar is often fully booked for custom orders, at $36 per dozen and requiring a two-week minimum notice, Stout recently started selling predecorated cookies on select dates at the Liberty Lake Farmers Market. Local aspiring cookiers can also learn the tricks of the trade directly from Stout at occasional local classes; follow Flour & Frosting on Instagram for notice of the next session.
Besides a classic soft-baked sugar cookie, Flour & Frosting offers flavors like shortbread, lemon, chocolate and cinnamon. Stout adds a hint of flavor to her royal icing, too, either vanilla or almond extract.
"I like to use one consistency of icing for most of my designs, because on those you can't see an outline," Stout explains. "A lot of cookiers, they use two — they outline and flood, and you can see the lines."
In cookier-speak, flooding is the process to ice large areas of a cookie using a piping bag, after first outlining the shape to be filled. The royal icing inside these borders then spreads out, or floods, and dries in a smooth, consistent layer.
Like her cookier counterparts, Stout loves bringing joy to customers through her colorful and cute designs. Unlike so many passing trends in food, she believes cookie art is here to stay.
"Cookies are easily transported, they package well and are accessible," she notes. "You can personalize them and customize them to whatever you want really easily. I feel like everyone also feels like they can decorate a cookie. That's how I got started, and I knew I could do it or at least try it."
Electric Sugar Cookie
Using a backdrop of white royal icing to showcase her signature neon "watercolors" made from food dye, Amber Fenton's vivid palette translates to electric green cacti streaked with edible gold glitter. Half-moon shapes with scalloped inner edges become slices of hot pink watermelon with toothy bite marks. Chartreuse mermaid tails shimmer with golden scales, and five-pointed stars sport a patriotic ombré of red, white and blue.
The Coeur d'Alene-based cookier behind Electric Sugar Cookie has been making and selling her colorful, custom creations since December 2017, but started dabbling in cookie decorating as a hobby several years before.
Now, Fenton bakes and decorates custom cookie orders several times a week from her home kitchen — Idaho also has a cottage food law allowing for certain food products to be made and sold from a person's home — both for local and faraway customers (nonlocal orders can be made through her business's Etsy shop).
"The draw is definitely the artistic side of it," Fenton says, adding that cookies have been a favorite treat to bake since childhood.
"It's just eye candy. People are like 'Oh my gosh, I can do that from home,' and so there's that accessibility, too," she continues.
Most customers buy one or two dozen cookies at a time, which Fenton sells for $3 each, regardless of order size.
In addition to food dyes, the cookie artist sometimes uses a die cutter to make little shapes out of gumpaste paper that she can color and place on cookies as accents. Icing pens also allow her to create more intricate hand-drawn designs that would be difficult to achieve with a paintbrush. Stencils and a mini light projector are other tools in Fenton's cookier box, both of which she turns to when applying repeat patterns, custom logos or hand lettering.
"A lot of my ideas come from my paper crafting background and trends, and then adding my spin to it," she explains. "My goal is for someone to see what I make and say 'Oh, that's Amber's.' I feel like that is important. I don't want to be a cookie cutter image. I want there to be a difference."
Three Birdies Bakery
After she gets home from her full-time job at Community Colleges of Spokane, Jamie Roberts has dinner with her family, sees her kids to bed and begins baking and decorating, often until the wee hours of the morning.
Someday soon, though, Roberts hopes to see her Three Birdies Bakery, named after her three girls, become a full-time venture.
"The whole thing started by accident, really," she explains. "I traditionally make cookies with my kids for Halloween and Christmas, and a few years ago I posted [Christmas cookies] on Facebook and a friend said 'I would totally buy these from you.'"
A few months later for Valentine's Day, Roberts sold more than 400 cookies just via word of mouth. Soon after that, in early 2018, she launched the bakery, and hasn't slowed down since.
All of the sugar cookies — in carefully tested flavors like funfetti, lemon, strawberry lemonade and classic sugar cookie — are frosted by hand without the use of stencils or other tools favored by the cookier community for making complex designs.
"I take a ton of pride in that. It shows how much love and time I put into each cookie, because I don't take shortcuts to get to the finished products," Roberts says, adding that she's never formally studied art, but credits her artistic talent to her mom.
Besides a steady hand and a piping bag, Roberts also uses paint brushes and food dyes to "paint" scenes onto a canvas of white royal icing.
"I use a lot of techniques based on the design, and I'm always thinking 'Can I make this into a cookie?'"
Three Birdies Bakery's customers can place orders through the bakery's social media pages. Starting in 2019, Roberts also began selling predecorated cookies for $4 each at the Kendall Yards Night Market. For custom orders, cookies are $40 per dozen, and, because she works full time, orders must be placed at least two weeks in advance.
Since launching Three Birdies Bakery, Roberts has decorated large batches of custom cookies for many local businesses and events, including the Coeur d'Alene Food & Wine Festival and Gleason Fest.
"It's more rewarding than I can put into words," she reflects. "Doing something creative and delicious and that's putting joy into our world is all I want to do. To get to a point where I can do that full time is the ultimate dream."
The Classy Cookie
A gifted family lifestyle magazine subscription unexpectedly propelled Marianne Thompson into the colorful world of elaborately decorated cookies.
"There was this issue and the cookies and icing just looked so perfect, and I just wanted to know how that happened," recalls Thompson, a Spokane Valley-based cookie artist and mom of five.
Now, several years later, Thompson's flawlessly smooth frosting and amazing attention to detail would not be out of place in the same publication that inspired her to turn her then newfound pastry-decorating talent into a business, the Classy Cookie.
On Instagram, artful displays of her cookies include colorful, themed sets to celebrate children's birthdays, holidays, graduations, the seasons, weddings and more. By icing the cookies in separate steps, letting each color or layer of frosting set or dry before starting the next, Thompson's cookies have a pillowy, three-dimensional effect, amplified by shadows and light. While this technique is common amongst many cookie artists she admires, Thompson strives to be unique.
"I am a fan of so many others' cookie art, but almost none of them look exactly alike," she notes. "We all have our own penmanship, so I can't really describe what makes mine different, but I know when I see it in my own work, and that's when I'm satisfied by it."
Washington state has a cottage kitchen law that allows certain homemade food goods to be sold commercially after a rigorous health inspection of the maker's home. Customers can order from the Classy Cookie by contacting Thompson on Instagram or via her email listed there. Custom orders are $40 per dozen, and usually start at a minimum of two dozen cookies. During holidays like Christmas, Thompson often sells premade cookie sets for a little less.
Besides the creative satisfaction she finds in her art, Thompson loves the personal connections she makes with each customer.
"This might sound oversimplified about sugar, but cookies make people really happy, and effort makes people happy," she says. "I consider everyone who's ordered from me a friend now. There is a connection in sharing your art." ♦
This article first appeared in the Inlander's Annual Manual magazine, the insider's guide to the Inland Northwest, on newsstands now.