Monday, August 9, 2010

In the Spotlight-Karen from Sugar & Flour

I came across Sugar & Flour while doing a local search on Etsy. I was searching for last minute ideas for our Grand Opening and found her cookies. I emailed Karen to see what she could come up with and even with the last-minute notice I gave her, the cookies were perfect. They fit with the concept of the store, the colors matched perfectly and they tasted even better than they looked! Since I'm a big supporter of things local and an even big supporter of thins that taste good, I asked Karen to answer some 'In the Spotlight' questions.

Check out her Etsy shop HERE- she also has has additional photos of past cookie projects on her flickr site.

These are the cookies she made for our Grand Opening...
Tell us a little bit about yourself-
My name is Karen Herrera and I live near Milwaukee WI with my husband, our 2 girls and Charlie the dog. I grew up mostly in Wisconsin and moved away when I became an adult. I never thought I'd move back, but I really like it here. I have a fabulous garden in my backyard that I installed myself and I really love spending quiet time back there watching the plants grow and the girls playing.

how long have you been baking?
I went to cooking school in Minneapolis in my early 20's. As a class project we had to apply for a real job in a restaurant. I actually got the job and became a line cook. Coincidentally, they also had a need for a baker and I jumped at the opportunity partly because the hours were better but also because baking is more fun than cooking for me. That kind of led me down my career path... 15-ish years later (oh my gosh has it been that long??) I've baked at 2 hotels, a trendy Italian bistro, an upscale bakery, a country club, a martini lounge and now for myself. Granted, there was 6 years in there that I didn't work because I had the girls. Also, I want to point out that the first place I baked at no only started my career, it also introduced me to my husband. He's a super guy and is very supportive of my growing business.

how did you learn to bake?
I'm going to credit my mom as my biggest baking infuence. She would make a pie and I would sit across from her at the counter watching. My favorite part was when she'd cut off the edge scraps and cover them with cinnamon sugar. She'd put them on a cookie sheet and bake them alongside the pie. They turn out kind of like cinnamon toast but so much better. Good memories there. Other than what my mom taught me, I'm basically self-taught. Cooking school gave me basic baking knowledge and then I was thrown into the baking job at my first hotel. The first dessert I made there was a passion fruit tartlet with meringue topping. Every place I've worked has added to my knowledge and I'm grateful for all of it.

what's your favorite cookie/creation you've ever made?
My favorite cookie creation? Does a gingerbread house count? Several years ago I was given a kit for the Martha Stewart Spooky Gingerbread House. It was so cool! I followed the directions and decorated it just like they said to and it turned out fabulous!

do you sell your items anywhere?
My business runs exclusively online, right now on both and I've never had an interest in having a physical bakery of my own so right now I'm happy just that way things are.

do you have a blog/why did you start it
Funny you ask about the blog! Last year I thought it would be fun to start a blog about the cookies. I set it all up and wrote one entry and then realized I have absolutely no time to sit and write about work. No time at all. So... good bye blog!

do you find it hard to find time to bake? Do you work out of a commercial kitchen or your own?
I started my business baking out of my home kitchen. I didn't realize I was starting a business - it was supposed to be just for fun. Little did I know what was in store for me! It wasn't difficult to find time to bake because I was doing it all the time. It became hard to find time to do anything else! At the one year mark I decided to make the plunge and become a legal business and that meant finding a commercial bakery to work out of. Through the baking grapevine I came across the bakery I rent space from. It's a great setup and since it forces me to work at a specific time I now have more time to do other things like spend more time with the kiddies and actually live life.

do your children craft and/or bake? /do you think it is/should be an important part of their childhood
I think it's very important for kids to learn how to be in a kitchen. We don't get lots of opportunities to bake together but they do help for special occasions and things like that. My oldest daughter gets very excited when she gets to help and I have to ask her what the first rule of baking is. She knows the answer... patience!

Do you have other creative outlets besides baking that you enjoy?
Besides baking, I really love to garden. I have a very large perennial garden in my backyard and also a vegetable garden. Our yard is on a hill so I do a lot of hiking up and down with buckets of water (I use rain barrels, not the hose). I built it from scratch the year my second daughter was born and it helped me lose a ton of the baby weight. It's good exercise and I also find it very peaceful and healing in a way.

why did you decide to focus on cookies/do you bake anything else as well?
I've chosen to focus on sugar cookies because they're fun to do, ship well, and not a lot of people have time to make them themselves. Also, just making one specific item has kept the number of ingredients I have to buy to a minimum and saves me time working with different recipes. I love all sorts of baking though and like to try different things for my family and friends. I don't know... maybe someday I'll change my mind and decide to sell something else!

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