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Life and Work with Amy Fingerhut

Today we’d like to introduce you to Amy Fingerhut.

Amy, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I knew I wanted to become a Pastry Chef after our wedding cake tastings the summer of 2006. I enrolled at The French Pastry School in 2007 and sought out one of the best cake designers in Chicago, Mark Seaman. I worked for no pay for eight long months trying to learn everything I possibly could. I continued to work at the bakery for another year a half. There were many highs and lows with that position, but ultimately the experience helped me learn what I needed to run my own business today. After the bakery, I became the Pastry Chef at a restaurant in Wicker Park that was being featured on Top Chef with contestant, Radhika Desai. I was pregnant at the time, exhausted, and realized restaurant life was not my thing. But it introduced me to some amazing chef friends that I look up to and respect today. After having my first child, Radhika and I collaborated doing private catering. I got to be creative, but I was four weeks post-partum and over my head of how to find the balance between pastries and a new baby. Shortly after that was when I started my business. I chose the name Fingerhut Cakes & Pastries because my specialty was cakes, gum paste flowers, and intricate designs. Cookies were a minor focus of mine at the time. I was on and off with the business for several years, taking long breaks in between each child and a cross country move. In 2012, a friend with a flower business wanted cookies for all of her clients. That’s when the cookie side really took over. I started making more cookies and not having as much time for cakes. I’m only one human and can’t do it all! Decorating cakes and cookies is always evolving and learning new techniques. It’s why I love to do what I do, as there are endless ways to be creative.

Has it been a smooth road?
When I first started decorating cookies in 2007/2008, there were no decorating YouTube videos, no IG, nothing I could “Google.” Most people think I learned to decorate in pastry school. I learned the science behind baking and other techniques, but now how to flood cookies. I didn’t even know what that term meant! I learned all by trial and error. I didn’t know there were cookie Facebook groups until 2012. There were other people out there like me! I was clearly way behind in social media and still am! Just when I thought I was starting to understand cookies, we moved to California. It was a completely different environment and I had to adjust everything to accommodate the weather change. I have had many, many fails, but I’ve learned from all of them. I have run out butter at 2 am, while my husband is out of town, and had to make my own butter from cream. Or the time I dropped a tray of fully decorated cookies on the floor at 1 am that was due the next morning! Most people don’t realize the crazy hours that a lot of us home bakers work. I work my 8-4 job too, it’s just 8pm-4am. For all the late nights and hard work I put in, it’s all worth it for the customers reactions – the smile on their face and appreciation for my artwork.

For anyone just starting out, my number one advice is perfect your baking before your decorating. Anyone can learn to decorate a cookie, but not everyone can bake a proper cookie. We eat with our eyes, and everyone wants it to taste just as delicious as it looks. The decorating part will come later. Don’t get discouraged, because everyone starts somewhere. Practice makes perfect. I’m an open book and happy to help anyone with questions.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Fingerhut Cakes & Pastries – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
My specialties are decorated cookies, macarons, and pate de fruit. My background is in French pastries, and I’ve done a little bit of everything from chocolate sculptures to blown sugar to entremets. I wish I had time to make it all, but I only have time to focus on a few products while still being a mom, a wife, and friend at the same time. I put cakes on the hold until my kids are in school full time.

I customize cookies to any occasion, theme, or celebration. I have a variety of flavors – vanilla-almond being my signature flavor, and chai being my most popular seasonal flavor. Macarons and pate de fruit are popular for party favors and great additions to dessert buffets.

Often it feels as if the media, by and large, is only focused on the obstacles faced by women, but we feel it’s important to also look for the opportunities. In your view, are there opportunities that you see that women are particularly well positioned for?
There are many opportunities for women in pastry today! I graduated with 12 other women from pastry school. There are opportunities everywhere, depending on what someone wants to specialize in. In the pastry field, it’s not about gender, but about skill. You’re only going to be good as you allow yourself to be. Go for what you want and strive for greatness. If it doesn’t happen, try for the next opportunity. Don’t settle because you don’t think you’re not capable.

The cookie community has an amazing group of supportive women. I wouldn’t survive if I didn’t have some of my friends to vent to listen to me during some crazy times. We all support one another.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
personal photo by Shelly Burleson

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