I recently sat down to interview Amber Spiegel, owner and pastry artist of SweetAmbs. I have been curious about SweetAmbs ever since I noticed the "SweetAmbs" sign on Route 9W in Saugerties where "Addictions to Go" used to be. Though Spiegel doesn't use the space as a store, you can buy her cookies online. After looking at her beautiful cookie creations on her website, I had to know more about the young woman behind SweetAmbs.
Spiegel grew up in Rosendale, and went to Ithaca College to study business administration, but in her junior year she realized her true calling was to be in the pastry profession. After graduating from Ithaca College, she decided to enroll in the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. She moved around a bit after graduation, trying out a job in a wholesale bakery icing cakes in Atlanta, where she had family. She missed being in the Hudson Valley though. She came back and entered a cake decorating contest sponsored by Wilton in Chicago. She won the grand prize, and Wilton flew her to Chicago to be in their master class. While there, she gave her resume to her supervisor who offered her a job in their cake decorating department. For two years she decorated styrofoam and sugar cakes for the company's photo shoots and displays. "It was a lot of fun because decorating is what I wanted to be doing, but I decided that I really wanted to work for myself. I was baking and decorating cookies on the side. It was a lot more fun working for myself than creating somebody else’s ideas," says Spiegel.
She missed the Hudson Valley, and wanted to try working for herself to have more freedom and creativity. Her parents were very supportive of her decision, so she moved back in with them for a year while her father, who has his own woodworking business in the area, showed her the business ropes.
At first, she did custom cookie orders. She set up a website and a Facebook page, and started networking by finding other websites and blogs about cookie decorating, commenting, and introducing herself. Two years later, she has an impressive Facebook following (17,300 + and growing) and a YouTube following. Due to her YouTube popularity, she started selling different cookie decorating tutorials on her website, and now sells five different cookie tutorials on SweetAmbs.com for $1.99 each.
The SweetAmbs decorating tutorial videos, which are videotaped in her small commercial bake shop in Saugerties, are painstaking to create, but she can't believe how much she enjoys making them. "It takes a really long time to edit videos. I can’t believe how much I love it, but it takes a long time. If I mess something up, I have to get another cookie," says Spiegel.
"I have the most fun decorating when I am creating a new design. Some of my favorite cookie designs have come from experimenting with different decorating techniques. I stick to one cookie recipe, which is my orange vanilla spice cookie. It is flavored with orange zest, vanilla bean, and cardamom. I would love to travel around the country and teach cookie decorating," says Spiegel.
She also teaches cookie decorating classes at the Hampton Inn in Kingston twice a month. The 6-7 hour classes sell out quickly as they are limited to five students. The cost is $250, which includes recipes, tools, apron, and the cookies.
For someone who lives and breathes cookies, she is very slender. "I usually resist the urge to eat the extra cookies, although sometimes I give in. A cookie right out of the oven with a cup of tea in the afternoon is something I'll treat myself to once in a while. Most of the time I bring the extras to my family. My dad actually has a few on display in his office!" says Spiegel.
"My ultimate goal for the business is to provide cookie decorating inspiration, advice, products, classes, and video tutorials to cookie decorators all over the world through sweetambs.com. It's a great feeling when someone writes an email telling me that one of my tutorials inspired them or taught them something new," says Speigel.
Visit SweetAmbs.com for more information.