Elizabeth Tamny has been immersed in the world of the cookie arts since December. She’s not baking snickerdoodles or Toll House, but rather applying her illustrative and calligraphic skills to sugar and chocolate-mint cookies. The cookies themselves may be fairly simple, but Tamny’s designs are anything but. They’re intricate, sometimes lacy filigrees and grids of royal icing, piped in thin lines that swirl and intersect, sometimes rising above the surface in elaborate, delicate spires and domes that echo the towering confectionary structures of the Napoleonic-era French chef Marie-Antoine Carême.
Tamny, a former art coordinator at the Reader, has become a “cookier,” one of the thousands of committed amateur and professional cookie decorators who inhabit whole frosted universes on Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube. But unlike a great many of her cohort, she doesn’t deal in cartoon or movie characters, instead drawing on her intersecting interests in illustration and “crazy architectural confectionary.”
“I’m interested in technique, not really into aesthetics,” she says. “My stuff probably looks the most on occasion like the eastern European ladies out there doing traditional work—especially calligraphy and illustration and the needlework patterns. I love patterns and simple graphic palettes. And—this is a difference from some styles—I don’t use molds, patterns, stencils, or fancy cutters, anything like that. I just want to draw or doodle and make everything myself. I plan on incorporating more lettering. I’m incredibly picky about that as a calligrapher, and it’s like learning to letter all over again, using icing and a bag instead of a pen—totally different physics. Quite challenging in some ways.”
Tamny’s cookies can take hours—sometimes days—to create, as she often needs to wait for different parts to dry. And the pieces are fragile. They break often. “It’s full of heartache,” she says. Still, she encourages her customers to eat them. “I usually have to talk people into it. I really like the fact that they disappear. They’re done when they’re done. It does make you feel a little like Godzilla crashing your way through the architectural structure. You feel powerful. Like a giant.”
Tamny’s cookies are usually priced between $5 and $15 apiece. Find her on Twitter (@IllCookies), Instagram (@illustratedcookies), and Facebook.