Introducing our new series, we recognise cake icons in the industry for their expertise and phenomenal designs. This month, we speak to Julia M. Usher.
Julia M. Usher is known for her beautiful 3D cookie designs and has owned a boutique bakery for ten years! She now teaches her craft all over the world. Here we find out more about her cookie decorating journey and her top tips for budding cake decorators.
Can you tell us about your cake decorating journey- where did it all begin?
I’d have to say it began with my mum when I was old enough to stand on a stool to reach the kitchen counter. From a very early age, I shadowed her in the kitchen, following along especially intently whenever she was baking or decorating sweets! You might say I was born with a sweet tooth! My family, like so many American families, also had a ritual of decorating Christmas cookies for the various neighbourhood parties and cookie swaps at that time of year, so I was no stranger to cutting out cookies and mixing royal icing even then. However, I didn’t get into cake decorating professionally until much later into my mid-thirties after having pursued at least two other careers. Cookie decorating came even later and pretty much by accident. After closing my cake bakery, I wanted to write a cake book but had trouble selling it to publishers. It eventually morphed into a cookie swap book called Cookie Swap: Creative Treats to Share Throughout the Year. That book did well which resulted in another cookie book, Ultimate Cookies. One cookie thing led to another and now I’m primarily teaching cookie decorating, both online and in person while managing Cookie Connection, my community-based website, making cookie videos and designing new cookie products.
What was it like owning and running your own bakery?
I love conceiving things and building something from nothing. I also love working for myself and having the freedom to do things exactly as I want them to be done. My bakery, which I ran from about 1996 to 2006, afforded me all of these pleasures especially in the early startup phase. I also loved the purely creative aspects of the business – i.e. taking customers’ general wants and desires and turning them into something even they had never imagined.
What is the most elaborate or memorable 3D cookie you have created and why?
My most elaborate designs are probably my rose garden and recent Christmas fireplace scenes. Each was no more than 6-8” on each side, but contained hundreds of royal icing or cookie parts. As with most things I make, I primarily made these projects to stretch my skills and also to, hopefully, open up new cookie possibilities for others.
What is your biggest inspiration for your work?
I typically don’t look at others’ cookie or cake work, or even others’ drawings or paintings, for inspiration because of copyright issues and also because I don’t want anyone else’s style to overly influence my own. I want my work to be unique and immediately recognisable as mine. So I generally look to everyday objects or nature for inspiration and try to find ways to turn these things into 3D cookies.
Read the full interview in the July 2018 Cake Masters Magazine NOW!