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Rebecca Weld of Potsdam is "The Cookie Architect." Last year she sent blank, puzzle-piece-style gingerbread cookies out to a few dozen of her favorite cookiers. Each returned a fully designed cookie, and Weld built them into a <a href="http://cookieconnection.juliausher.com/blog/gingerbread-house-of-cards">Gingergread House of Cards</a> - a meta-cookie, if you will. All photos: David Sommerstein, unless indicated
Rebecca Weld of Potsdam is "The Cookie Architect." Last year she sent blank, puzzle-piece-style gingerbread cookies out to a few dozen of her favorite cookiers. Each returned a fully designed cookie, and Weld built them into a Gingergread House of Cards - a meta-cookie, if you will. All photos: David Sommerstein, unless indicated

Potsdam "cookie architect" makes edible art

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You might remember the rise of the gourmet cupcake from several years back. Now, a new designer baking trend it involves that humblest of desserts - the cookie. Bakers around the country and around the world are making incredibly intricate and artistic cookies, and then sharing photos of their creations online.

One cookie designer who won what you might call the "Oscar" of cookie culture last year lives right here in the North Country. Rebecca Weld earns her living as an architect in Potsdam. But during her free time, Weld is hunched over the kitchen counter, like an alchemist, dripping food coloring drop by drop and stirring to achieve the perfect colored icing to decorate cookies.

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David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

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Slideshow: How the cookies get made (click any image to start)

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 says she takes inspiration from lots of sources: "It's a really cool way to, if you see a graphic of something that you love, like in a Crate and Barrel catalog, you can kind of play with design, as you see things. That would make a great cookie, you start to think."

When I visit her just before Christmas, Weld is making a batch of cherry-pistachio cookies, decorated as old-fashioned pick-up trucks with evergreens in the flatbed. "I've decorated the pickup trucks, and now I've got to decorate the Christmas trees in the back," she tells me.

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 uses a fruit dehydrator to speed things up - 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 The Cookie Architect, and her page has 7,000 likes: "You post the pictures and everyone can see your pictures and they can say you're pictures are great or not great or whatever, but it's really about just sharing your art."

The biggest cookie design sharing website, Cookie Connection, has 3,000 members based all over the world, each with her own style. And it is almost all women. Some cookies are cartoonish, or pointillistic. Others look like stained glass or 3D objects.

Why cookies are catching on

Julia Usher runs the Cookie Connection. She's a pastry chef and has written two books about cookies. I talked to her by Skype while she was travelling 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, "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."

She says it's the online community that's really propelled the cookie business forward: "It's highly developed and highly supportive."

Cookie Connection does host competitions, like best cookies of 2013. Rebecca Weld in Potsdam took top honors for her set of Nantucket seaside-themed cookies.

Now, Weld is even grooming protégés. Katie Fowler is a mathematician at Clarkson University who says she used to HATE making cookies: "I felt obligated to make them because we leave them for Santa. But I just hated it. I wasn't doing it right. I would roll everything out too thin. The dough would stick to the table. I'd cut it. I made the wrong icing."

Weld came over one evening and set Fowler straight, gave her some icing mixed to the proper consistency, and Fowler went to town. "I think I took the whole day off of work and I stayed home and did cookies the next day of my daughter's pajamas, her favorite pajamas. And after that I was just hooked. I started buying more tools and doing different types of cookies."

Cookies: business or pleasure?

Next week, Fowler and Weld are leaving for Salt Lake City for the 2nd Annual Cookie Con, a convention that brings together more than 500 cookie designers.

For some of them, this is a business and a job. But for many others, it's a hobby. Weld gives most of hers away. "A common comment is they're too beautiful to eat and I have saved a few of them. It's sort of a Zen part of it, like a sand painting. You make this beauty, put it out in the world. You take pictures of it. It's not like you don't remember."

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.

 

 

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