(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — The school day was over and the sun already was beginning to dip below the horizon, but at Fairview Elementary School, 10 students and a longtime second-grade teacher stayed after, diligently applying icing to sugar cookies. The brown icing was in short supply toward the end — the football and turkey cookies needing most of it — but the students shared what was left in their piping bags with one another. Their heads were down, looking over the baking trays as the cut-out cookies came to colorful life. And, yeah, there was some sneaky taste-testing when icing decorated a fingertip instead of the cookie.
It’s all homemade — the cookies and the icing. And that means hours of work. Mrs. Liz Sharp, a second-grade teacher at the school, puts in those hours to home bake and prepare the cookies and icing for her afterschool cookie decorating class. The class is new this year, and though decorating hasn’t always been Sharp’s passion, baking has been.
“I’ve been into cookies since my grandmother and my mom got me into it — for probably at least 30 years,” Sharp said. Both her grandmother and mother were bakers. “At the time, it didn’t mean a lot except that whenever I would go to my grandmother’s house, there were just all those smells and I always knew something good was in the kitchen.
“It didn’t mean as much then when they would try to get me to learn what they were doing, but now I wish I would have paid more attention — if I only knew all their secrets now.”
Sharp has been a teacher since 1988. On Tuesday, Nov. 15, she was teaching her love of baking and new-found love of cookie decorating to second- and third-grade students. The afterschool class is offered through Fairview Parks & Recreation and held at the elementary school. The class only is open to students at the school.
Dr. Julie Skelly is an adult now. She was Sharp’s student when she was growing up, and now she’s the assistant principal at Fairview Elementary. She was on-hand at the class to help students and to sing the praises of Mrs. Sharp and the class.
“We’re fortunate to have a variety of afterschool programming here — from traditional after-school sports programming, and music… This is an additional outlet for students to be able to express themselves with staff they love, meet news friends, and to work on projects that embrace creativity and make them feel special,” Skelly said. “Not to mention it’s delicious. The cookies taste even more delicious than they look when they leave.”
The cookies are pre-cut, pre-baked, and the icing is pre-mixed, so the children aren’t working from a blank canvas. Sharp had pre-decorated cookies on display for the students to model after. She discussed technique. One might even say the cookies the children had decorated looked pretty “sharp.”
Baking shows are popular. Adults consume a ton of baking and cooking shows on television and streaming platforms. Many of those shows focus on young bakers and their skills. The classes at Fairview Elementary, however, are more than just something to kill the hours after school — it’s hoped the skills taught in the classes at Fairview Elementary will linger and inspire.
“This teaches real life skills, and there’s an opportunity for the students to use these skills with their families,” Skelly said. “As the holiday season rolls around, there are cookie decorating kits in every grocery store. They can bring these skills home with them.”
Mrs. Sharp said her favorite baked treat is biscotti, but when it comes to cookies, specifically, ricotta cookies are king.
The sugar cookies in the classes aren’t baked from a random recipe she found in a list on the Internet. These cookies are very literally tried and tested. She used her favorite recipe for sugar cookies, but she experimented, removing lemon zest to make the flavor more kid friendly. Her judges were school staff. At least 25 different recipes were tested, Sharp said, before she settled on what was put before her pupils.
Nov. 15 was her fifth cookie class. The cookies initially followed a fall theme. They now sport a Thanksgiving design. When the holidays get into full swing, the cookies will be holiday themed. It doesn’t stop there — she’s already planned for Valentine’s Day cookies and she’s had requests for spring classes.
The interest is encouraging. She didn’t hint at pending retirement, but plans for retirement did come up. And combining her passions for teaching and baking could be a mainstay in her life.
“My dream — I’ve always wanted to open a bakery or cafe once I retire. My kids have always said I should open my own bakery, but sometimes when you do stuff like that it takes the fun out of it,” Sharp said. “Maybe when it’s small scale, it can still be fun. This may be it. I just have to find a place to do it.”