Karen Griffith makes cookies that are almost too pretty to eat.
Outside of her full-time job as a BU Campus Planning & Operations project manager, Griffith is known as “the cookie lady,” baking and decorating exquisite, colorful, and Instagram-worthy iced sugar cookies for events like baby showers and weddings.
To celebrate the recent birthday of an active octogenarian, Griffith made cookies illustrated with the birthday girl’s favorite pastimes: a wide-eyed snorkeler, a crossword puzzle with a tiny “happy birthday” message spelled out, and a putting green with a marked hole in one.
Griffith is creative in all areas of her life. She earned a BFA in interior design from Syracuse University and went on to work for several furniture companies before taking on her current gig three years ago as a project manager at BU, where she helps design new spaces on campus, creating the look and selecting fabrics and materials for projects like the new lab for the Questrom School of Business MBA Program. Dogs are another of her passions, and she volunteers with several local rescue organizations.
“I’ve always loved to draw, and growing up I liked to try to re-create things in cookie form because it was fun,” Griffith says about her delicious side hustle. “I sold to friends and family for years. A lot of people said, ‘You should do this and start an Instagram account.’ So that’s kind of where it went.” She officially launched her Simply Homemade by Karen business and Instagram page from her Wellesley home a year ago. The enterprise has taken off: today, she churns out as many as 10 dozen cookies a week for clients all over the Boston area.
Griffith grew up baking with her mom, whom she likens to June Cleaver, the mother on the 1950s TV show Leave It to Beaver. “She made homemade desserts all the time, and she really encouraged us to bake,” she says. Her mother’s framed rolling pin now hangs on Griffith’s kitchen wall.
When a client places an order, Griffith first asks if the event has a theme, or she requests a picture of the invitation or the centerpieces. Next, she asks them to send her examples of what they like on Instagram or Pinterest. Finally, she’ll sketch out a design. She can make up to four different designs per order; for a recent baby shower, she made a batch of cookies resembling onesies, rattles, and a storybook.
Sunday is baking day. Griffith uses Martha Stewart’s famous sugar cookie recipe, which she knows by heart, although she uses a little less baking soda than Stewart calls for to keep the dough from becoming too thin when she rolls it out. She uses Etsy-bought cookie cutters to execute her designs, and then it’s time for the oven. In the rare instance when a batch gets a little too brown, she has a volunteer disposal service—her husband. Griffith usually fills 20 trays with cookies, and she recently bought an industrial-type cooling rack so there aren’t trays spread all over the counters and table.
An early riser, she most often decorates in the morning before heading off to work. First she makes a batch of royal icing, carefully stirring in different amounts of food coloring to achieve the desired color. Getting the icing right can be a struggle. Too much moisture in the air, for instance, can wreak havoc on the icing and make it too tacky to work with. “Last summer I became obsessed with the humidity in the air,” Griffith says. “When it got really hot out, I made my husband drag up the dehumidifier and we ran it in the kitchen until it got to the right temperature, and then I would decorate after that.”
If a design is complicated (like the perky groundhogs she drew for a Groundhog Day party), Griffith will pop her pre-drawn design into her projector and then trace it onto her blank sugar cookie with frosting.
Her first step when decorating a cookie is outlining it quickly with royal frosting, then going back and “flooding” the rest of the cookie to give it that signature smooth appearance. “Flat icing is kind of like self-leveling concrete,” she says. “It works the same kind of way.” She uses tipless piping bags, a recommendation she learned on Instagram. Cookiers, as they’re called, are a fervent community. YouTube tutorials, for instance, often get millions of views. Once a cookie is frosted, Griffith lets it dry overnight before bagging it. Her sugar cookies have a crisp texture, giving way to the crunch of the hardened royal icing on top.
Mistakes happen from time to time, she concedes. When errant air bubbles occasionally pop up, she uses a special tool to pop them. If she messes up while drawing, she tries to quickly wipe away the excess frosting with a damp cloth. If the frosting has already dried, and the cookie needs to be tossed, again it’s her husband to the rescue, eating any leftovers.
And while creating cookies started out as a hobby, a way to keep busy during the pandemic, Griffith says her business has brought her a lot of joy.
“I have loved being part of different families’ celebrations over the years, from engagements to weddings to baby showers,” she says. “It’s like stress relief for me since I love being creative. And it’s fun, you know, making people happy.”