When you look at Patti Paige's inspiring cookies, you might think they've been created by a fine artist. And you'd be right. Paige, who grew up in Rockville Centre, N.Y., and now lives in New York City, has a master's degree in painting from Hunter College, where she mingled with art world luminaries-in-training before detouring into beautiful baked goods. As the owner of Baked Ideas, she's supplied cleverly conceived, vibrantly colored and intricately detailed cutout cookies to clients as various as Tiffany & Co., Hillary Clinton and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Out of necessity, Paige started making her own cutters for custom commissions. At the same time, she started noticing that common shapes could have multiple uses. When she rotated her pumpkin cutter 45 degrees, she saw George Washington's profile. Upside down, a seashell looked like a fish bowl. With a change of perspective and some imagination, she found she could make almost anything with a few basic cookie cutters. Paige's new book, "You Can't Judge a Cookie by Its Cutter," ($25, Grand Central Publishing) is both a practical guide to designing and decorating cookies and an illustration of her creative process. Using just a handful of cookie cutters, she's created blueprints for 100 cookies. If you've ever wanted to make cookies that look like hair dryers, gnomes, or eggs on toast, this book is for you.
To get started, Paige suggests buying just a few useful cutters. Make bats, watermelon slices and banana splits with your crescent moon cutter or money bags, targets and holiday wreaths with your balloon cutter. Use a ghost cutter to make ears of Indian corn or sleeping kitties.
The book is full of detailed instructions and helpful tips for decorating. How much pressure to apply to your pastry bag, how to coordinate squeezing and moving the pastry bag at the same time. These are skills that come with practice. Paige says, "It's like riding a bike. Gradually, you learn how to go fast, you learn you're going to need to slow down. Once you get it, you relax with it. It's way easier than it looks."
Learning to decorate is a journey, Paige says. Don't be bothered by mistakes. If her students' cookies aren't as perfect as hers, they are still beautiful. "I'm into seeing the hand behind them."