As the fields around me start to harvest, I start writing fake to-do lists. I’ll never get all the work done, but the checklist is therapy for me. One thing I used to do with my mom but never get done before Christmas now is cookie decorating. This year, I wrote it down as an activity to do with my nephews and teenage daughters. I share fond memories of my mom’s piping and flood-cut Santa’s sugar cookies baked with royal icing. I think they are the most exquisite Christmas cookies we can create.
In early October, Katelyn Engquist, 29, who lives in West Fargo, North Dakota, shared that she will be offering two Christmas cookie decorating classes on Dec. 2. 3 in her hometown of Jokio, Minnesota.
Aside from my love of Christmas cookies and baking, I celebrate when I see an agronomist opening up a side business or a new business niche. I reached out to Katelyn to find out more about how this sideline cookie business came about, and more about the courses she offers.
Caitlin attended North Dakota State University, where she earned a BA in Public Relations, Advertising, and Agricultural Communications with a minor in Animal Science. Today, she works from home for Ag Management Solutions, responsible for market development and communications. Based in Mankato, Minnesota, AMS manages several agricultural organizations. After NDSU, Katelyn worked with the North Dakota Corn Utilization Commission and the North Dakota Corn Growers Association.
I share her education and work experience, pointing out that cookie baking and decorating or food science was not part of her education or work experience. However, her hobby turned into a business.
Like many of us, baking was part of Caitlin’s childhood.
“I’ve always loved baking and I’ve been baking with my grandmother since I was a kid,” she said. “I have a lot of pictures of my brothers and I decorated Christmas cookies with my grandparents as a kid. I remember we would make a lot of cookies, bake too long, and then use Knives and powdered sugar icing. Then we end up throwing away a lot of cookies after the holidays because they don’t taste that great.”
Rather than stick with the old Christmas cookie way, Caitlin decided to carve out a new way for herself to learn cookie decorating.
In 2019, she started following several bakers’ social media accounts to learn about royal icing. After marrying husband Kelly in January 2020, she took a cookie decorating class in February 2020 from a baker near her hometown.
“I have a lot of extra time on hand because of the pandemic,” Caitlin said. “I started baking a lot, maybe too much, and trying to decorate cookies. I posted pictures of my cookies on my personal Instagram and took my first order in July 2020. Since then Since then, I’ve taken custom orders and pre-sold for various holidays. I took 15 months off before I gave birth to my daughter Kennedy, and then didn’t bake at all for the first few months of her life, But by the winter of 2021, I am eager to decorate again.”
As more and more friends placed orders and her business grew through word of mouth, Caitlin continued to develop her hobby into a business. She added more general cookie decorating skills with an online course, followed by a professional course with a woman who created “a stunning floral with royal icing.”
Amid the hustle and bustle of the upcoming holiday season, what prompted Caitlin to give her first public class early on a Saturday in December?
“I’ve always wanted to do a cookie decorating class. I have a few small classes for small groups, both online and in-person. My Christmas class in Chocchio in December. 3 will be the first one I open to anyone A class,” she said. “A lot of people make decorated sugar cookies around the holidays, so now is the perfect time for people to learn the basics of royal icing. Royal icing is made with meringue powder (or egg white), which sets the frosting and dries nicely .”
Katelyn explained that each participant will be given six cookies and tipless piping bags filled with icing in different colors and two consistency: a thicker icing for details and a thinner icing for “spill,” She explained it as the act of frosting cookies with thinner icing to fill a larger area in a smooth layer.
“Royal icing definitely has a learning curve, and the consistency of the icing is very important,” she said.
She also wanted to make cookie decorating that anyone could make.
“My goal is to teach techniques that anyone can replicate at home without having to buy additional equipment or supplies,” she said. “I use some special equipment, such as a pico projector, which helps me track text on a cookie. and intricate designs. I don’t want anyone in this class to buy their own projector, so I want them to be able to make nice cookies out of what they already have at home.“
Whether or not you head to rural Minnesota for Caitlin’s first Christmas cookie class, she shares insights for anyone considering turning their hobby into a business or part-time job.
“Start small and find a niche that works for you and your family,” says Caitlin.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @katpinke.
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