Even in a sea of people, it’s never too difficult to spot Sharon Frandsen at campus events. She’s the one with a basket on her arm, a gaggle of students surrounding her as she passes out her carefully crafted cookies – cookies that have, amongst Albion College students, become famous.
I first met Frandsen, along with her husband, Interim President Mike Frandsen, in February, after they had made the two-hour drive to attend the MIAA championship swimming and diving meet. I was touched that they had showed up at all, let alone managed to sit through two hours of a sport that, to be honest, isn’t that exciting to the average spectator.
If the Frandsens were bored, though, I never would have guessed. They joined us for dinner afterwards, greeting us with enthusiasm and congratulations. They were genuinely excited about all that we had accomplished in the pool and seemed honestly interested in getting to know a little bit more about each of us on a personal level.
As dinner began to wind down, Frandsen began making her way around the room, giving each member of our team a sugar cookie. But these weren’t just any sugar cookies. They were Mrs. Frandsen’s cookies – the cookies we had been hearing about from other students on campus all year long.
They were cut in the shape of the Albion ‘A,’ carefully outlined in bright yellow icing and filled in neatly with a bold purple. I, along with my team, marveled at the perfection of the cookies. They seemed too much a work of art to be ruined by eating them.
I eventually gave into my sweet tooth, though, and took a bite of the cookie. I was, for some reason, surprised to find that the cookies didn’t just look good, but that they tasted good, too.
It was at this moment that I became curious. I could barely bake a batch of break-n-bake chocolate chip cookies without burning them, and yet Frandsen had managed to bake a whole boatload of delicious cookies and decorate them with the utmost precision. How in the world had she done it? And why?
It started with the continuation of a tradition, it turns out.
It is an Albion College tradition that the marching band serenades the president’s spouse at football games. Previously, Paul Hagner, Chancellor Randall’s husband, had tossed candy at the band when they performed this tradition, and Frandsen knew right away that she wanted to do something similar.
After some time, she, along with her husband, came up with the idea of making a cookie in the shape of the British Eighth logo, which led to the purchase of the Albion ‘A’ cookie cuter, as well.
“Mike and I were talking – he knows I like to make things like cookies – and he suggested that the band has a cool logo that would make a neat cookie,” Frandsen said. “I looked online and found a company that would make a custom cookie cutter. I decided to have an ‘A’ cutter made, too, figuring I might make cookies for other students.”
Little did Frandsen know that she would use that custom Albion ‘A’ cookie cutter upwards of 1,200 times.
Since September, Frandsen has made cookies for an overwhelming number of Albion College students. Not only did she bake her trademark cookies for the marching band and student-athletes, but for campus choirs, students involved in the student-directed theater workshops and student senate members, as well.
“I just thought it would be a nice treat for students who give a bit of themselves to the college,” Frandsen said.
Making these nice treats, though, can be quite a time commitment, as Frandsen has learned throughout the course of the year. Although she usually makes three to four batches of dough at a time, she only gets about 40 cookies from each batch.
At one point earlier this year, Frandsen made 240 cookies at once, for football, both basketball teams and the theater students. In that process, she used five pounds of butter, 10 pounds of flour, a dozen eggs and a whole bottle of vanilla.
It is not the baking of the cookies, though, that takes the most time, but the decorating. I found that out first hand earlier this month, when my best friend and I spent an afternoon decorating cookies with Frandsen herself.
On that Friday afternoon, we entered the Frandsen’s home to find the dining room table covered with stacks of cookies – just over 250 of them, to be exact.
And so, we set to work decorating them. It was tough to get the hang of, at first, especially for someone like me, who has never had much of a knack for detailed artistry.
Frandsen laughed along with us as we messed up our first few cookies – mistakes just meant more for us to eat, she would laugh. And let me tell you, those first few cookies I decorated were downright atrocious – but delicious mistakes, just as she had said they would be. After about 10 cookies though, we were starting to get the hang of it.
Frandsen shared all the tips and tricks she had learned through the year – how lower consistency of frosting made for smoother finishes, how marking corners made for straighter outlines, how fluid motions made for fewer mistakes.
By the end of the afternoon, after we had decorated a little over 150 cookies in total and run out of frosting, I was feeling pretty confident in my ability to decorate cookies. And yet, as we were setting the sheets of frosted cookies out to dry, I couldn’t help but notice that my cookies still paled in comparison to Frandsen’s. Which, considering the sheer number of cookies she’s decorated this year, should not have surprised me.
As we were preparing to leave, the Frandsen’s home phone rang, and Frandsen had a short conversation with her husband, who asked her if she needed anything from the store, to which Frandsen’s reply was yes, maybe some more butter, because she still had more cookies to bake.
Photo by Tess Haadsma