For Windsor baker Laura Paffel, a lifelong love of decorating cookies began as a young girl in the late '70s in her grandmother’s kitchen.
She fondly remembers her grandma bringing home the annual Wilton decorating yearbooks, from which they would find ideas and inspiration in an era before Pinterest and Instagram.
Today, she shares the lessons from her grandmother's kitchen with classes for children and adults.
Seventeen local youths gathered at the Waunakee Village Center during a no-school day on Monday, Jan. 23, where Paffel led them through decorating a snowman, snowflake, star, bird and winter mitten. It was her largest group of unattended kids to date.
Paffel's childhood love for baking stuck with her into adulthood, so when the Wisconsin Cottage Food law allowed for home bakers to begin legally selling their homemade baked goods, she launched her business, Pretty Killer Cookies in 2017, naming it after her love for horror and scary movies.
Yet today, Paffel rarely takes custom baking orders, shifting her focus primarily on teaching cookie decorating in Waunakee, DeForest, Sun Prairie and Cottage Grove.
As a mom to a 5-year-old who also works evening shifts at Trader Joe’s, the demand of made-to-order baking became too much for Paffel, who finds the consistent routine of teaching decorating classes more predictable and enjoyable. She teaches at least one class per month per community.
“Custom orders have taken a back seat,” she said. “Even though I want to do them, I need time to enjoy life.”
Each class requires a full eight-hour workday, Paffel said, between pre-baking five cookie shapes per participant per class, along with hand-mixing and dyeing the royal icing–five colors per person per class – not to mention the actual instruction and clean-up time afterwards.
The longest and messiest part of the process and Paffel’s least favorite thing to do is make the icing.
Transitioning from baker to teacher took some trial and error, and Paffel admits the first year was “a bit of a disaster,” but said that overall her ability to share what she’s learned “just kind of came naturally” to her.
Depending upon whether she’s teaching youths or adults, the techniques are a little bit harder or easier. In some ways, children are easier to instruct, Paffel said— particularly because they are less critical of themselves.
“Kids are resilient, I feel the kids can learn anything the adults can; they just need more time,” she said. “Kids get so creative, and I’m shocked at what they do.”
They even see designs that Paffel did not intend, such as turning what was meant to be a reindeer-shaped cookie into a Baby Yoda.
“It may not always be what the design is supposed to be, but it always turns out,” Paffel said.
Corralling students also isn’t limited to just youth, who sometimes leave class with icing stained faces and dyed hair. Adults can also become high-energy, such as at ladies nights where Paffel is certain there is sometimes more than just water in the students’ water bottles.
“I love it. It’s nice to break up the monotony of a regular job with this,” she said. “You never know what the class will be like. It could be calm or it could be off the wall.”
The Cottage Food Law does not allow for her to sell wholesale, but Paffel still bakes goods for sale at the DeForest farmers’ market once a month during summers. She will also be doing guest sale pop-ups at businesses such as the forthcoming Roasty Toasty coffee shop in DeForest.
But her favorite part of her job is knowing she’s inspired the next generation of home bakers
“Getting pictures from families who’ve tried my decorating techniques at home warms my heart,” she said.