With more than 300 decorated sugar cookies sold each day, they’re one of the many top sellers at Clear River Ice Cream, Bakery and Deli in Fredericksburg, Texas. From sunrise to sunset, this retro hotspot on Main Street bustles with activity with waitresses calling out orders from the counter while Grease plays on a large screen TV. Owner John Dubea says Clear River is known for their award-winning ice cream, Praline Dipped Pecans and hand-decorated sugar cookies.
The old-fashioned ice cream parlor, with tin ceilings, 1950s décor and jukebox music, features more than 50 flavors of ice cream made right in house, including their award-winning Mexican Vanilla and Amaretto and Peach & Pecan. On any given day, there are 24 flavors from which to choose. Be prepared, however, for lines running out the door with eager customers in cowboy boots and hats every time the mercury pushes north of eighty degrees -- which is most of the year here in Texas Hill Country. On a good week, they sell about 500 gallons of the creamy frozen treat.
Located a little over an hour’s drive away from Austin or San Antonio, Fredericksburg sits about half way between the two cities, and is a big draw every spring for wildflowers that bloom here and historic roots of pioneering self-reliance, not to mention the wineries, art galleries and bustling restaurant scene year-round. And Clear River has become a popular stop since opening in 1989, with a huge and varied selection of baked items that include the traditional Czech kolaches, shortbread, peach cobbler and pecan bars. But their decorated cookies remain the most popular baked item.
As many cottage food operators across the nation can attest to, decorated sugar cookies are one of the sweet spots for home-based bakeries operating under their state’s cottage food laws. With some practice, many home bakers have transformed their talent for decorating cookies into profitable enterprises. Even in Wisconsin, thanks to the successful lawsuit against the state, we can transform icing into artwork on hand-cut cookies, a topic we’re now covering both in the pages of Mother Earth News and regularly scheduled workshops on our farm.
We caught up with John Dubea on a recent trip to Fredericksburg, Texas, so he could share a few tips on making your decorated sugar cookie enterprise more successful, recipe included.
“The icing we put on our cookies keep them very moist,” explains Dubea. “We have a rule that all cookies are to be iced the day they are made. The combination of the flavor and the moist cookies make them so popular.” Of course, for cottage food operators making non-hazardous, low-moisture cookies in their home kitchens for sale to their neighbors, as long as the cookies don’t require any refrigeration, you’re usually good to go.
“The icing is an important part of the cookie,” Dubea continues. “It has to be thick enough to lock in the moisture of the cookie and to be able to use when decorating. I am the main decorator with a couple of assistants which change on a regular basis. September will mark twenty-nine years in business, so I have had lots of practice!”
“My general rule has been to make the cookies fun, but keep it simple, so that they are more affordable,” advises Dubea. “Many decorated cookies have a price tag of $5 to $6 each. They make look very nice but not be priced for a quick snack.” Besides being mindful of their price points, it helps that Clear River has hundreds of cookie cutters, allowing them to make cookies that correspond with the seasons, holidays and other date specific events from Mardi Gras to “back to school.”
Courtesy of Clear River Ice Cream, Bakery and Deli
Found in cookbook, Recipes from Clear River’s Kitchen, Clear River Pecan Company
Yield: 1 to 2 dozen, depending on size of cutter and thickness of rolled out dough
• 1 cup margarine
• ¾ cup sugar
• 1 tsp almond extract
• 2 eggs
• 1 tsp vanilla
• 2 ¾ cups flour
• 1 tsp baking powder
• ½ tsp salt
1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Cream margarine and sugar together, then add vanilla, eggs, almond extract and mix well.
3. In separate bowl, combine remaining dry ingredients.
4. Add dry ingredients to the egg mixture and mix well.
5. Roll dough onto floured surface to desired thickness and use cookie cutters to form cookies.
6. Bake cookies 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool.
Powdered sugar and water (small amount)
Combine powdered sugar and water to make an icing of desired consistency. Dip tops of cookies to form base coat. When icing hardens, decorate cookies as desired.
Lisa Kivirist, with her husband, John D. Ivanko, a photographer and drone pilot, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam and millions of ladybugs.
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