The first decorated cookie Laura Vree ever made was a butterfly for her youngest daughter's 1st birthday, inspired by a Martha Stewart.
As a young mother, Vree was inspired by the homemaker icon, reading all her magazines and watching her shows.
"I once saw someone on the Martha Stewart show making a decorated cookie and I was fascinated," said Vree. "I tried and it was awful, just awful."
But Vree has come a long way since her first attempt at making a decorated cookie over 20 years ago, honing her skills through practice and decorating courses.
"It really is a skill you have to learn, but the secret is that icing consistency," she said. "If the icing is too thin it will just fall off the cookie, and if it's too thick it's lumpy or ugly."
Prior to opening her business, Sweet Handmade Cookies, Vree worked as a computer programmer. After having her two children, she took a break from the corporate world and started a baking business on the side, before deciding to go back to school in 2007 to obtain her degree in the IT field.
But something was amiss.
While studying at school, Vree couldn't stop thinking about her baking.
"I really missed that creative outlet," she said.
She remembers thinking, "I am good at it, I like doing it, it makes people happy, why am I working so hard to distance myself from it (baking)?"
With the encouragement of her husband, she left school and the IT world to focus on her baking full time, turning a section of their home into a health board-approved kitchen.
"It's really great to have my own dedicated space, the doors are closed, and nobody goes in there," said Vree, noting her kitchen is even "zoned" with the town as a business space.
Vree started selling her baked goods at the Bradford Farmers' Market every weekend and in 2012 took over as the market manager. It was during this time she realized how much she loved the cookie side of her business, and decided to drop the cakes from her menu.
"I decided I didn't want to do anything else (except cookies)," she said.
Vree says she loves baking and decorating cookies because of the process involved.
The longest part of the process she says is waiting for the icing on the cookies to dry. To make a dozen cookies would typically take Vree five hours, but after factoring in time for the icing to dry, it can take up to 24.
"It's labour intensive," said Vree.
First, she must first roll the dough, then cut it, and bake it before icing and decorating each piece layer by layer, with drying in between. Her cookies are made fresh to order and never frozen.
She says she also enjoys getting to be creative and helping bring joy to her customers.
"I like the creative outlet it gives me, and there's something fun about being part of someone's life on those really happy occasions," she said.
Recently, she bumped into a customer from years ago who remembered Vree who had made them a cake when they first moved to Canada.
"Those things make your feel really good, it's a feel-good kind of business," she said.
Vree specializes in custom orders and novelty cookies. She says October is one of her busiest times of the year, with Thanksgiving and Halloween orders.
She has over 1,000 cookie cutters, ranging in shape from stars to baby onesies, which allows her to be creative when designing cookies for customers.
Sweet Handmade Cookies also offers take-home cookie decorating kits and gourmet cookies.
Vree, her husband and their two daughters moved to Bradford in 2001 from Kitchener. Vree is originally from Amsterdam and moved to Canada when she was a young girl. Her passion for baking stems back to her native roots, with both her cousins being pastry chefs.
"Anytime we had company, anytime birthday, we got pastries," she recalled.
After 10 years of running the Bradford Farmers' Market, Vree has decided to step down from the role this season to focus on her cookie business. She is appreciative of all the support she has received from the community over the years at the market and is looking forward to the next chapter of her career.
To learn more about Vree's business, visit the Sweet Handmade Cookies website here. Or follow them on Social Media @sweethandmadecookies.