- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. (AP) - Sarah Whitacre Schottler’s career making gorgeous, hand-decorated sugar cookies - think Martha Stewart-level perfection - started as she planned for her 2001 nuptials.

“I saw these adorable cookies and thought, ‘I could do that,’” explains the Charles Town resident, who had graduated from Virginia Tech and was working as a registered nurse. “So I made the take-home favors and it wasn’t stressful at all. It was just fun.”

Her cookies, made to look just like her tiered wedding cake, won raves both for taste and appearance from her 130 guests and soon friends and family were asking her to make them custom cookies, cakes and cupcakes. Schottler realized she couldn’t get enough of this crumby work.

Now she’s gearing up for her first Christmas at her storefront, the Blakeley Street Bakery at 4826 Charles Town Road, not far from St. James Catholic Church.

“I get in the kitchen, baking and decorating, and it’s like what they say about being ‘in the zone’- I can work for hours and it seems like minutes,” said Schottler, who lives on Blakeley Place in Charles Town with her husband, Robert, and children, 11-year-old Caroline and 9-year-old Jack. “I feel like I was made to do this. It’s work that doesn’t feel at all like work.”

At first, Schottler baked from home or rented commercial space as she needed it, but as her business grew - with corporate clients and others in New York, California and elsewhere around the country - she began looking for a space of her own.

Her cookies have been served at a party for Maya Angelou, to staff on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and a writer for David Letterman at CBS. Just before the 2012 election, she was tasked to create cookie caricatures of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney for a photo shoot for The Times of London.

Last year, the Schottlers found a small home that could be customized to suit her needs, with a reception area where she can consult with clients, a large commercial kitchen and an area downstairs where she can box items and prepare them for shipping.

Another plus to having created a comfortable, inviting space for her business: It’s a perfect place for her kids to spend time after school or on Saturday. While much of what she does is intricate and requires concentration, many tasks such as putting on a base layer of icing are almost mindless, she said.

“My kids can do their homework and I’m right here to ask questions or we can just talk and spend time together as I work,” she said.

Though she normally sells her cookies only through custom orders, Schottler will sell Christmas cookies from her bakery to customers who drop in this Saturday and next. “I’m going to be here baking and decorating so I thought why not try this?” she said.

Boxes of her Christmas cookies also are for sale at Stephanie Pierson Smith’s et cetera boutique in downtown Charles Town. Smith said she and Schottler are working together on additional collaborations, including perhaps small cooking classes.

Schottler’s new location also is allowing for new partnerships with other entrepreneurs in the area. “Just like I had to go outside the area when I needed commercial kitchen space, I discovered other small, food-based businesses were in need of a place to work too,” she said.

Cheryl Strasser of Cowbell Kitchen now rents Schottler’s kitchen, as does Rebecca Dillow, owner of the It’s a Piece of Cake custom bakery. By sharing the space with Strasser and Dillow, she helps them - and brings in more income for her business.

“The kitchen is big enough for two of us to be working at the same time without any problem,” Schottler said. “And even at my busiest, I’m not using the kitchen around the clock.”

Baking and decorating have been almost lifelong passions for Schottler, who moved to Jefferson County from Silver Spring, Maryland, as a young teen. Her parents, Bill and Augusta Whitacre, still live in Charles Town.

Her father loved to doodle and encouraged Schottler and her four siblings to draw in 3D. Her mother loved baking, particularly decorated cakes.

Schottler stresses that her baked goods aren’t just for show. “I love it when customers tell me my cookies taste as good as they look,” she said.

Among her secrets? “I use real vanilla, not imitation,” she said. “If I’m baking a lemon cookie, I use fresh lemon zest. I get my eggs from local farm markets and my butter from the South Mountain Creamery in Middletown, Maryland. The cookies I bake for my customers are made just like the cookies I bake for my family - everything has to be the best quality.”

Blakeley Street Bakery’s offerings include sugar cookies, flavored sugar cookies (vanilla, lemon, raspberry and chocolate), gingerbread, French macaroons, plus cupcakes and cakes.

Repeat customers - who place orders for birthdays, weddings, baby showers, communions, baptisms, trade shows and other work events and the like - assure her she’s on the right trail.

So far, she’s never been stumped by a customer’s request. “People see something in a magazine or on Pinterest and I know I can figure out a way to give them exactly what they want,” she said.

A client who asked her to create “The Walking Dead”-themed cookies almost confounded her. “It was a challenge for me because I like things that are fun, beautiful, pretty” she said. “But I made zombie cookies, with blood splatter and my client loved them.”

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Online:

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Blakeley-Street-Bakery/110290735731362?fref=nf

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