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ceci melendez takes you into her kitchen to make your own valentine's day chocolate cookie box for someone you love. patrick breen/azcentral.com

consider cookies for edible valentine's day gift

ceci melendez holds two plates of her speciality cookies, some of which will be sold at aj's fine foods on january 26, 2017 in goodyear, ariz. (p o: patrick breen/the republic)

like a bad blind date, the first time baker ceci melendez tried to sell her cookies was a disaster.

a few years ago, melendez made dozens of cookies and trucked them to a local festival she heard about through fuerza local, a support group for the latino business community.

she had worked in human resources for 15 years and had recently decided to turn her baking hobby into a business. that day at the festival, she in her booth, surrounded by sweets that no one seemed to want. she sold just a handful and gave the rest away.

then, out of the blue, she got a call from a bakery manager from aj's fine foods. someone had given her one of melendez’s creations and she wanted to sell them at the hometown grocer’s stores.

“that’s when it be e a business,” said melendez, 43, a nogales native who lives in goodyear.

melendez, owner of home-based cake art studio, makes collections for aj's fine foods. she studied painting, ceramics and other art forms in school and it shows in her detailed cookies and cakes.

some of the cookies that will be sold at aj's fine

some of the cookies that will be sold at aj's fine foods at ceci melendez home on january 26, 2017 in goodyear, ariz. 

patrick breen/the republic
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royal icing held by ceci melendez at her home on january

royal icing held by ceci melendez at her home on january 26, 2017 in goodyear, ariz.  

patrick breen/the republic
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an array of cookies made by ceci melendez at her home

an array of cookies made by ceci melendez at her home on january 26, 2017 in goodyear, ariz.  

patrick breen/the republic
fullscreen
an array of cookies made by ceci melendez at her home

an array of cookies made by ceci melendez at her home on january 26, 2017 in goodyear, ariz.  

patrick breen/the republic
fullscreen
an array of cookies made by ceci melendez at her home

an array of cookies made by ceci melendez at her home on january 26, 2017 in goodyear, ariz.  

patrick breen/the republic
fullscreen
ceci melendez holds two plates of her speciality cookies,

ceci melendez holds two plates of her speciality cookies, some of which will be sold at aj's fine foods on january 26, 2017 in goodyear, ariz.  

patrick breen/the republic
fullscreen
 mini-cakes for display at ceci melendez home on january

mini-cakes for display at ceci melendez home on january 26, 2017 in goodyear, ariz.  

patrick breen/the republic
fullscreen
an array of cookies made by ceci melendez at her home

an array of cookies made by ceci melendez at her home on january 26, 2017 in goodyear, ariz.  

patrick breen/the republic
fullscreen
some of the cookies that will be sold at aj's fine

some of the cookies that will be sold at aj's fine foods at ceci melendez home on january 26, 2017 in goodyear, ariz.  

patrick breen/the republic
fullscreen
ceci melendez stands in her kitchen with her creations

ceci melendez stands in her kitchen with her creations in her home on january 26, 2017 in goodyear, ariz.  

patrick breen/the republic
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a chocolate sugar cookie box housing valentine's day

a chocolate sugar cookie box housing valentine's day m&ms at ceci melendez home on january 26, 2017 in goodyear, ariz.  

patrick breen/the republic
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chocolate sugar cookies at ceci melendez home on january

chocolate sugar cookies at ceci melendez home on january 26, 2017 in goodyear, ariz.  

patrick breen/the republic
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margarita cookies displayed at ceci melendez home on

margarita cookies displayed at ceci melendez home on january 26, 2017 in goodyear, ariz.  

patrick breen/the republic
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vanilla cookies displayed at ceci melendez home on

vanilla cookies displayed at ceci melendez home on january 26, 2017 in goodyear, ariz.  

patrick breen/the republic
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at first, her designs focused on holidays. faberge egg cookies for easter. napkin rings for thanksgiving. three-dimensional ornaments for christmas.

her latest collection, now in stores, is for valentine’s day.

it includes chocolate sugar cookie hearts with exquisite scrollwork decorations; an eight-piece set of gold-studded cookies; puckered lips cookie pops; and love mojis, cookies that look like smartphone emojis.

she also made a 3-d chocolate cookie box that looks like a jewelry box and comes filled with candy and a series of mini, two-tiered cakes.

some people think melendez’s cookies are too beautiful to eat. she tells of a customer who still displays a cookie vase and edible flowers that melendez made two years ago, still in its original packaging, at her house.

“it’s nice because they see it as art,” she said.

cake art studio

ceci melendez, owner of cake art studio, is one of more than 5,800 registrants of the home baked and confectionery goods program. more commonly known as the cottage law, it allows individuals to sell home-baked items like pastries, chocolate, granola and bread.

melendez's valentine’s day bakery collection is now on sale at valley aj’s fine foods stores. prices range from $3.99 to $40.

details: 602-451-6805, cake-artstudio.com.

recipes

royal icing

from ceci melendez of cake art studio

royal icing held by ceci melendez at her home on january

royal icing held by ceci melendez at her home on january 26, 2017 in goodyear, ariz.

 (p o: patrick breen/the republic)

servings: 9 cups.

  • 4 tablespoons meringue powder
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ⅔ cup water
  • 8 cups powdered sugar, sifted

preparation: in a mixing bowl, combine meringue powder, cream of tartar and water. beat on high speed until stiff peaks form. add sifted powder sugar. beat on slow speed until ingredients are incorporated, then mix on high for several minutes until stiff peaks form. if you want to color your icing, add coloring at the end.

vanilla sugar cookies

from ceci melendez of the cake art studio

vanilla cookies displayed at ceci melendez home on

vanilla cookies displayed at ceci melendez home on january 26, 2017 in goodyear, ariz.

 (p o: patrick breen/the republic)

servings: 36.

  • 1 cup er
  • 1½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 4 cups unbleached flour
  • ¾ teaspoon salt

preparation: mix the er in an electric mixer on medium speed for 2-3 minutes or until the er is soft. s e the bowl. add the sugar. continue to blend on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy. mix in the vanilla. add the eggs, mixing on low until thoroughly blended. s e the bowl. add the flour, one cup at a time. s e the bowl after adding each cup. mix until just incorporated. do not over mix, or the dough will be tough.

divide the dough into two equal portions. flatten the dough into two patties that are about 1½ inches thick. w the patties with plastic w and refrigerate at least two hours or until firm.

dough will keep up to one week in the refrigerator, or in the freezer up to two months. when you’re ready to bake, roll out the dough and cut the cookies to desired size. bake them in a 375 degree oven for 9-11 minutes or until edges are very lightly browned.

dark chocolate sugar cookies

from ceci melendez of cake art studio

a chocolate sugar cookie box housing valentine's day

a chocolate sugar cookie box housing valentine's day m&ms at ceci melendez home on january 26, 2017 in goodyear, ariz.

 (p o: patrick breen/the republic)

servings: 36.

  • 2 cups unbleached cake flour
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1¾ cups dutch-processed cocoa
  • 2 cups unsalted er
  • 1 packet starbucks via instand or other instant coffee
  • 2¾ cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
  • ¼ cup ermilk

preparation: measure out flour, baking powder, cocoa and salt all together in a bowl. use a whisk to combine all the dry ingredients.

in a bowl with a stand mixer, combine the er, sugar and christmas blend. start the mixer on low, when it begins to come together, beat on medium speed until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes).

add eggs one at a time. s e down bowl, after each addition.

add vanilla bean paste.

turn the mixer to low speed. add half of the dry ingredients to the mixture. add half of the milk. after the first half has been combined, add in the remaining dry ingredients and milk.

w the dough in plastic w or roll out into sheets to chill ahead of time. roll out dough about ¼-inch thick on a lightly dusted surface. cut the dough into desired shaped. chill the cutout shapes in the freezer for about 10 minutes.

bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

allow cookies to completely cool before decorating. when the cookies first come out of the oven, they are really soft. they will become firm when they are cooled.

from ceci melendez of cake art studio

margarita cookies

from ceci melendez of cake art studio

margarita cookies displayed at ceci melendez home on

margarita cookies displayed at ceci melendez home on january 26, 2017 in goodyear, ariz.

 (p o: patrick breen/the republic)

servings: 36.

  • 2¾ cups unbleached flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 pinch of sea salt
  • 1 cup organic sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted er
  • 1 organic egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • ½ teaspoon key lime extract
  • 1 teaspoon tequila
  • 1 tablespoon lime zest

preparation: preheat oven to 350 degrees.

combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.

in a separate bowl, cream the sugar, er and lime zest. add the egg, vanilla bean, lime and tequila and mix until well blended. gradually add the flour mixture and beat until combined, s ing down the bowl, especially the bottom to work in the dry bits with the more moist section of the dough. chill dough in the refrigerator for at least two hours, which allows the flavors to develop.

place on parchment-lined baking sheets and bake for 9-12 minutes, depending on the size of your cutter.

let sit for a few minutes on the baking sheet. once cool, transfer to cookie racks.

add 2 teaspoons of tequila and ½ teaspoon lime extract to your favorite royal icing recipe (you may have to fiddle around with the liquid measurements to get the taste and consistency you would like). if you want a stronger tequila taste, just add more tequila and less water.

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