Her Christmas cookies are edible art

Blythewood cookie baker Selena Dennis and her husband Antavis recently appeared on The Food Network.

BLYTHEWOOD – Selena Dennis was thinking for a while about learning how to decorate sugar cookies as a creative outlet.

The thing that finally prompted her to purchase the training class was a prison ministry her church started. They asked for baked goods – and she saw an opportunity to minister through cookies.

As it turned out, because of a prison lockdown, the cookies she designed – decorated sugar cookies with a Christian theme – never made it to the prison. But when she posted pictures of some of her cookies online, someone contacted her wanting to place an order – and her small business was born.

It’s called Embellished Dough, and she says it’s grown faster than she ever thought possible.

She’s been doing it full-time since 2019. It was strictly table and tent at local farmers’ markets and events until she and her husband, Antavis – a district team leader for a chain retailer who also helps her out when she’s taking her cookies on the road – bought a new, vintage-style food trailer in 2021, which they now use for events.

“He pulls the trailer,” she says, “he named the business, and he eats the [leftover] cookies,” she said with a laugh.

He was also the one who made the cookie cutters for her first custom order. He watched YouTube videos to learn how to make one, purchased the metal, and turned it into the shape of a bowling pin.

Her original plan was to start offering cookie decorating classes, with the first one scheduled in March of 2020. That, of course, never happened thanks to the pandemic. But she says her business took off in other ways.

With people stuck at home, the demand for at-home cookie decorating kits skyrocketed – and she says she even did classes over Zoom, with porch pickup of the materials.

Selena

These days, for custom orders she sells her decorated sugar cookies starting at $60 a dozen and macarons – French cookies with pastry filling – starting at $30 a dozen. She also makes other desserts, such as brownies and other cookie varieties like chocolate chip and snickerdoodle.

One piece of the business that’s stuck around even after the pandemic: a subscription to a monthly cookie box that includes 6 decorated sugar cookies plus other surprise desserts.

She’s also teaching cookie decorating classes, including some coming up in December in Columbia and Irmo – and she offers private classes as well.

“The classes are what I really love,” she says. “This is a solo business with just me, and so this is a great way for me to be able to interact with the community…. It’s a fun way to share some of the things that I’ve learned as I’ve been doing this.”

For those who just want to sample her work by purchasing individual cookies, she usually sets up in front of the Marriott during the Soda City farmers’ market, which operates year-round in downtown Columbia on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. She also plans to be at the Junior League of Columbia Holiday Market.

Some of her sweet favorites that she’s done so far are Jurassic Park dinosaur cookies she made for a birthday and ones designed specifically for sports teams at USC, from which she and her husband are both alumni.

And she did finally get a chance to donate some cookies to the prison ministry. Although she now attends a different church, she’s kept in touch with friends there and got the word when the call again went out for baked goods.

In the last few weeks, she’s also gotten some television exposure. She had the opportunity to compete in the Food Network’s new six-series Christmas cookie challenge and also received coverage from local news media, including The Voice, for that.

“We didn’t win, unfortunately,” she says. “They definitely were distracting us as we were trying to decorate,” she said, remembering the fun of it all, “and then they throw your spouse in there, this is not their everyday thing, so that was another element, so we’re trying to teach them what to do to improve the series. So, it definitely was entertaining… but it was fun. I definitely would do it again.”

More information about her upcoming cookie decorating classes and how to order cookies can be found on her website at EmbellishedDough.com.

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