There are Christmas cookies.
And then there are Christmas cookies that are so meticulously hand decorated with such intricate detail, they’re works of art that possibly should be framed instead of eaten.
Sam Morgan, the artistic talent behind the new home-based Local Tart bakery in Wichita, makes cookies that should be framed. He’s an artist whose medium is frosting, flour and “disco dust,” the edible glitter sugar that makes cookies sparkle.
“I used to do digital art, but my laptop broke,” he said. “So I found a new medium.”
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Wichita has seen bakeries by the dozen open over the past few years, and many of them produce beautiful frosted sugar cookies. But Morgan’s work is on another level. He can make nearly any cookie a customer requests, and he decorates them with layers of frosting, using paint brushes and piping tips to make Christmas trees with tiny multicolored strings of lights; snowmen with rosy cheeks, carrot noses and detailed polka dot scarves; snowflakes that look like they’re made from edible lace.
And his abilities don’t stop at Christmas. His Thanksgiving cookie offerings included an autumnal tree decorated with dozens of branches and more than 100 teeny orange and red leaves. His Halloween creations had raised, realistic-looking spiders creeping across them or incredibly detailed chandeliers hanging on them. And since he’s been in business only since June, it’s hard to even imagine what amazing edible images he’ll create at Valentine’s Day and Easter.
Morgan, a 2006 West High School graduate, has always been an artist. His mother and Local Tart business partner, Julie Perez, said he was rarely without crayons and pencils as a child.
He found a way to make money off his art, even back then.
“I started in kindergarten selling drawings of sharks for a quarter each,” Morgan said.
On Mother’s Day last year, Morgan made his mother a beautifully decorated cookie. A friend saw it and offered to pay him to make cupcakes for a charity event. He took the job and decorated each cupcake with a delicate 3-D chocolate butterfly, perched to take flight.
The friend placed more orders, and word started to spread about Morgan’s work. When Perez was laid off from her job as a social worker in June, she asked her son whether he wanted to go into business.
The bakery, which also sells cupcakes and other baked goods, is based out of the family home in east Wichita, and Morgan has turned the dining room into his decorating studio. He’s acquired hundreds of cookie cutters and piles of supplies.
Not a baker before, Morgan taught himself to make his thick, buttery cookies and experimented until he perfected his frosting, a mix between royal icing and glaze icing. He draws almost all of the shapes by hand, relying on a projector to guide him for intricate lettering.
He likes to take custom orders so people get exactly what they want and he can try new things. And he rarely delivers a dozen of the same cookie. A grouping includes several different shapes and styles that adhere to a theme.
The only stumbling block to the business so far has been the price, Perez said. Morgan’s cookies are so detailed, they take several days to make. After he bakes the cookie then floods it with icing and waits eight hours for it to dry, he spends at least 10 minutes hand decorating each cookie. A dozen cookies start at $40 and can go up to $60, depending on how intricate the request is. People can order some more basic frosted cookies that are less expensive to supplement their orders.
Still, many customers are not fazed by the price, Perez said. Recently, she and Morgan have encountered fans so ardent they don’t blink at ordering 12 dozen of Morgan’s creations.
Perez and Morgan say their goal is to find enough success to open a commercial storefront that would be an appropriate showcase for Morgan’s work. Perez, who takes the orders and handles delivery and publicity for the bakery, said she dreams of hiring someone to bake the cookies and apply the initial layers of frosting to free Morgan up for full-time decorating.
“I just want our business to grow, and I just want people to understand why cookies cost so much and be OK with that,” she said.