Downtown Dough: thousands of cookie cutters

Smart cookies.

Patrick and Patricia Niles, owners of Downtown Dough in Cedarburg, have a good recipe for separating what they do from other kitchen boutiques, especially during this time of year.

The retailers began business in West Bend almost 20 years ago, selling cookie dough for school fundraisers and other purposes. Now they get international attention, but not because of their array of par-baked breads and biscuits, petite and plump cinnamon rolls, ready-to-bake cutouts and filled cookie doughs.

Also for sale are cookie cutters, more than 2,500 kinds, and the Niles say no one has a larger selection in the Midwest. Disneyland and Martha Stewart are among their customers.

“It all started with the dough, and it just made sense to expand to cutters,” Patricia says.

Her husband’s persistent mail promotions in 2002 caught the attention of Good Housekeeping’s editor, who included their cookie cutters in a holiday issue. That brought in 500 orders a day for a while.

“Grandmas and professional bakers are our biggest clientele,” Patrick says.

A part of the couple’s success comes from knowing when and where to seek help. A master baker helped them develop a variety of doughs. A Minnesotan (“but he’s near the border and a Packers fan,” Patrick says) makes cutters from tin and knows how to customize a design.

Prominent food stylist and author Karen Tack (whose most recent book with Alan Richardson is “Cake My Day,” about cake decorating) helped draw interest from editors at Redbook to Women’s World.

Disneyland ordered cutters shaped like Cinderella’s castle. Custom-made cherry blossom cutters got into a 2010 issue of Martha Stewart Weddings, whose namesake – the grande dame of chic yet homespun homemaking – was a repeat customer two years ago.

“It was all about (cookie cutters for) her cottage and making cookies with the grandkids,” Patrick says. Stewart was partial to bears, sitting and standing, and a deer cutter – all developed just for her but now a standard part of store inventory.

What else makes the cut in this metal menagerie? Start with more than 200 critters, including 36 birds or bugs, 18 cats, 51 dogs, 39 fish. Santa shows up as a candy mold, cookie stamp and cookie cutter (in tin, copper, red); concentrate on just his face or go full figure. Cutters show him standing, waving or toting a sack.

The Niles have a cookie cutter each of the 50 states. They sell cutters with comfort grips (for mass production or arthritic hands) and cookie cutter sets (think valentines, dog bones, ugly sweaters or the Northwoods as themes). Others are shaped like numbers, clothing, fruit, dinosaurs – even a conversational bubble.

In German-made cutters are two levels of thicknesses: One cuts through the dough, and the other leaves a dough imprint, resulting in cookies with more detail. Elsewhere are cookie stamps, cookie jars, 20-plus types of rosette irons.

Add rows and rows of colorful sugars, sprinkles and other cookie toppings. “Everything sells at this time of year,” Patrick says, but containers of toppings shaped like bitsy snowflakes, candy canes and holly leaves are especially popular as Christmas nears.

“Pizzazz is the trend,” he says, which is what “disco dust” – edible glitter, to mix with a clear alcohol or extract – can provide in cookie decorating. It’s $6 per teeny container and comes in nearly two dozen colors.

Now a printer for three-dimensional products makes it easier for Patrick to customize designs and produce small quantities quickly. Although technology slowly changes, one thing stays the same.

The value of cookie making, Patrick believes, “is about being together as much as making something” in the kitchen.

Downtown Dough is at W63 N658 Washington Ave., Cedarburg. 262-387-0311.

Cedarburg, population 11,500, is 20 miles north of Milwaukee. Festive Friday Eves involve free music, carriage rides, product samples and activities for children this month at Cedar Creek Settlement, N70 W6340 Bridge Road. The location is a revamped, stone, 19th century woolen mill filled with shops and restaurants. 262-377-4763

For more about the area and reasons to visit:, 262-377-5856.

Need lessons in cookie making? No problem.

A two-hour Wisconsin Foodie Cookies and Cocktails workshop begins at 1 p.m. Dec. 9 at Ambassador Hotel, 2308 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee. Cookie decorating instruction is led by the hotel’s pastry chef. Cost is $55, which includes cookie cutters, a cookie jar, recipes and a “completed project.” Great Northern Distillery provides holiday cocktail samples. 414-345-5000

A two-hour Kids Can Cook: Holiday Cookies begins at 1 p.m. Dec. 9 at Kenosha Public Museum, 5500 First Ave., Kenosha. Participants will make hot cocoa, prepare and decorate gingerbread and sugar cookies. Cost is $25 ($20 for museum members). 262-653-4140

Lake Geneva School of Cooking, 727 Geneva St., Lake Geneva, presents three-hour holiday cookie workshops at noon Dec. 9 and 16. Chefs help adults, with or without children (4 years old and up), bake and decorate cookies and biscotti, using international recipes. Cost is $75, which includes treats to take home. 262-248-3933

Instructors at Sur La Table, 712 N. Midvale Blvd., Madison, show how to turn cookies into edible art during a 2.5-hour workshop for adults and teens (if accompanied by a paying adult) at 9 a.m. Dec. 9, 23 and 24. Students will learn how to jazz up sugar cookies with royal icing that is tinted and piped. The same workshop happens at 480 W. Northshore Dr., Glendale, at 9 a.m. Dec. 23 and 10 a.m. Dec. 24. Cost is $69. 414-332-2096, 608-236-4857