As a burlesque performer, I’d heard of baker/actress/model Christine McConnell years ago because of her proximity to Dita Von Teese. Recently, dozens of photos of her costume hunt appeared magically on my Instagram feed courtesy of Playclothes Vintage, one of my favorite thrift shops in Burbank, California. Although her niche interests would fit in perfectly among my pinned-up friend groups, I was still hesitant to dig into The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell, a new Netflix show where one of the main characters is a raccoon puppet with a fork for a hand.
It did not take long to become seduced by Christine’s calm demonstrations of macabre bakes: nutty spider treats, realistic cake bodies, and enormous, immaculate gingerbread Victorian homes. No matter how many times she picks up the airbrush food-coloring tool or a bag of royal icing, her beautiful retro style stays intact, as does her cool when dealing with a misfit cast of psychotic Muppets, neighbors, and dead tenants. It’s not your everyday cooking show, which makes me, the person who eats cheese wedges for dinner, the ideal audience.
The show, at its heart, is performance art with an instructional food element. But truly, some of those creations looked like something even I, an absolute baking tenderfoot, might be able to pull off with a little patience. When someone in a discussion forum commented that a Netflix food-show crossover episode would be brilliantly entertaining, I looked down at my true vintage ’60s frock and homemade olive oil popcorn and thought, “A less-than-perfect Nailed It!/Christine McConnell? That’s kinda me.” Why couldn’t I give it a shot?
I picked my poison, the puzzling Ouija board cookie from Episode 4, “A Spirited Tea Party,” with full confidence that I could pull this off to some degree. I watched the segment several times to create an ingredients list and ran off to the closest spots in my Staten Island neighborhood to procure some non-typical baking supplies that I would likely never use again: Michaels Arts & Crafts and Target.
Michaels delivered on most fronts, but I spent more money than I’d care to admit. I chose a canister of gold spray coloring rather than buying an entire airbrush kit, and a small bottle of gold spray dust that I thought would come in handy with the top layer of shimmer. Christine suggested making your own stencil, and hat’s off to her, but I only had a weekend to pull this off and no drawing chops, so I bought a small stencil set from the Martha Stewart baking section for $5. At the last minute, I grabbed a vial of tiny, edible gold stars, because they were pretty and made me happy, and this was supposed to be fun. I was hoping to find gingerbread mix as a substitute for the shortbread mix Christine used, but left Target with a maple cookie mix.
One item I could not find at either store was isomalt, the candy glass substitute Christine praises for being very fast to harden and easy to find at your local baking shop. Having taken approximately one candy-making class in my life and leaving said class with a misshapen lollipop, I knew that I could make the candy glass the traditional way with a mixture of granulated sugar and cornstarch. I picked up brown sugar and agave, thinking, “That’s somehow healthier, right?”
Back in the kitchen, there was one last thing to do if I was going to give this the real college try: My normal dressing routine is not too far off from the yesteryear styles from the show, but I’d never consider being pinned-up to cook. I dipped into my closet to pick an outfit that could be just as cute as Christine’s vintage attire, but comfortable enough to bake in and something I wouldn’t lose my mind over if it got ruined during the cooking process. A ’50s reproduction cherry pattern dress via Collectif Clothing would do fine, matched with a retro updo and quick layer of ’50s-inspired Besame lipstick and mascara. Let’s cook!
Creating the cookie from the mix started out easy enough: some water, some eggs, mix them into a pan. Absent a cookie cutter, I improvised by pouring a bit of the mixture into one hole of a muffin tin to make the planchette, realizing that would be a real gamble. There isn’t much you can do while waiting for the cookie to bake, and it took over 30 minutes, so I looked up Ouija images to get a good idea of what I’d be doing with the stencil and spray coloring. With gold dust and edible stars willing and ready, I started on my candy glass.
Though this initially made me the most nervous, it was the easiest and most fun part of the experiment. Using agave and brown sugar gave my boiling pot a golden brown hue, and when I tested a few drops on a slice of wax paper, they hardened into glistening amber candy drops immediately, like a sweet science experiment. Pleased with myself, I made an entire pot of candy glass, pouring different shapes on the wax paper and peeling them off. I did not eat any of them, but I was having a blast.
My excitement was pretty short lived, though. While taking the cookie out of the oven, I realized immediately that it was too porous to handle all of that gorgeous candy glass I had just slaved over. While her whimsy is a huge draw, it’s obvious watching just one episode that Christine knows what she’s talking about in the kitchen. Surely, she’d know immediately that a cookie mix wouldn’t be the right consistency to handle the sugar glass, but for me, this was a learning experience.
I was still pretty sure that I could salvage the recipe. My cookie was in decent shape despite its pillow-like texture, and some of the glass had hardened around its corners, making a decent canvas for my stencil. If only the spray food coloring would’ve sprayed within the edges of the stencil, perhaps things would have worked out better. The spray dust worked in a pinch, and I sprinkled some stars for effect and to draw the eye away from the fact that my stencil was nothing like the carvings on top of a Ouija board.
You may be wondering: What happened to the muffin tin planchette? Reader, I regret to inform you that it did not bake as intended and instead became a mid-project snack. The maple cookie mix made up in taste what it lacked in strength. What did hold up, however, was my outfit. Other than a few snafus with delicate straps slipping off shoulders during mixing, it was a totally comfortable baking ensemble and only sustained minor gold splatters, unlike my stovetop, which took several hours to de-glitter.
If the aim was to replicate Christine’s beautiful dessert, this cookie was not a success. All of the spray accoutrements were a little overpowering. I got overexcited with the candy glass. And it doesn’t resemble a Ouija board in the slightest. But none of that stopped me from having the most fun evening I’ve had in a long time. I was able to serve the “cookie” on nice china on a table set with a little coffee and tea, to rave reviews on taste, and polite felicitations on the abstract design. The Ouija cookie was a talking piece both appropriate for the holiday and my guests — not as wild as Rose the raccoon, but close in kitsch value.
As I learned while having a total blast with my unfortunate dessert, the whimsy felt in The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell translates to the baker. Putting on a circle skirt and mixing eggs and butter is the last place I’d expect to find myself on a Saturday night, but I’m already planning to do it again. For one lovely weekend eve, I suspended disbelief in my kitchen and entered a bizarre fantasy world where spirit boards were edible and victory rolls were uniform and my Ouija cookie was wonderful and delicious, even though it looked nothing like its intended form.
Annemarie Dooling has worked in online community management for a dozen years and knows all the amygdala hijacking tricks, useful in vaudeville and comment moderating.
Editor: Greg Morabito