Lan McCabe’s cookies are works of art. Many of her first-time clients don’t want to eat them because they are so pretty. “I have customers who keep a few cookies hidden, so they won’t get eaten. I get it–but I want them to go down your belly and taste good. They are delicious on the outside and the inside.”
What makes them so delicious is Lan’s secret recipe. She spent two years adjusting ingredients to find the perfect mix. “My chemical engineering degree came in handy, because I understand how ingredients react together. But don’t ask for the recipe. Colonel Sanders didn’t share his secret recipe, neither will I,” Lan said with a laugh.
That’s not the only secret Lan is keeping. She’s one of two Oklahomans who knows if she won Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge. Lan recently returned from Los Angeles after appearing as a contestant on the show. A television scout saw her cookie designs on Instagram and contacted her. “At first I thought it was a joke, but after three months of interviews and baking samples, I got a call that I was a contestant,” Lan said. “I was so excited!”
Food Network flew Lan to California for five days and treated her like a queen. Not only was she thrilled to have her own hair and makeup artist, but she was able to cook in an amazing studio kitchen. “It was surreal. We made a hot mess of that kitchen, but then we didn’t even have to clean it up.”
Her cookie challenge was unusual. The five contestants were supplied with Halloween cookie cutters and asked to turn the “frightfully festive” shapes into classic Christmas cookies. The result of the Christmas Surprises episode, which airs on November 12th at 9pm, is under lock and key. Lan hasn’t even told her husband if she won the $10,000 grand prize. The other Oklahoman who knows the results is Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman. “Ree was one of the main judges,” Lan said. “I told her, ‘I traveled half way across the country to meet another Oklahoman.’”
Lan started decorating cookies when her daughter was born nine years ago. Before that, she was happily working 60-80 hours a week in construction. “Motherhood took precedence. And like most first-time mothers, I wanted to make everything myself, including princess-themed cookies for her birthday. My family and friends thought they were great.”
When her son was born five years ago, Lan decided to start her business, called Sweets on the Side. It was a gamble that paid off. Lan creates 20-40 dozen customized cookies each week, often in her pajamas. She also hosts cookie-decorating classes for adults at various independent boutiques and art galleries. For children, she teaches classes at gyms and children’s indoor playgrounds where, “They can run off the energy they just got from eating the cookies.”
Lan is looking forward to watching the upcoming Christmas Cookie Challenge on television. Decorating cookies is more than food production to her. “Baking and decorating is an artform that not everyone can do. I really nurture these cookies. I enjoy bringing them to life for people.”
Visit sweetsonthesideokc.com for more information and upcoming classes.