Cookie artist 

Local cookie baker Lan McCabe takes her skills to the Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge.

Christmas Cookie Challenge host Eddie Jackson observes Oklahoma cookie artist Lan McCabe pouring flour into a mixer. - FOOD NETWORK / PROVIDED
  • Food Network / provided
  • Christmas Cookie Challenge host Eddie Jackson observes Oklahoma cookie artist Lan McCabe pouring flour into a mixer.

Oklahoma City-based cookie artist Lan McCabe was in for an unexpected treat when Food Network called requesting her participation in the second season of Christmas Cookie Challenge. Her debut, which aired Nov. 12, featured McCabe alongside four experienced bakers in a race against time to create the most delectable advent calendar they possibly can.

And the only thing sweeter than the cookies she baked was the award offered to the first-place winner — a grand prize of $10,000 — just in time for holiday shopping.

“Host Eddie Jackson brings down his box of Christmas cookie cutters from the attic only to realize that it’s actually his Halloween box,” said Seth Hyman, Food Network public relations manager. “Now, five gifted cookie makers must hack the Halloween cutters into classic Christmas cookies.”

Mix time constraints with five people competing for a cash prize of that size and you’re left with what could potentially turn out to be a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, we know McCabe makes it out all right, even though she didn’t win. The show is airing multiple times on Food Network.

Though a seasoned baker in her own right, McCabe admits it was no easy challenge.

“I didn’t know what being on a competition would really entail, and it’s hours of a lot of hard work,” she said. “You don’t know what to expect, so you’re just like, ‘I hope I can handle whatever is thrown my way.’ You just never know.”

Then again, hard work is the reason she has made it this far. After leaving Vietnam in the summer of 1974, McCabe’s parents, accompanied by other members of her family, arrived in America six days shy of her first birthday. Following a brief stay in Guam, the family eventually made landfall in Arkansas, leaving shortly thereafter to begin a new life in Massachusetts.

“I think you make of it what you want, but you definitely gotta work hard; that’s the one thing I’ve learned,” McCabe said regarding her experiences growing up in the United States. “Nothing came for free; that’s for sure.”

The granddaughter of entrepreneurs back home and abroad, she and her family decided to make the move to Oklahoma, a place that “just seemed to be the right fit for our family.”

After attending Oklahoma State University, where she majored in chemical engineering, McCabe eventually found work as a construction estimator, a demanding job requiring her to work between 60 and 80 hours a week.

After cutting back on her hours at work to spend time with her family, she looked for ways to make some extra money on the side. Drawing upon her experience baking for her daughter’s birthdays, she started branching out to “friends of friends of friends and families” who had an obvious preference for her sugary delicacies. In 2013, she opened Sweets on the Side, officially launching her career as a professional baker.

Cookie demand

Following the birth of her second child, McCabe decided it was time for a change of pace. Focused entirely on baking, she found a way to turn her hobby into a full-time job. Leaving construction altogether, she channeled her energy into her new line of work: baking cookies with a unique and personalized touch.

McCabe believes a combination of personal touch and carefully made goods keeps buyers coming back for more. She takes the orders directly and fine-tunes them to go above and beyond the customers’ expectations — a rarity in the cookie industry. While other bakers will often produce a cookie that either looks good or tastes good, Sweets on the Side consistently delivers the best of both worlds.

“Customers range from wedding planners and party throwers to Thunder superstars, who get fresh, handmade personalized sweets almost too exquisite to nibble on,” wrote Tim Oden, McCabe’s next-door neighbor in an email to Oklahoma Gazette.

Now that business is booming, McCabe churns out between 20 and 40 dozen cookies during her busiest times.

Though she’ll take the summers off to be with her children while they’re not in school, her usual schedule isn’t as relaxed. Running on anywhere from three to five hours of sleep, McCabe realizes she only traded one demanding job for another.

Cookie baker Lan McCabe designs cookies - for nearly every holiday and event. - LAN MCCABE /  PROVIDED
  • Lan McCabe / provided
  • Cookie baker Lan McCabe designs cookies for nearly every holiday and event.

“The challenge I’m finding now is … just finding another me if I could,” she said. “I’m gonna be in big trouble if I don’t have a helper.”

As of now, McCabe’s mother is the only help she has, but this doesn’t seem to be of too much concern. Though her stint on Food Network has already attracted the attention of several prospective customers, she’s not looking to push the natural course of the business toward a booming enterprise.

“I’m really not looking to blow up fast. … Slow and steady wins the race,” she said regarding the future of her business. “It’s just who I am. I just love enjoying the moment rather than capturing it. … I just kind of walk to the beat of my own drum.”

Her dream is to expand her workspace and one day have a studio all to herself to better help serve the diverse and seemingly endless clientele who want a taste of what she has to offer.

Until then, she’s focused on the here and now, feeding dough into the oven, cranking out cookie after cookie only to repeat the process the following week.

But that’s not how she views it. On the contrary, she’s just doing what she loves most: baking cookies.

“I just love it because it’s kind of a blank canvas that you can do whatever you want,” McCabe said. “I feel like that’s why I call myself a cookie artist a lot — ’cause it’s just fun. It’s art. It’s not work, and it’s something I just love to do.”

Affectionately referred to as the cookie whisperer or other nicknames depending on who you talk to, McCabe isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Not all cookies crumble, after all.

“You just got to go in there and do your best,” she said. “You never know what can come from one little ripple in the stream.”

Visit sweetsonthesideokc.com.

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