Thursday, March 26, 2009

Photo cookies - the basics!

People are always asking me to do a video on photo cookies, and I've been putting it off. It isn't that the process is complicated, but perhaps I'm just trying to explain it in too difficult a way due to the programs I use. So, here's the basic thing:

Adobe Photoshop
I use Adobe Photoshop for my tweaking my images. If you don't have that program, you will still need a competent photo editing program. For example, I have found that my printer prints the photo cookies darker than they appear on screen. I have had to lighten the original photo up to 50% just to get it to look right when it printed out.

Sometimes I will receive a color photo that has yellowed with time. I don't mean turned sepia. I just mean that the colors have faded out some. Photoshop has an autocolor function that when applied automatically corrects the photo back to its original colors. It's really wonderful.

I like to go the extra mile with photos that need a little help - either getting rid of scratches or dust speckles. I honestly don't do that for the client so much as I do it for me - I enjoy the challenge of photo restoration!

Sometimes too the client will sent a photo that they scanned at a really high resolution - so it's absolutely enormous. I then have to resize it and save it at a smaller size even before I can lay it out in...

Adobe Illustrator

I use Illustrator for laying out my photos. It has a grid function, and with that you can precisely lay out your photos and know how to resize them. When I say resize, I don't mean in the same way you would in Photoshop. For example, on an icing sheet that is 8-1/2 x11 (also called a 1/4 sheet or "quarter sheet" since it is a one fourth the size of a sheet cake pan), I know that I have a 1/2" unprintable border all the way around (on the sheets from Kopykake), leaving my printable area only 7-1/2" x 10". I want to make the most of my printable space. I might have a 3x5 cookie, but how many 3x5 cookie images can I get on the sheet? well, you could say 3, but there's a lot of wasted icing sheet that way. Instead, resize your image (you can keep the proportions by holding down the shift key as you drag a corner in and out to make the photo either larger or smaller), and think of having two images side by side that are no more than 3.75" wide - that way you can get 8 on a page. Remember that your cookie will have an icing border.

So my dilemma becomes, how do I do a video on photo cookies and explain the intricacies of all this? If I had Camtasia, perhaps I could show it on the screen what I am doing, but I don't. This is why I haven't made a photo cookies demo. The actual printing of the photos and the application to the cookies is the easy part! You just cut the photos apart, remove them from their backing (some fun tricks for getting that accomplished), and then you apply them to the wet icing, which in my case means royal icing.

Because the photo absorbs the moisture from the icing, it must be allowed to dry thoroughly, and I give my photo cookies 24 hours to dry. once the icing outside of the picture forms a crust, you can go ahead an pipe on your border, and then the border and the photo can be drying simultaneously.

If the photo is not completely dry (it can fool you!), and then you try to wrap it, any residual moisture will eventually cause it to stick to the wrapping...and it will peel up... not necessarily the entire photo, but it's not a good look for the final product no matter how much comes up.

I hope this helps with a few questions on photo cookies and will tide you over until I can actually get a video made.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Great photo cookies means fixing the Canon printers

The perils of a new printer... the Epson Workforce 30 has proven to be a lemon of a printer as well as a terrible ink hog, so I am not investing any more money into it but have instead found a local Canon authorized repair shop and have taken both of my Canon IP4000 printers in. One would only print black and the other only color. I had bought a replacement head for one of them recently, but even after installing it, I still couldn't get it to print and I was sure I'd just wasted good money. Well, the print heads DO need to be replaced, but the new one wouldn't work because the machines needed to be cleaned so badly. They have been cleaned and I'm assured they are working properly now. I am just waiting for one more print head to arrive, and I pick up my units on Friday.

Lesson learned: if you like your machine, repair it. The Canon IP4000s are great machines for Signature Sweet Shoppe. Real workhorses. After all, one of them got me through over 1000 icing sheets for the 8000+ Showtime Networks photo cookie job and it had already been in service for a year or more before that.

And I do promise to make the Youtube video on photo cookies BUT I have been handicapped with my computer for a few months - that has to be repaired too. Right now I'm just working on a little laptop, and it hardly has the power to render video, so all my Youtube subscribers will just have to wait!

Sugar Substitutes in Baking - Pt. 1

Many times people will ask me about making sugar-free cookies. My initial response is... whatever for? To be fair, I have used Spenda in my photo cookies but with disastrous results. Of course, I know that some people cannot tolerate sugar. However, the alternative is worse.

Before you click on any links in this article, be sure to read it thoroughly, then go investigate the links.


Aspartame, sometimes called Equal, NutraSweet or Canderel, is an artificial, non-saccharide (no sugar!) sweetener, aspartyl-phenylalanine-1-methyl ester. It is an artificial sweetener made by chemical giant Monsanto. If you haven't seen the documentary, The World According To Monsanto, I suggest you search for it and watch it as soon as possible since it is a real eye-opener about the intentions of that company and the food supply in the world... but I digress.

It is not by weight or volume a substitute for recipes. To remove three cups of regular sugar from a recipe means that the volume has to be replaced with something else. Aspartame in that volume is deadly, so as a volume replacement, it is unsuitable.

When I say deadly, let me point out that it is deadly in small doses too. It is a common artificial sweetener found in over 6000 products, including diet sodas (people, please stop drinking these!). It breaks down inside the body into highly toxic chemicals including formaldehyde (since when is that supposed to be in our food chain?). It is approved by the FDA - but what does that mean? Anything that is approved by the FDA means there is a toxic chemical in it that has gone through trials to find out how much is deadly and how much is "safe." In toxicology, this is called the median lethal dose, LD50 - what is lethal enough to kill 50% of the test subjects (lab animals). For a drug or chemical made for human consumption, the LD50 is then backed down to a "safe" level for small doses - in other words, it's still toxic but at a small level won't kill you (but there are side effects! I will post about this in my blog soon!)...although you can overdose on it. This is true of aspartame.

Do you really want to put a "sweetener" into your body and recipes that is owned and developed by the company that creates the Round-Up pesticide and who also created Agent Orange? If you are consuming large amounts of apartame, especially in "diet" sodas, stop immediately and go on a detoxing program for your body - and watch your thinking and health begin to improve!

While I sympathize with diabetics who want to have something sweet, Aspartame-laced products are not the answer. If you are struggling with diabetic issues, check out the documentary, Raw For 30 Days and speak to your doctor about a raw foods plan and try it UNDER PHYSICIAN SUPERVISION.

In the meantime, I also suggest reading the book, Sweet Deception: Why Splenda, NutraSweet, and the FDA May Be Hazardous to Your Health by Dr. Joseph Mercola (pictured left). Again, a real eye-opener.

What about sucralose - also known as Splenda? I'll get to that in the next newletter, so stay tuned.

And if you haven't opted in to receive my newsletter, what's the holdup! Opt in now!

Also choose the RSS feed (RSS= really simple syndication). Stay on top of what's current at Signature Sweet Shoppe!

to our email newsletters. Enter your email:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Epson vs. Canon for photo cookies

I did the 8000+ photo cookies for Showtime using my Canon IP4000 printer, and I kept wondering all the way through the job whether or not the Canon would survive. It wasn't new when I started the job, and I printed at least 1000 icing sheets. It did survive the job and a little beyond, but then the heads became clogged, and I wasn't able to clean it out using the normal clean function, and at the last minute I had abandon it in favor of a new printer.

I purchased the Epson Workforce 30 printer in February 2009, and I immediately contacted Kopykake and got the cartridges for it (note: I had already confirmed by their website that they supported the Workforce 30). Well... things have gone downhill with the printer since then.

1. It didn't want to pull the "ink" through the printheads - so it wasted almost the full five cartridges (at $90!!) before it finally printed! So after that I got about 3 or 4 icing sheets printed and then it was out! And I had to spend another $90! I changed them out today and then it didn't want to recognize them because they weren't Epson cartridges (it took a while to get over this issue).

2. It makes a terrible racket just feeding through each sheet of paper or icing. I'm glad I didn't have to listen to that when doing the Showtime job.

So... now I am taking my two Canon IP400 printers to be repaired - which probably just entails a profession deep cleaning of the print heads.

Canons are work horses and last longer, are quieter, and they are not ink hogs. The Epson is a terrible ink hog.

Just my 2 cents worth.