Ag professional's hobby leads to a start-up side business of cookie decorating classes
Katelyn Engquist works full time in agriculture but has started a side business of custom cookie decorating. She plans to hold a cookie decorating class on Dec. 3 in her hometown of Chokio, Minnesota.
As fields are harvested around me, I start writing holiday to-do lists. I will never get it all done but yet lists feel therapeutic to me. One item I used to do with my mom but now never get done before Christmas is cookie decorating. This year, I wrote it down as an activity to do with my nephews and teen daughters. I share fond memories of piping and flooding cutout Santa sugar cookies my mom baked with royal icing. They were the fanciest Christmas cookie we could create, I thought.
The Creations By Kate Facebook page piqued my interest in early October when Katelyn Engquist, 29, who lives in West Fargo, North Dakota, shared she is offering two classes of Christmas cookie decorating on Dec. 3 in her hometown of Chokio, Minnesota.
Aside from my love of Christmas cookies and baking, when I see an agriculturist carving out a side hustle or new business niche, I celebrate. I reached out to Katelyn to learn more about how this side hustle cookie business came about and more about the classes she is offering.
Katelyn attended North Dakota State University where she earned bachelors degrees with majors in public relations and advertising and in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. Today she works from home for Ag Management Solutions in market development and communications. AMS is based in Mankato, Minnesota, and manages several agricultural organizations. Katelyn worked for North Dakota Corn Utilization Council and North Dakota Corn Growers Association after her time at NDSU.
I share her education and work experience to note cookie baking and decorating or food science isn’t a part of her education or work experience. Yet her hobby turned into a business.
Like many of us, baking was a part of Katelyn’s childhood.
“I've always loved baking and baked with my grandma a lot growing up," she said. "I have a lot of photos of my brothers and I decorating Christmas cookies with my grandparents when we were young. I remember we'd make so many cookies, bake them for too long, and ice them with knives and powdered sugar frosting. Then we would end up throwing a lot of the cookies away after the holidays because they didn't really taste all that good.”
Rather than stick with the old Christmas cookie ways, Katelyn decided to carve out a new way for herself to learn about cookie decorating.
In 2019, she started following the social media accounts of several bakers and learning about royal icing. Following her January 2020 wedding to husband, Kelly, she took a cookie decorating class from a baker near her hometown in February 2020.
“Cue the pandemic and I had a lot of extra time on my hands,” said Katelyn. “I started baking a lot, maybe too much, and experimenting with decorating cookies. I posted pictures of my cookies on my personal Instagram and took my first order in July 2020. I've taken custom orders and held pre-sales around various holidays since then. I took a break before I had my daughter, Kennedy, now 15 months, and then didn't bake at all for the first few months of her life, but by winter 2021, I was itching to decorate again.”
Katelyn continued developing her hobby into a business as more friends placed orders and her business grew by word of mouth. She added more general cookie decorating skills by taking online classes and then a specialized course from a woman who created “amazing florals with royal icing.”
In the hustle of the holiday season ahead, what pushed Katelyn to carve out an early Saturday in December to offer her first public class?
“I’ve been wanting to host a cookie decorating class for a while. I’ve done some smaller classes for some groups, both online and one in person. My Christmas classes in Chokio on Dec. 3 will be my first classes open to anyone,” she said. “A lot of people make decorated sugar cookies around the holidays so now is a perfect time for people to learn the basics of royal icing. Royal icing is made with meringue powder (or egg whites) which makes the frosting set and dry nicely."
Katelyn explained that each participant will get six cookies and tipless piping bags filled with icing in different colors and two consistencies: a thicker icing for details and a thinner one for "flooding," which she explained as the act of icing a cookie with a thinner icing to fill larger areas in a smooth layer.
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“There’s definitely a learning curve with royal icing and the consistency of the icing is so important," she said.
She also wants to make cookie decorating something anyone can do.
“My goal is to teach techniques that anyone can replicate at home without having to buy other equipment or supplies," she said. "I use some special equipment, like a pico projector, which helps me trace words and complicated designs onto cookies. I don’t expect anyone in this class to buy their own projector so I want them to be able to make pretty cookies with things they already have at home.”
Whether you make it to rural Minnesota for Katelyn’s first Christmas cookie classes or not, she shared insight on anyone considering taking a hobby into a business or side hustle to your full-time profession.
“Start small and find a niche that fits you and your family,” Katelyn said.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.