SELMA – Marianne Rodriguez had no intention of becoming a cookie-baking guru when she retired from being a school administrator. But after jokingly posting on social media that she was raising money for a grandson’s visit, her friends started ordering, businesses started calling and the demand hasn’t slowed down since.
“I started doing cookies as a hobby and it just exploded. Now, I’m licensed and here I am,” she said during a small class at her Selma home.
Rodriguez is better known for helping organize the annual Selma Cancer Support walks at Pioneer Village. She’d been working on a book recently about her husband, Louie Rodriguez, and his battle with cancer when she made that initial post on Facebook.
“I got interrupted by cookies,” she said. “I had no intention of starting a business. I was writing. It just happened. One of the businesses in town ordered 60 dozen. That’s 720 cookies!”
Once she realized her cookies would be going out to the public, Rodriguez decided to get her business license, obtain a home-operating permit, file paperwork with the Health Department and get a food handler’s certification.
In naming the business Auntie Mo’s Homemade Cookies, Rodriguez said she borrowed a nickname her niece gave her and then decided to branch out and teach classes.
Although the sugar cookies aren’t complicated to make, most of her customers either don’t have time, want something personalized or are looking for a way to socialize and be creative.
“It’s the time. It’s a labor of love. It really is,” Rodriguez said of the appeal. “You have to do it in steps, like right now we’re getting ready to dry the cookies these ladies have already started. The first thing they did was practice getting comfortable working with the icing and making transfers,” she said of icing swirls drying on wax paper on her stove top.
Students in the class try the easier icing techniques first in a beginner’s class and if they continue taking classes, can learn more and more advanced techniques.
“I’ve made some rules. They can’t say ‘I can’t,’ and they can’t say ‘it’s ugly’ and they’ve got to follow directions. Anything that doesn’t look perfect, you just call it rustic.”
Enrolled in a private lesson that morning was Kingsburg’s Deborah Ochoa and Annette Garcia and Savannah Mercado, who was visiting from New York.
Ochoa said part of the appeal of the lesson is the experience of creating unique cookies with your friends, but also getting yummy cookies that taste better than store bought.
“I’ve never done this before and I can’t necessarily make a straight line, but as long as it tastes good.”
Garcia said she loves to bake and color so decorating the cookies combined both of these past-times.
“I’m into coloring and I love to talk and visit so I love that you do this together. Everything’s done by texting and people don’t even talk with each other on the phone anymore.”
Mercado said even though she typically doesn’t bake, having Rodriguez guide her through the process made it easy even for a newbie.
“Decorating the cookies wasn’t hard at all since Marianne’s there to teach you stuff. We did this thing where we made cards and she was there to teach us. It’s fun to learn. It brings out a hidden talent you never knew you had.”
To host a class, Rodriguez requires there to be at least six participants. She’ll bring all the supplies and small portable dryers to help the icing dry more quickly.
“We work on the cookies in stages. In the classes, I do half a dozen cookies with various sizes. They usually get two small cookies, three medium and two large,” she said.
Walking the participants through the techniques, Rodriguez is quick to demonstrate how to outline and fill in the shapes, add toppings for texture and even teaches brushing techniques for different effects.
“Then you tap the cookie on the table to settle the icing, but not so hard you break the cookie. Use your boo-boo stick if you see any bubbles. Then you can add what you’d like,” she said of the details.
With each class, participants get a frosting recipe, candies, a cookie cutter and a cookie recipe. The frosting is made with powdered sugar, light corn syrup, food coloring and vanilla. For some of her chocolate cookies, she’ll use an orange zest to flavor the icing.
“You could have coffee or caramel-flavored icing. The corn syrup gives it the sheen. See how shiny this is? And then the machine helps it dry.”
When the lesson is over, each decorator will have six decorated cookies to take home.
Previous classes have been for themed parties such as baby showers and birthday parties. With Valentine’s Day approaching, Rodriguez will even host lessons for couples where they’ll decorate cookies shaped like love birds or they can carve their initials in another cookie that looks like a fence.
Garcia said as simple as it is, decorating the cookies gives the different generations something fun they can all do together.
“We need to chitchat together and know what’s going on in their lives. Our kids need to sit around with grandma and mom and dad.”
“Sometimes we need to just unplug.”