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Like most bakers, Marisol Morley of New York City-based custom cookie company Tiny Kitchen Treats learned the ropes and the rules of the kitchen as a child. While her mother introduced her to parba—a sweet Colombian dough—Morley's father taught her how to see, and play with, color and make other baked treats, like meringue and flan.
But it wasn’t until a group of friends, years later, raved over homemade cookies she and her now-husband gifted over the holidays that Morley ever considered pursuing baking as a career.
“We made a kitchen sink cookie and shortbread, and people went nuts over them. They were like, ‘You should make these to sell!’” Morley tells Domino. “It sort of planted the seed in my head that people love getting cookies as gifts.”
Fast forward five years and the New York-native was working at an investment bank. “I was happy, but I was bored artistically,” she recalls. With the hope of getting back to baking, Morley teamed up with a close girlfriend who was, at the time, already working the kids’ party circuit crafting invitations and party favors.
“I quit my job two months before Christmas bonuses came in,” Morley says. “I left for Tiny Kitchen Treats, and it’s been three years of not looking back and never regretting it.”
At the core of Tiny Kitchen Treats? Refreshingly modern, unexpectedly graphic, and addictively delicious sugar cookies, browned—ever so slightly—for stellar flavor. And when it comes to the holidays, Morley puts the company’s mantra—“whipping up bright ideas”—first. So, when it came to dressing up our own sweets this year, we invited the master treat-maker to the Domino Pop-Up shop in Soho to teach us (and all of you!) the secret to modern holiday treats.
The result? Contemporary edible art that proves even the most classic of holiday cookie shapes—the Christmas tree—can still feel festive with a metallic, Jackson Pollock-inspired spin.
First-time bakers and cookie monsters alike, read on for her foolproof guide to holiday decorating, which Morley shared during a recent workshop in the Home Depot kitchen at our New York pop-up.
Simplicity takes the cake—er, cookie.
“When you’re baking for loved ones, they’re just going to be happy you made something for them, so focus more on the flavor. Pick a simpler design that you think you can do.”
Put your recipe to the test.“Try to practice the recipe before baking it for someone. Make a delicious recipe that you’ve made before; something that says home to you. If it doesn’t feel Christmas-y, say, it’s a sugar cookie, you can add crushed peppermint to the dough to add a Christmas feel to it. Our sugar cookies and icing have a little bit of almond extract in them, which makes them so luxurious and elevates the flavor from just your regular kid’s sugar cookie to a pastry cookie.”
Prep, prep, prep.
“The best thing you could ever do is have all of your ingredients ready, because the worst thing is when you want to start baking, and you’re missing something. Just do exactly what you would see someone on TV do: Measure everything and have it in bowls."
Be mindful of your palette.
“Say your palette is lime green, buttery yellow, and sky blue. The best way to make all of that feel like one is to actually take a little bit of each of those colors and put it into each other. Whatever’s left in my bowl, instead of cleaning it, I’ll mix my new color in there so it’s just enough to infuse it with that feeling, but not change the color and make it something else.”
Opt for non-traditional colors and scenes.
“If you told me I can do whatever I want, chances are I’m going to put teal or turquoise in your cookie. I love that, even for the holidays: Red, gray, and a cool teal-turquoise. It’s so nice and unexpected. I’ll have a snowman, but instead of the traditional shape, he’ll be dancing and his arms will be flailing in all directions and his smile is sideways so he’s more whimsical.”
Start with a smooth surface.
“Make sure that the base is perfectly smooth. We use egg white, which actually makes them sparkle. It looks like there’s glitter in them, but there isn’t—it’s just the protein that makes it shimmer.”
Sketch out your design.
“Take the shape of your cookie cutter, trace it onto paper, and draw out what you want to do with it on paper first. Your eye will then already know where the head needs to go. That helps you not get discouraged. It’s like muscle memory. You can also take a piece of parchment or wax paper and pipe onto the paper to practice before you do it on the cookie.”
Get to know your tools.
“We use a scribe tool, which is a fancy word for a sharp toothpick, and long skewers—kind of like the ones you use for grilling veggies. What’s fun about that is you can do wet-on-wet icing. Flood your cookie and then you can add either dots or lines. You can drag through and create hearts. You can create a zigzag border. Basically, you’re doing a design within the cookie that dries and looks completely flat.
“Sprinkles are a nice way of making a cookie look pretty, even if you don’t have a ton of experience. We have our own custom line of sprinkles that aren’t your regular rainbow sprinkles mixed in the pantones of the colors. Edible markers are also really fun because, on a finished cookie, you can draw or write a note.”
It’s okay to mess up.
“If you’re working with royal icing and you ice the cookie and absolutely hate everything you did, just put the cookie down, walk away, go grab yourself a nice cup of tea or coffee, and let the cookie crust over. Then, an hour or two later, take a knife—or offset spatula—and scrape it off. You’ll have a brand new cookie to work around!”
Inspired by what you saw at the Domino Pop-Up holiday workshop?Here are a few essentials you’ll need to take on Morley’s masterfully modern cookies: tipless piping bags, scribe tool, skewers, metallic paint, metallic sprinkles (Dragees), edible markers