I had an opporutnity to ask Sarah Heller about herself and Sugar by Sarah. Enjoy the interview and photos.
Smile Politely: What is your background?
Heller: I have a great creative, liberal arts education, I was an editor for awhile, picked up an Ed. (sic) degree along the way, and then taught American Lit for five years.
SP: What got you into baking cookies?
Heller: I lived alone for two years while I worked on my ed degree. All my friends and family were in other cities and states, so I spent a lot of time keeping myself busy with creative projects. I knit a lot of hats, made a lot of jewelry, sculpted a lot of little things from polymer clay, and decorated (and gave away) a lot of cookies. Most of those hobbies fell by the wayside when I started teaching, but I took a lot of pride in bringing pretty little desserts to work functions, bake sales, and on more than one occasion, my students as a shameful bribe; and subsequently, I took the time to develop my hobby into a skill.
SP: When did you start selling the cookies?
Heller: I started selling macarons, decorated sugar cookies, and mason jar cakes at the Urbana farmer’s market in the summer of 2013, and had such immensely positive feedback that I decided to resign from my teaching position and make my hobby my job.
SP: Where does your creativity come from?
Heller: I love to create little, intricate things. Notes from lectures and meeting were always covered in tiny drawings, and I can’t resist a package of polymer clay. And that translates well to decorating cookies and cakes. My mother is an art teacher of 40 years and where I turn when I’m stumped by a project, and my grandmother was such an amazing creative force in everything she touched that she put Martha Stewart to shame. I come by it honestly, thanks to the incredible women before me. If I need a nudge, though, I have lots of art and design books, my mother’s invaluable experience, and, of course, Pinterest.
SP: Your macaroons are delicious! Tell us more about them.
Heller: The heart of my business is French macarons. I have worked very hard to master all of the elements that define these finicky little cookies: the ruffled foot, the crisp outer layer, soft, chewy shell, and the sweet, creamy center. I take a lot of pride in my product. There are a lot of scientific processes at work in baking macarons, and after making between 100 and 300 a week for the last two years, I can confidently call myself a scientist as well as an artist.
SP: Where can we buy your goods?
Heller: My products are available at Strawberry Fields, as well as intermittently at both the Champaign and Urbana farmer’s markets. Customers can check my Facebook page to see when I’m selling at the markets.