Freshly Baked Art: Cookies That Are A Feast For The Eyes : The Salt For an online community of crafty bakers, a cookie is more than just a crumbly delight. They're taking cookie decorating to new heights of intricacy, from carnival carousels to beach-themed treats.
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Freshly Baked Art: Cookies That Are A Feast For The Eyes

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Freshly Baked Art: Cookies That Are A Feast For The Eyes

Freshly Baked Art: Cookies That Are A Feast For The Eyes

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Remember the gourmet cupcake trend? Well, move over cupcake. Here comes the designer cookie. Bakers all around the country are making incredibly intricate and artistic cookies, and then they are sharing photos of them online. North Country Public Radio's David Sommerstein introduces us to one cookie designer in upstate New York.

DAVID SOMMERSTEIN, BYLINE: Rebecca Weld makes her living as an architect. But during her free time, she's hunched over the kitchen counter like an alchemist, dripping food coloring drop by drop and stirring to achieve the perfect-colored icing to decorate her cookies.

REBECCA WELD: So I don't think it's dark enough. I've got this other green that I'm looking at next to it.

SOMMERSTEIN: And these are not your grandma's cookies. Unless your grandma decorated hers with psychedelic butterflies, mosaics and mandalas, even a scene from an Adirondack lake that looks like you could dive right into it.

WELD: It's a really cool way to - like if you see a graphic of something that you love, in like a Crate and Barrel catalog or something like that, you can kind of play with design, as you see things. You can - oh, that would make a great cookie, you start to think.

SOMMERSTEIN: On the day I visit, just before Christmas, Weld is making a batch of cherry-pistachio cookies decorated as old-fashioned pickup trucks with evergreens in the flatbed.

WELD: I've decorated the pickup trucks. And now, I've got to decorate all the Christmas trees in the back.

SOMMERSTEIN: Weld rolls a plop of forest-green icing in Saran wrap, then she loads it into an icing bag and delicately colors a tree onto a cookie. When it dries, she'll add ornaments the size of a pinhead, and whisper-thin silver trim. Weld takes pictures of her creations, and shares them with other cookiers on Facebook. She goes by Cookie Architect, and her page has 7,000 likes.

WELD: You post the pictures, and everyone can see your pictures. And they can say, oh, your pictures are great, or not great, or whatever. But it's really just about sharing your art.

SOMMERSTEIN: The biggest cookie design-sharing website, Cookie Connection, has 3,000 members based all over the world, each with her own style - and they are almost all women. Some cookies are cartoonish. Others look like stained glass or real paintings. Julia Usher runs Cookie Connection. I talked to her by Skype while she was traveling Portugal and Spain, doing cookie design workshops. Usher says cookies are catching on as high-baking art because they're easier than, say, a full-blown cake.

JULIA USHER: The cookie being a great vehicle for creating an expression of yourself that is compact and small, and easily transferred to someone else. It's really an expression of you and giving.

SOMMERSTEIN: Cookie Connection does host competitions, like Best Cookies of 2013. Rebecca Weld took top honors for her set of Nantucket seaside-themed cookies. But while some of the most accomplished cookie designers do it for a living, for many others it's a hobby. Weld gives most of hers away.

WELD: A common comment is, oh, they're too beautiful to eat. And I mean, I have saved a few of them. It's sort of a zen - sort of the zen part of it. It's like a sand painting or something, you know. Like, you make this beauty, put it out in the world. I mean, you take pictures of it. It's not like you can't remember.

SOMMERSTEIN: It is a cookie after all, just one you're not sure whether to hang on your wall, or wash down with a glass of milk. For NPR News, I'm David Sommerstein in Potsdam, N.Y.

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