Sweet treats: After leaving teaching, Emmy Stallings began selling her homemade cookies
Teaching fourth grade was a joy for Emmy Stallings until she started her own family.
“It was great, I loved it until I had three kids in four years,” said Stallings, who lamented how her child-rearing responsibilities severely limited her time for lesson-planning and early mornings and late afternoons in her classroom.
So, after seven years as a teacher at Lebanon Elementary School, Stallings, who makes her home in Oakdale, gave up her teaching position in 2014 after the birth of her third child, a daughter, Isla, the little sister of brothers Ian and Cameron.
That gave her more time to focus not only on her children but also on baking. It was something she’d always enjoyed and allowed her to ensure that Cameron, who has a nut allergy, could have treats without concern.
Stallings, who grew up in Montville as Emmy Howard, earned a degree in studio art with a minor in printmaking before going back to school to get her elementary education certification and a master’s degree. She’d always been artsy.
She used her skills in cookie-making, creating artistic, colorful creations that won her praise from friends and family until finally, last February, she wondered if there might be a market for her confections.
One night around Valentine’s Day, she pulled an all-nighter making and decorating cookies.
“I just wondered if people would buy them if I made them,” she says.
When she finished in the kitchen, Stallings photographed her cookies and posted them on Facebook and Instagram and waited for a reaction.
She was immediately bombarded. Friends and family placed 30 orders. As a hobby baker, Stallings could cook in her home kitchen for family and friends. But, as of Oct. 1 this year, she became one of the first of a few dozen home bakers in the state to be licensed under Connecticut’s new Cottage Food Law.
She completed the paperwork, had her water tested, registered her business, paid the $50 fee, obtained insurance, and successfully completed the state’s Servsafe Food Handler program, clearing the way for Stallings to sell her goodies at farmers markets, craft fairs and similar gatherings.
Stallings named her business The Cookie Nook and made her first appearance several weeks ago at a holiday stroll at Stonington’s Velvet Mill. Her table, with samples and an array of finished cookies, drew a crowd all day. She has also set up a website, runs cookie-decorating classes and parties, and is busy fulfilling orders for baby showers, birthday parties, gender reveals, wedding reception favors, housewarmings, and a slew of other celebrations.
Decorating is always done at night, when her children are asleep, but she will bake during the day.
“For decorating, no one can be around for that,” she says. “Sometimes, I’m up at 3 in the morning, jumping from cookie to cookie.”
That’s because the icing must set before she moves from one color to another.
She starts with a basic sugar cookie recipe that she says she’s tweaked and is not willing to share. It includes the usual flour, butter, sugar, vanilla, eggs, baking powder, and salt — but she’s played with it to create a flavorful, soft vanilla sugar cookie.
“Most people think of a sugar cookie as hard, but this is a soft cookie,” she says.
For her frosting, she uses confectionary sugar, meringue powder, vanilla, and water, which she adds sparingly, with a syringe. And of course, food coloring.
She’s got a big container loaded with cookie cutters — and has more stashed in drawers and cabinets. In all, she estimates she owns more the 300 cutters, many of them from the Ann Clark Collection, the largest supplier of cookie cutters in the country.
But she’s also learned to improvise when someone asks for a particular shaped cookie, like the 7-year-old who wanted rockets and astronauts for his birthday party. She didn’t have those cutters but made realistic astronauts with her snowman cutter and rocket-looking cookies from another shaped like a Christmas tree.
It’s the icing that really gives Stallings’ cookies their personality. A standard order of a dozen cookies goes for $36 and includes one or two basic designs with two or three colors of frosting. She paints her cookies freehand, piping the icing from pastry bags and starting with an outline, then “flooding” it with more frosting that she levels with a scribe to release all the air bubbles.
A deluxe dozen includes two or three different shaped cookies with up to five colors and sells for $40. The more designs and colors, the higher the cost.
Under the state’s new Cottage Food Law, Stallings is not allowed to have annual gross sales over $25,000, which she said is OK because her cookies are such a labor-intense product.
“You have to love it, you have to have a passion, because you can’t break it down by the hour,” she says about baking and designing specialty cookies.
She’s done circus-themed cookies, treats for a beach party that included flip-flops, flamingos, pineapples and tropical drinks, and gender-reveal cookies that left guests waiting until they bit inside to see what sex the baby would be. She put pink frosting in the middle and iced over it with vanilla and a gold question mark, keeping everyone in suspense until it was dessert time.
What Stallings loves most about her new venture is chatting with customers to brainstorm on what exactly they’re shopping for. When they’re ordering for a friend or relative, she enjoys hearing about the recipient and their interests and hobbies.
“It’s great when people call and I hear how much they love the person they’re ordering for,” she says.
She typically tries to do all her baking for a week on one day and the decorating over two days. Once a cookie is finished, it needs 12 to 24 hours to set. And then she has to bag her confections.
Tractors and unicorns are standard orders, and one, which was a bit of a challenge, was for cookies for a fan of the sitcom "The Office," about employees at a paper company in Scranton, Pennsylvania, called Dunder Mifflin. She’ll try almost anything and has learned if the customer likes it, it doesn’t matter whether she does.
The Cookie Nook has become a full-time job for Stallings.
“But I try and wiggle it around and be done by Friday so I’m free on the weekends,” she says. And she can decorate her cookies when her children are at school or sleeping at night.
As far as her family, including her husband, Dwayne, they reap all of her mistakes.
“The kids and Dwayne always want to know where is the mess-up pile,” she says.
She eats her cookies, too, adding, “I prefer them unfrosted. I just think I’ve eaten too much frosting.”
All the details
What: The Cookie Nook
Who: Emmy Stallings, owner/cookie artist
Contact: (860) 859-7478 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at thecookienook1or Instagram at thecookie_nook