It all started one day in 1982 during the Chinese New Year.
As I walked down one of the little side streets in Boston’s Chinatown, I noticed some remarkable cookies in one of the shop windows molded in the shape of Carp, Buddhas and lions that looked like Pekinese dogs. They were amazing.
I had never seen anything like them, though I had been happily making and eating cookies ever since I could remember.
What seemed new to me was, I learned, a very old art. The Chinese had been using carved wooden molds for centuries to form cookies for special occasions.
Later, I discovered that molded cookies have long been a part of European cookie baking tradition, too. Carved wooden molds have been used for hundreds of years in Austria, Germany and the Scandinavian countries to produce wonderful, intricate cookies. German Springerle with their delicate anise flavor are perhaps the most familiar to us.
Cookie molds probably came to America in the late 18th century. Plaques for making large cookies shaped like men in fancy dress were fairly common.
Examples of these plaques from Colonial Williamsburg clearly show that our forbears had a sweet tooth and took delight in the shape and taste of molded cookies.
Although we’ve probably never given it much thought, molded cookies are all around us today – the patterns on Oreos, Vienna Fingers, Lorna Doone’s and animal crackers are all formed by molds.
But back to Boston and Chinatown. As I looked at the marvelous, oversized cookies in that window, as I admired the beautiful detail modeled in relief, I realized that there might be more to home-baked cookies than I had thought.
Instead of the ordinary rolled, dropped or bar cookies everyone almost takes for granted, why not make cookies inspired by these Chinese beauties? Why not make molds for extraordinary cookies – pretty cookies, silly cookies, playful cookies, elegant cookies?
That day started me on an adventure that still surprises me with ever expanding possibilities, even after 20 years. I suppose I really shouldn’t be surprised, though, since one thing always does lead to another. And after all, cookies should look as good as they taste.
What’s in a name?
We have been asked over and over where the name “Brown Bag Cookie Art” came from. Actually, it evolved out of our philosophy that the small, everyday things in our lives should be as wonderful as possible.
What could be more ordinary than brown paper bags? What sweet treat is more common than cookies? Let’s take these humble things that we almost take for granted and elevate them to a level that they become art. These cookies are edible art to be enjoyed everyday, not just on special occasions. Brown Bag Cookie Art.
Brown Bag Designs is an expansion on the theme. This name gives us room to include other new products that bring an artful approach to everyday baking tools.