’Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring ... except for Amy Clough, who’s just finished several batches of Christmas sugar cookies and is quietly making her way to bed at the witching hour.
Snowflakes, gingerbread houses, stockings, snowmen, and snow-capped Christmas trees all quietly sit drying as she tip-toes through her quiet house to bed. It’s been a long night. These cookies were not born out of a log of commercial sugar cookie dough you can find in the freezer section of your local grocery store.
Clough, of Preston, owns Clough’D 9 Cookies, a custom-decorated sugar cookie company. She works out of a commercial kitchen she’s had built about 50 feet from the back door of her house, nestled between it and her sons’ swing set.
While it might seem strange that Clough would go to such lengths to have a separate space for her baking and decorating, with a working kitchen inside her home just 50 feet away, that little haven is an absolute necessity given home baking business laws and the volume of cookies she has leaving her house. Clough didn’t want to lease a space for her venture into cookies; she and her family wanted her to have a space she could call her own.
Inside, Clough has everything she needs to run a full-fledged cookie business: a commercial refrigerator, a three-basin sink, a hand washing station, a commercial grade convection oven, racks and racks for drying cookies, a desk, storage upon storage for cookie supplies, and most importantly, work space. Clough calls it her “little slice of cookie heaven.”
Clough said she got starting baking at a young age, through 4-H. Her mother taught her how to bake and decorate cakes. Her mother was taught by her paternal grandfather, who, according to Clough’s blog, Clough’D 9 Cookies, was a classically trained pastry chef.
As Clough grew up and had children of her own, she continued to bake and decorate cakes for her family, which includes her husband, Mike, and their two boys who are now 15 and 11.
She said her mother kept gifting her different cookie cutters she would pick up here and there, and usually, she would read the “how-to” instructions that came with the cutter, make the cookies, slap some green or red sugar on them, and “be done with it.” She said she had no idea of the vast world of cookies she would eventually break into.
Until, one day, she said she decided to “go for it.” She went online and started visiting and perusing several different cookie blogs. From there, the rest is history.
“It was like a whole new world,” Clough said. “That was it, that first time. I thought, ‘This is so cool.’”
It was around Thanksgiving when she decorated her first batch of cookies; Thanksgiving turkeys, acorns, fall leaves, and pumpkins. Her two boys were decorating that first batch of cookies with her.
“I ended up having to fight over the last cookies because I wanted to decorate them. I wanted to try out some of the things I had seen online,” Clough said.
Since then, Clough said she has tweaked and perfected her own secret sugar cookie recipe, which includes vanilla and “just a hint of lemon.” Don’t ask her to divulge it ... it’s not happening.
“You have to find a recipe that works for you,” Clough said. “Sometimes, when you cut, the cookies can become misshapen, and you don’t want that. You want them to have nice, crisp edges you can work with.”
She makes cookies for any event; birthdays, graduations, sporting events, bridal showers, weddings, baby showers, holidays ... anything. She’s made almost every shape of cookie you can think of: bugs, unicorns, gingerbread men (her favorite). She’s got so many cookie cutters; you name it, she’s probably done it. Right now, she is booked at least one month out, so getting on her books as soon as you know what you’ll need is a must.
It takes a good five to six hours, including baking, cooling, icing, overnight drying time, designing and details, and packaging, for one dozen cookies. She said the more intricate the design, the more time the cookies take to complete. A typical turnaround time for one dozen cookies is at least three days, she said, which is why it’s important to schedule your cookies with Clough in advance.
“These are not the type of cookies you can bake and churn out in less than an hour,” Clough said.
Clough was a middle school science teacher for 15 years and taught at Lockerman Middle School in Denton. She gave all that up to start her cookie business, but she said she didn’t have to give up the children and families up that she once taught.
Today, she gets to watch them grow through creating cookies for their birthday parties, graduation days, and wedding days. When they have babies of their own, she can bake little llama cookies for their babies’ llama-themed first birthday parties (amongst other first-birthday theme requests).
In addition to being blessed with a beautiful family of her own and of being fortunate to have the family of her community, Clough said she also is lucky to be a part of a huge online cookie community, which has spilled over into real-life connections.
Clough has been part of that cookie community since she began her adventure in cookies in 2011, and since 2012, has participated in Cookie Con, a now annual gathering of the best of the best in the cookie community. A typical Cookie Con today sees about 400 attendees, Clough said.
The convention is a gathering where attendees can share cookies, tools, and tips; attend classes; buy new equipment and materials; attend tastings; and participate in competitions.
The competitions have become a favorite for Clough, who has won awards for some of her designs. But another honor was being asked to be one of a handful of presenters.
“It was a big deal for me to be a presenter,” Clough said. “It was all about texture and how to create different textures on your cookies. Because a lot of the time, people think it needs to be just smooth or have piped details, but it can be so much more than that.”
Some of the methods Clough taught were using a ruffled texture, like that of the pine needles on Christmas trees, or using sanding sugars.
But the part of cookie decorating and competing that really make Clough’s eyes light up? Being asked to do something unique and different and all the ways a cookie-cutter shape can take on a different life and be used to make cookies that are unique and completely out-of-the-box.
Amongst the racks of drying, decorated sugar cookies, ready for delivery, sit one dozen on a drying sheet, all alone among the decorated Christmas cookies and birthday cookies. They look like cookie-shaped lips.
“They are lips,” Mike Clough said. “But they're not going to be lips.”
On Amy Clough’s desk and tacked up on picture boards around the kitchen are sketches of designs, some that turned out to be award-winning at Cookie Con, she said. One such sketch sits dominantly atop the pile of other sketches. It’s what will soon be a cookie sloth. If you take away all the lines and shading that make up that sloth, you can see it ... the rudimentary shape of lips.
Amy Clough said it’s all about seeing the potential of a cookie-cutter shape and designing something out of the ordinary.
“I sketch pretty much everything I cookie,” Amy Clough said. She said baking and designing cookies is a great creative outlet for her.
And although she has absolutely no plans to put down her piping tools anytime soon, she and her husband are the type of people to think into the future.
If and when Clough decides to turn in her flour-splattered apron for a quieter, sugar-free life, she and Mike said they have a plan for the “little slice of cookie heaven” out back, which could have a new life as office space for either her or Mike, or as a small living suite for visiting family.
But, for now, Amy Clough is on “Clough’D 9,” if you will, with her cookie adventure, and her loving husband Mike and their two children supporting her journey.