By Melanie Kramer | Photography by Jamison Mosley
[dropcap]H[/dropcap]oliday cookies are a time-honored tradition, and Sarah DeClerk, owner of Ann Potter Baking, has cornered the market on beautifully made and delicious cookies in central Arkansas. From her intricate snowflakes to painstakingly detailed ugly sweaters, DeClerk’s cookies are true works of art.
Sarah grew up cooking in the kitchen with her mom, and baking was her first introduction on how to cook. “If you follow a recipe verbatim, it works out,” says DeClerk. Unlike cooking other dishes, baking is precise. “It’s kind of like an easy first step of how to get in the kitchen and learn how to cook.”
Her first official job was a baby shower for her now 6-year-old niece, Ann. The cookies were a huge hit and the orders started to roll in. “I was coming home from my real job every evening and doing cookies until 10 or 11 at night and working all weekend on orders,” she says.
After about a year of working two jobs, Sarah decided to quit her day job and start her own business full time.
The name of her business, Ann Potter Baking, came from the necessity of having a business name. “When I first started this, I had absolutely no idea it would turn into something,” says DeClerk. “I’m really glad it did, but I’ve always felt kind of weird about naming something after myself, like Sarah’s Sugary Creations, and also I just kind of liked having the anonymity of Ann Potter Baking.” DeClerk’s niece, whose baby shower helped launch her business, is named Ann, which is also DeClerk’s middle name. “One of our dogs is named Lily Potter, so I morphed the two. It’s definitely a little nod to my niece,” she says.
Even though her use of royal icing on her secret recipe shortbread sugar cookies takes ultimate patience, DeClerk says she’s not a patient person. “I like to think [Ann Potter] is my little alter-ego.”
She currently sells her sugar shortbread mix at Eggshells Kitchen Co. in Little Rock and on her online Etsy store. She’s working on expanding into a chocolate shortbread mix and a gingerbread mix for the holidays. DeClerk teaches baking and decorating classes locally and around the country. She even has a live webinar for how to master icing consistency. Her next local baking class is Wednesday, Dec. 6, and focuses on Christmas Cookies.
SARAH’S EXPERT TIPS FOR BAKING YOUR HOLIDAY COOKIES
Pre-measure your ingredients. If you have everything pre-ready and pre-measured you can just throw it in the mixing bowl, that can help with time management.
Line your countertops with Saran Wrap. Then, when you’re done making cookies, you can just peel up the Saran Wrap and everything’s clean. I also like to clean as I go. There is nothing worse than having your countertops completely covered with a mess.
You want your writing and decorating icing to be at a toothpaste consistency. That might sound weird, but icing consistency really is the hardest thing to master.
I like to roll out my dough when it is at room temperature, and then I cut it out with cookie cutters and put the shaped cookie dough on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Then, I chill those in the refrigerator. I do not work with chilled dough. It’s really hard to roll out with a rolling pin.
For making cookies with kids, I always say to keep it simple. Don’t try the biggest, newest recipe. Go with something that you’re comfortable with and incorporate the kids with that. Don’t try to completely reinvent the wheel or the Christmas tradition. Just add the kids into a tradition that you already do, even if it’s slice and bake. It’s no fun if everyone’s in the kitchen yelling because the dough didn’t work out and the cookies are burned. Go with what you know.
A tool I love to use is a cookie scoop, like a little ice cream scoop. It will make your cookies even scoops and they’ll bake the same size. That’s a really easy way to make your cookie and baking product look really professional.
Around this time of year, it’s nice to have cookies on hand. I make a huge batch of my chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, scoop them out with my cookie scoop onto parchment and freeze the little dough balls. Then I’ll put them in a Ziploc bag, and pull them out when I want to bake them, and just bake six or bake 10, or however many I need. Also, they bake better that way because then you get the soft middle and then the crunchy edges. It’s the perfect way to bake some cookies. That’s a good little insider’s secret.