Magazine article The New Yorker

Baked

Magazine article The New Yorker

Baked

Article excerpt

BAKED

Over the past few weeks, those possessed by the Christmas spirit could be found dusting off family recipes for that holiday staple the rollout sugar cookie. There are a lot of ways to tweak the classic formula--Melt the butter! Add a pinch of nutmeg!--but, in one unlikely San Francisco test kitchen, cookie disruption has been taken to a new level.

Up a flight of stairs at 2169 Mission Street (which a red sign identifies as "Noisebridge: A Hacker Spaceship") is a fifty-two-hundred-square-foot loft where members of the hacker community tinker with hardware and software, hoping to stumble upon that next thing or string of code we didn't know we couldn't live without. Its communal kitchen has a youth-hostel vibe. In the fridge, one recent afternoon, there was a box of baking soda, a Tupperware of stir-fry dregs, a mound of damp paper towels, and a sign, affixed to nothing, that read, "Plz Dont Take."

"When we were starting the company, they'd have free food once or twice a week, " Nemil Dalal, a skinny tech entrepreneur, said. Dalal, who described his age as "just north of thirty," is the co-creator of CookieCaster, a Web service that allows people to design custom cookie cutters on their computers and then have them fabricated on a 3-D printer. "Unleash your creativity," the company's Web site exhorts; with CookieCaster, you can either draw your cookie-cutter shape or "magic trace" the outline of an uploaded image (a photograph of your dachshund, say, or the Yankees' logo). A gallery of user designs on cookiecaster.com includes a medley of relatively uncreative holiday shapes (candy cane, dreidel, snowman), a skull and crossbones, the Nike swoosh, a hammer and sickle, and the state of Louisiana. Someone even made a cookie cutter in the shape of Pharrell's hat.

"I baked a ton when I was in high school. Then, when I went to college, not so much," Dalal said, sipping mint tea. He is from suburban New Jersey, where his dad worked at Bell Labs. He studied electrical engineering at Stanford, and returned there for business school. Dalal saw his first 3-D printer at Noisebridge, in 2011. "This was the first one I built," he said, gesturing toward what appeared to be an Erector Set--plastic cogs, colorful wires, and metal rods. The parts cost around six hundred and fifty dollars.

He explained that it took him and his college roommate about five weeks to develop and code CookieCaster, in 2012.Now several thousand people use the service each month; the numbers doubled as the holidays approached. …

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