Everybody Loves a Cookie: Interview with Baker Jenni Shah
Markets of New York City is a proud sponsor of Brooklyn Craft Central’s Holiday Market, and we will be featuring some of the artisans who will be at the market to give you an idea of the delights in store for us on December 18 – 19, 2010. We’re starting with this interview with cookie artist Jenni Shah, Founder and Owner of Jenni’s Cookies.
How did you become a cookie baker? Did Grandma Powers’ rolling pin have anything to do with it?
I grew up around baking. My mother baked, and my dad’s mom, Grandma Powers, baked too. I have fond memories of going to Grandma’s house as a child, where it always smelled like cookies and felt warm and cozy. When she passed away ten years ago, all the grandkids were allowed to pick one item to remember her by. I chose her rolling pin. I make all my cookies by hand, and every time I work the dough with her old rolling pin, I think of her.
Okay, now that you’ve got me all teary eyed, tell us how you started Jenni’s Cookies.
I always liked sugar cookies and cutouts. I’d bake cookies for friends and family at Christmas and birthdays. It’s actually very challenging to get the dough to do what you want it to do. So I picked a basic sugar cookie and set out to learn how to command the dough. I used a combination of some favorite recipes and came up with my own. Everyone loved the cookies, and they told me I should try and make a business out of it. So I started up slowly two years ago at Christmas time, and I’ve been doing it full time since July.
Why is it important to you to use local ingredients?
I am interested in food in general, and I have lifelong food allergies. It’s important for people to know what’s in the food we’re eating and where it comes from. It’s literally life and death for some of us. I use pure ingredients, and I support local farmers by buying local eggs and flour from a mill in Pennsylvania. These ingredients and approach to food – and life – work together to create a wonderful product that people can trust and feel good about putting it in their bodies, even if it is a treat. People look for comfort in super processed food, but a nice, tasty cookie in moderation will make you feel good and won’t make you sick.
What was the first cookie you ever decorated?
I made gingerbread cutouts with my family as a kid. That was long before I had any inkling of starting a cooking baking business. The business pays homage to family and those warm feelings you get when you think of sweets and treats and sugar.
What is the craziest cookie you’ve ever made?
I have had a lot of unique requests for anniversaries or birthdays or parties. They keep challenging me more and more. Just when I think, “I’ll never get a crazier order than this,” the next order comes in. I made hot dog cookies for a Labor Day event. I’m a vegetarian, and I thought, “Now here’s a hotdog that I can actually eat!” I recently made Cheshire Cat cookies for an Alice in Wonderland Halloween party. That order had its own design challenges. Would it be cartoony? Or a minimalist smile and eyes? Or maybe Tim Burtonesque? (See the final cookie design in the photos.) I had an order for Back to School Apple cookies. An apple is an apple, but an apple cookie is a design canvas. I know it’s corny to think of cookies as art, but they really are medium of expression.
If you were a cookie yourself, what shape would you be? (Full Disclosure: I have a mermaid cookie cutter that I always decorate as myself.)
I think it would be a very simple heart shape. It’s my signature cookie. I know it’s cheesy, but come on, I’m a cookie baker – it doesn’t get any cheesier than that. I just completed an order of a dozen hearts the color of the sunset. Half were marbled with sunset colors, and some were pure orange, red or yellow. A heart is such a blank canvas for decorating, and it evokes feelings of love.
I will never look at a cookie the same way. Can you tell us what you will be bringing to the BK Craft Central Market?
I am currently R&D mode for the holidays. My aim is to create the warmth of childhood. Last year I did a lot of Santas. I’m bringing them back for this year as well, and I’m also creating a Winter Wonderland, more about holidays and wintertime. I’m also making a snowflake set, where each cookie is unique. And I’ll have a skating set with a skate, a hat, mittens, and a snowflake. Plus some other surprises!
We can’t wait to see your creations! Any final word of cookie wisdom?
I don’t care who you are – everybody loves a cookie. It just makes you smile. I like to make people happy, while being creative and doing things the way I want to do them.
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