Let’s be honest. Cookie decorating doesn’t come naturally to many of us and Pinterest isn’t helping. Those plump, happy snowmen and intricately decorated stockings are enough to make a person throw down the icing bag in defeat.
Kristen Johnson-Slate of Sugar Spruce Baking Co. is here to help. She is holding two Holiday Cookie Decorating Workshops at Perfect Dish in east Vancouver. She also offers private cookie decorating parties ($50 per student, minimum of four students).
Johnson-Slate’s cookies on social media are exquisite, but she doesn’t expect her students to be perfect. She focuses all her knowledge, talent and energy on creating a fun experience. Each student gets a baking tray with everything needed for the class. After everyone settles into their seats, she leads them through the decorating process. She starts with borders and flooding, a technique for covering cookies with runny icing. Then she moves onto details. Students can be as young as 5 years old, but all children must be accompanied by an adult.
Everyone takes home their cookies along with recipes, tips for frosting, a list of places to buy high-quality and special ingredients, and a cookie cutter. Sugar Spruce Baking also offers cute merchandise like comfy hoodies and cute aprons, as well as jars of decadent sauces like salted caramel and peppermint chocolate. She also has copies of her gorgeous cookie cookbook, “Just Add Milk: Extraordinary Cookies for the Everyday Baker.” The book includes recipes from three generations of Johnson-Slate’s family.
If you don’t go to the workshop but want to get a taste of these cookies (or pass them off as your own), Sugar Spruce Baking sells boxed cookie samplers that include a dozen drop cookies in flavors such as salted caramel and chocolate chunk, hot cocoa and ginger molasses.
Johnson-Slate learned professional baking by helping her mother with her wedding cake business in Montana. Trying to keep precious and teetering wedding cakes upright while driving on the dirt roads in Montana convinced her to look for a different line of work. She started in forensic psychology, but found herself drawn to design. She got a degree in graphic design from Portland State University and pursued a career in graphic design. When her daughter was born, she found herself back in the kitchen. She started selling cookies to neighbors and friends. She posted cookies for sale on Facebook and was shocked by the response. They sold out immediately.
Mix talents, interests
Johnson-Slate has combined her talents and interests into one company. Sugar Spruce Baking is part baking company and part graphic design firm. It’s named after one of the largest and strongest trees in the Pacific Northwest. Spruce needles are full of nutrients and taste a bit like rosemary. Indigenous tribes used spruce needles to heal coughs and sore throats. They’re also found in Sugar Spruce’s signature rosemary and spruce shortbread.
At this point, Johnson-Slate bakes and decorates every cookie that is sold using the large commercial kitchen at Perfect Dish, a meal delivery service in east Vancouver. She enjoys the focus required to create her cookies. She also likes baking and decorating each cookie herself because they all fit her high expectations and demonstrate her personal artistic skill and vision. But it’s the workshops she enjoys the most.
“It’s my chance to get out and meet people,” she said.