Quality Actually Is Baked In

By Carrie Nickels

Carrie enjoys baking, and she is pretty good at it. We asked her to describe a few practices she uses to ensure that quality is baked into her sugar cookies.

I have always been a DIY’er. I’d much rather make something myself than buy it pre-made. This tendency to do things myself covers most things in my life: crafting, home decor, self-care products, and ESPECIALLY baking. Maybe I’m a “do-it-yourselfer” because of my type-A personality (it’s a strong possibility). Maybe it has something with the fact that’s the way my parents raised me because that’s the way their parents raised them. But personally, I think it’s because when I make it myself, I know that quality is baked in.

I LOVE to make things; I think I’m a pretty good cook. I make lots of good meals and tasty treats, but I make a couple of things with excellence. They’re not only delicious but, even better, I’m proud of how I make them. One of those things is sugar cookies.

Hear me out. I know sugar cookies aren’t that difficult to make, but I’ve spent years perfecting them. Honing in on that perfect cookie recipe that holds its shape but is still deliciously soft when you bite into them - finding that extra ingredient that sets my cookies apart. The ability to mix the icing at just the right consistency. I am learning different methods to decorate the cookies so that they’re worthy of being considered artwork. These aren’t just any regular sugar cookies; they’re special.

My favorite example of how they’re special occurred a couple of years ago. I made a batch of sugar cookies for a friend who was having a day-of-the-dead party and wanted sugar skull style cookies. I made extra (I always do) just in case I messed up any in the process - that way, all the cookies she would get would be perfect. I brought the “reject cookies” - the ones that didn’t quite measure up in my opinion - to work the next day. And one of my coworkers still thought they were too pretty to eat and promptly pinned hers to her bulletin board so she could look at it for a couple of days.

I have a couple of things I do to ensure quality while I’m baking:

  1. Always have a plan. I know that to make my best quality cookies, it’s a three-day process. One day to make the batter, rest, bake, and cool. One day to do the first layer of icing and let it dry. And one more day to do the second “detail” layer of icing and let it dry. So, if I need the cookies on a Saturday, I should start the cookies on Wednesday. I also sketch out the shape of the cookies and what designs I want to do like a color by number, so I know what color icing and how much each can make. And I always plan to make more than I need, because I know there will be an inevitable “oops” along the way.
  2. Use good quality ingredients and tools. This does not mean the most expensive high-quality tools and ingredients. It means that I have found good supplies that work for me. Like, I don’t buy the most expensive flour because I know the Kroger flour does the job perfectly well. But I do splurge on good icing bags because I’ve bought bad quality bags that have burst while I’m working. Know your tools. Know your products. Find what works best for you.
  3. Practice, Practice, Practice. I didn’t get to where I am now by just making cookies when people ask me to. I make cookies all the time for no reason just to practice new techniques and hone in on skills I know I’m not good at yet!
  4. Enjoy the process. I find ways to help myself get into an enjoyable flow as I’m making the cookies. Sometimes, if the icing designs are super detailed, I’m standing at my counters with an icing bag in my hand for hours. If I don’t enjoy the process and don’t get into a good flow, I know the cookies will not come out as well. But if I put on a playlist of music I love or a good podcast, I’ll happily work away at the cookies, allowing myself to get into a groove and tune out everything else happening in my life. When I get into a flow like that, I leave the task happier than I went into it.
  5. Work towards a goal. Whenever I make cookies, I want people to say these two things: “These are too pretty to eat.” and “They taste even better than they look!” Everything I do between starting the batter and eating the cookies works towards that goal.

And I’ve found that at my job as a Human Factors Engineer, I follow pretty much the same process to ensure that quality is baked into the things I design. Those five items translate out of the food-world and into the work-world in a way that helps me get into a flow where I can create good goods! I know that if I follow the same method, I not only enjoy what I do but am better at creating screens and designs that help other people do their job better!

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