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It's All In the Icing at Pastry Perfection

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Kelly Prettyman, who heads the decorating department at Boise bakery Pastry Perfection, is a cookie-decorating machine. After timing her one morning, Prettyman's coworkers discovered that she could ice and decorate between 300 and 400 Christmas cookies each hour—a prodigious feat even considering her 35 years of experience behind the counter.

Kelly Prettyman poses with her handiwork at Pastry Perfection. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • Kelly Prettyman poses with her handiwork at Pastry Perfection.

"The joke is I have a permanent spot here at the end of the counter where all I do is stand and do cookies all day long," Prettyman said, reaching into a bowl of electric green icing with a gloved hand before swiping it in an even, mirror-smooth layer over a Christmas tree-shaped cookie. A few minutes later, she finished the tray with a shower of red and green sprinkles and reached over to a nearby rack for another, all without missing a word of conversation.

"This time of year, obviously, is our busiest," Prettyman said when she sat down for a few minutes to rest her feet. "We do a lot of wholesale—St. Luke's, Boise Centre on the Grove, different places. I think last week alone we sent out over 10,000 [cookies] for the week, just our iced sugar cookies for Christmas."

If you haven't been there, the first thing you need to know about Pastry Perfection is that it's a sugar-coated wonderland—and bringing a child into its donut-scented air, hungry or otherwise, is risky business. The mammoth bakery off of Glenwood Street is lined with glass cases stocked with row upon row of muffins, cookies, special-occasion cakes, cupcakes, turnovers, pies, eclairs, strudels, dessert breads, coffee cakes and cannolis. Overseeing it all are Prettyman and her team, who keep the sweets looking almost too good to eat. Customers can walk in off the street and choose desserts from the case, but for some of the big corporate orders, the Pastry Perfection crew gets a little bit of help from its secret weapon: a bright blue cookie printer that squats in a back room.

A cookie printer is just what it sounds like—though maybe it should more properly be called an icing printer, to avoid any vague associations with Easy-Bake Ovens.

During the holidays, this cookie printer is Prettyman's high-tech helper. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • During the holidays, this cookie printer is Prettyman's high-tech helper.

"It's like a printer, but the cartridges are food coloring instead of ink," Prettyman said, loading sugar cookies iced with white frosting onto a conveyor belt that would pull them through the printer and out the other side, newly decorated with the logo of a local company in dark brown "ink."

These "logo cookies," as they're called in the bakery, are particularly popular during the holidays, when companies put in whopping orders—sometimes as many as 650 cookies at a time, according to Prettyman—to fill Christmas gift baskets.

But while the printer is used in special circumstances, most of the work at Pastry Perfection is still done the old-fashioned way: by hand.

"Sometimes it's pretty overwhelming," Prettyman said. "And besides the [relatively simple] hand-iced cookies, we also do the hand-detailed cookies, what we call our designer cookies. They're quite a bit more per cookie, but they're also a lot more work."

LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson

Unfortunately, there's no secret to making perfect, beautifully iced cookies at home. Prettyman said that while the process is important, it all comes down to practice.

"I would say a lot of experience definitely helps. Because even some of my girls that are fairly new, they struggle. But, you know, like everything else, the more you do it the better you get at it," she said. "I couldn't begin to tell you how many probably millions of cookies I've done in my life. So I've got it pretty down pat."

After spending more than three decades submerged in cookies, you might think the last thing Prettyman would want to do during the holidays is bake—but in fact, she's happy to take her work home with her for Christmas.

"My adult children, the only things they ask me for every year are their favorite cookies and stuff, so I go home and bake there, too," she said. "My son's favorite cookie is a snickerdoodle, and he'll eat the whole batch by himself. And my daughter, I do this peppermint Oreo cookie that she really likes. On average, I do probably about 12 different kinds of cookies and put them out."

Luckily, most of those recipes are sprinkle- and icing-free.