Her art is always in good taste

Eileen McGinley is well equipped to bake and decorate gorgeous cookies like the garden-related goodies (top right) from the kitchen of her Grafton home. Photo by Sam Arendt. (Lower photos) EILEEN MCGINLEY’S COOKIES have won two online contests. McGinley is taking a break from running her home-based Manchester Ovens to raise five children but still concocts her creations for family and school events.


Ozaukee Press staff

It’s not that Eileen McGinley set out to create exquisite artistic desserts, but she was on maternity leave and was bored.

“I’m just going to make some cookies,” the Grafton resident thought, “and I was just hooked from there.”

It was a batch of sugar cookies she dressed like sunflowers that set McGinley on her way. White icing outlined the petals while a pile of chocolate chips represented the disk flowers in the middle.

She has since won online contests for cookie decorating, started a home-based business, is a school star when her children bring treats for their birthdays and may have secured her husband’s employment.

McGinley describes her hobby as art combined with baking

“It sort of reminds me of painting but with edible parts,” she said.

And she has a foolproof way of hiding those that don’t quite make the cut.

“If it’s not the most graceful looking thing, you can make it disappear and it tastes good,” McGinley said.

Her five children love the “oopsy cookies,” she said.

Like many bakers, McGinley started learning as a child in her family’s kitchen in Elm Grove. Her mother is talented in cooking and baking, and her grandmother used to make “trays and trays” of fancy Italian cookies.

McGinley, however, took decorating to the next level.

Her tools are simple — her grandmother’s stand mixer, plastic icing bags and tips, toothpicks, cookie cutters and sometimes an air brush — but her designs are detailed, making cookies look more like hand-painted Christmas ornaments or home decor.

McGinley’s creations won two contests on a website, cookieconnection.juliausher.com, and cookies she made for the birth of her sister-in-law’s baby were deemed so pretty they were shellacked and hung in the child’s room.

McGinley’s work looks like that of a formally trained cookie artist, but she is self-taught. She and her four siblings are artsy — McGinley has a graphic arts degree from Milwaukee Area Technical College — and she finds cookie decorating to be an escape from raising her own five children.

“It’s therapeutic for me. I would stay up late at night and decorate cookies in my dining room,” she said.

Not long after McGinley started, her husband had been looking for a new job. She sent cookies along to an interview, and “he actually got that job,” she said. “I don’t know if it was my cookies but we joke about it.”

She eventually started Manchester Ovens, named after the street on which she lives.

“It kind of stuck even though I have just one oven,” McGinley said.

She was helped by the state changing its cottage food law in 2017 to loosen restrictions on home bakers selling their goods, which opened the market to more “cookiers.”

For a while, McGinley baked and decorated nearly every day.

“I had trays of cookies out that would occupy the kitchen and the dining room,” she said.

The time commitment got to be extreme since McGinley is detail-oriented with her sweets.

“I tend to overdo it sometimes,” she said.

McGinley has since slowed to just baking for family events and her children’s classes. She has brought cookies and supplies to teach students how to decorate cookies for the classes’ special interest day.

McGinley makes three thick-cut cookie variations — plain sugar, brown sugar and chocolate sugar — using cocoa that she is told tastes just a brownie.

McGinley uses the same recipes each time and doesn’t taste test because she avoids gluten.

She often makes her own icing with powered sugar and water — “It’s really messy,” she said — using a variety of food coloring for just the right look. She buys icing for hard-to-make colors.

Sometimes, the cookie’s color helps with the design. A cow only needs to be partially covered with white icing since the dark brown chocolate sugar cookie handles the rest.

Icing that goes on too thick gets evened out with a toothpick. Then, she said, the cookie is like a canvas.

Inspiration for designs doesn’t come from cooking shows. McGinley can be found perusing greeting cards even if she isn’t looking to commemorate a family member or friend’s milestone.

“Sometimes I buy a couple of cards just because I want to put that on a cookie,” she said.

Her daughter’s bouncy chair that had cartoon farm animals and flowers on it was the brainchild of another batch.

“It always goes through my head, oh, I think I could cookie that,” McGinley said.

A cookie with a plaid design called for edible spray paint. Her favorite design is gingerbread men.

Sometimes, she starts with a cookie cutter from a big bin of them in her basement. Other times, she makes a circle as a base and cuts out other pieces, later fastening them with icing to add detail and depth.

“There’s a lot of pride in it when you’re done and you take that picture,” she said.

McGinley’s baking isn’t limited to cookies — she does flavored breads, coffee cakes, muffins, mini cupcakes and bundt cakes — but she does not decorate cakes.

Her five children, ages 15 to 6, all enjoy art, but their cookie decorating is limited to Christmastime.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/manchester.ovens.


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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