If you were to look at the first batch of cookies Elizabeth Mahon decorated … on second thought, she’d probably prefer you didn’t.
“I have photos, and it’s hilarious,” says Mahon, who founded her custom cookie company, District Baking Co., in 2014. Today, after fine-tuning her skills and steadying her hand, Mahon sells her impeccably decorated sweets for up to $60 a dozen.
Mahon’s painstakingly made sweets — such as her sugar cookies in the shape of Mason jars complete with the signature “Ball” script — reflect the growing number of elaborately detailed cookies, macarons, cakes and pies available in the D.C. area.
“People appreciate the artistry, and I think they appreciate how much thought went into it,” says Tiffany MacIsaac, the owner and lead pastry chef of soon-to-open Buttercream Bakeshop. MacIsaac often hand-paints watercolor flowers or fruits on her macarons and cakes using food dye.
Most often, MacIsaac says, people order her edible masterpieces for weddings and other special occasions like baby showers and birthday parties. (Host of the year?)
“A lot of times people use them as a focal point for an event,” she says. “You don’t see hand-painted food often. For most people it takes something that would otherwise not be very memorable and makes it mind-blowing.”
You may recall the photo cake craze of the ’90s, when snapshots were made into edible sheets that topped cakes or cookies. These bakers shun that outdated style, preferring something that requires a bit more craftsmanship.
“Nobody wants just a printed image on a cookie,” says Fresh Dizicheh, founder of Fresh Bakes in Ashburn, Va. “They want the hand piping. I think people appreciate the little mess-ups because they know it was made by a human.”
As is the case for Mahon and MacIsaac, not a day goes by that Dizicheh doesn’t hear a client say, “It’s too pretty to eat!” She’s flattered, but let’s be real. “I want people to eat them and enjoy them,” she says. “They’re not meant to sit on a shelf or be a souvenir.”
Other sweets to gawk at: