When you first see the beautiful cookies from Sweet Cheeks by Renee, two thoughts might occur to you right away: “Wow, those look amazing!” and “How did she do that?”
The first thought is obvious. Renee Terry’s intricately hand-decorated sugar cookies are miniature works of art so exquisite it’s hard to believe that they’re made of flour, sugar, and eggs.
Terry has an answer for the second thought, too: Online cookie-decorating classes that have kept devotees across the country—and even other countries—creating mini masterpieces in the comfort of their kitchens while the pandemic rages on outside.
Terry, who bakes from her home in Amesbury, wanted to offer online classes for a long time but had always been too busy with custom cookie orders to make it happen. Her popularity is easy to understand. She creates custom-made cookie sets for special occasions, using details from the event itself—such as the invitation, theme, or color scheme—to create cookies that are decorated with the artistic eye and hand of a master.
There are watercolor-esque florals that look like they could be painted on a piece of dainty china and textures that recall embroidery, macrame, and antique lace. There are flowers and leaves that are so detailed you’d swear they were just picked outside, and butterflies and bees that might take flight at any moment. Her Instagram page serves as an artist’s portfolio of jaw-dropping creation, each one more fantastic than the next.
Terry’s cookie success was almost immediate: She was working at a local cake shop when, on a whim, she decided to decorate some gingerbread men into characters from the TV show “Sons of Anarchy.” She snapped some photos and shared them online.
“I posted them to Twitter, and they blew up there. They went viral,” she says. “The cast and crew were Tweeting them.”
That moment helped to spark Terry’s interest in cookies, but it also made her realize something else: She wanted to be in business for herself. So, in June 2015, a few months after her son was born, she launched Sweet Cheeks by Renee.
Now business is booming for the mom of two, and the COVID-19 pandemic provided the push that Terry needed to expand and pivot into offering online classes.
“They’ve been huge for my business,” she says, noting that the classes have tripled her business since March. Although she’s still taking custom work, the classes have allowed her to be choosier about which projects she takes on, while sharing her skills and techniques with the wider world.
Terry’s cookies are undeniably magnificent, but there’s another reason her classes are so popular: Her teaching style.
“I literally just record myself decorating a cookie as I dictate every single step down to the last detail,” she says. She narrates everything from the amount of pressure to use when squeezing royal icing out of the piping bag to the proper angle at which to hold your wrist to make the perfect rose petal.
Each class is hyper-focused, concentrating on a single technique or design. The pre-recorded classes are posted on a private Facebook group and not only feature the tutorial videos but also detailed supply lists, discount codes for products, and access to Terry herself, who answers student questions directly.
“I want it to be as descriptive as possible,” she says.
That “nitty-gritty” detail approach has made a big impact on students like Danielle Munoz of Stockton, California, who loves Terry’s clean and elegant style and immediately wanted to “pick this woman’s brain” when she saw her work.
“When you see some of her work you think, ‘I can’t even imagine how this woman did it,’” she says. “A long time ago I had wanted to be a cake decorator. I couldn’t do the roses and I gave up.”
But Terry’s detailed instruction and breakdowns of techniques has taught Munoz skills she never thought she’d master.
Jessica Clapper of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, agrees. She first took the macrame and watercolor classes earlier in the year and has been “hooked ever since.” She’s learned fine details, like how color dusting in certain spots can completely change the way a cookie looks, and she appreciates Terry’s enthusiasm and knack for translating complicated techniques into doable steps.
“It’s shocking to be able to see the amount of passion someone can have through a computer screen,” Clapper says. “She captures that beautifully.”
Clapper is also “so excited for Christmas.” By late October, Terry had already started contemplating her holiday class, which she anticipates will feature a set of six Christmas cookies and will be posted online by the end of November.
When she does post it, her students will certainly be busy decorating incredible cookies for their Christmas tables.
“The feedback that I get is that it really helps them achieve [things] that they never thought they could achieve,” she says.
For more information, visit sweetcheeksbyrenee.com.