Look, cookies are already great, but cookies that come with gorgeous watercolors on them--well those are amazing. We discovered baker/artist extraordinaire Sogoal Zolghadri on J.Crew’s Tumblr, and have been obsessing over her edible masterpieces ever since--especially the very special NYLON-themed batch she created just for us!Find out about her techniques below. How did you get started as a baker?
Sogoal Zolghadri: I’ve always wanted to get into pastry, but my parents said I couldn’t go to culinary school. I was getting my undergrad degree in fine arts and finishing up my senior thesis in water color when I decided to intern at Sweet Cheeks Baking Company in San Diego to see if it was something worth pursuing. I stayed with Sweet Cheeks Baking Company as a cake decorator for a while, and one of my good friends showed me this blog where a girl painted on cookies, so one afternoon, we gave it a go. I just kept it up as a hobby for a while, moved to New York, and started doing corporate merchandising for GAP. I just kept finding myself progressively more and more unhappy with my job. Separately from that, people were starting to talk about the cookies, so I launched my own project last fall on Kickstarter, and it was thankfully overfunded which put this little bug in my ear that painting on cookies actually has viability in New York. Then the cookies were featured in Martha Stewart and then Vogue--it just has kind of been a whirlwind eight months. I quit my job with GAP, and I’m pursuing a full career as a baker. It’s very small, but it’s been good so far.
Could you explain the technique you use to watercolor on the cookies?
The reason it was easy for me to pick up, essentially, was because it’s very much just like when you watercolor with paper except instead of paper, you have a cookie with hardened royal icing on it. I call them little cookie canvases. Instead of real watercolor you use gel food coloring mixed with a little bit of water. It’s the same technique except you have to be a little more delicate and slow because too much water will cause the sugar to dissolve and melt in front of you.
Have there been any specific projects that were challenging or awesome or a defining moment in your baking career?
Probably the annual Martha Stewart bridal market. Months ago when I was really, really, really unhappy at my job, I was looking for other work and I applied to an amazing position with her editorial department. I made it through a couple interviews, but I didn’t get the job and I was really, really bummed. They held onto my portfolio and months later, they reached out and asked if I’d be interested in being a vendor for them at their bridal market. It was huge. However, they were under the impression that I was a full-blown business. Mind you, at this time I was eyeballs deep in merchandising, numbers, and sales for GAP Fit and was just baking for fun on the side. But it was an opportunity and I took it. However, what they needed was like 300 cookies for all the guests and 50 super-intricate, high-end cookies, all hand-painted. I was like, “Yeah, sure, no problem,” and I slaved aways after work every day for two straight weeks just to be prepared. I asked my best friends to come with me to the bridal event and pretend that we were an established unit. One of my best friends was pretending to be my publicist, and the other ones were handing out samples and talking to all the guests. It was definitely really, really challenging, but ultimately more rewarding than I could have expected. That’s when I decided I actually have something worth pursuing. When you have to fake it until you make it, it actually is a good gauge to see if you can do it.
If you could create cookie for any person who would it be?
I would want it to be Tina Fey. I listened to her audio book of her book, Bossy Pants. She’s really inspiring as an independent, self-made woman. She worked her way up to what she is now, and she’s incredibly intelligent, witty, smart, and ultimately just hilarious. I find that those are all really admirable qualities that a strong independent woman should be, and she did it all herself. If I could impress her with a dozen hand-painted cookies, why not?!
What was your inspiration for our batch of NYLON cookies?
The reason I had so much fun with the NYLON ones was because it’s totally my aesthetic which is just bright, fun I kind of took inspiration from the fact that it’s summer and fruit patterns and palms are having a really big moment right now. When I saw the palms behind the Sienna Miller cover I was like “This is perfect”. The cookies are young, fashion-forward, and colorful.