Taking the Cake
An Oklahoma decorator creates stand-out cakes.
Lori Cossou, a Northeast Oklahoma Electric Cooperative member, is internationally recognized for her cake decorating skills. Photo courtesy of Lori Cossou
The fall of 1997 marked the beginning of Cossou’s competitive career as she entered a cake into the Grand National Wedding Cake Competition in Tulsa, Okla.
Cossou invests 200 hours over two or three months into her cakes.
Today, Lori’s Creative Cakes & Cookies has a loyal customer base, and regularly draws clients from Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas to purchase her beautiful cakes and famous sugar cookies.
Flour, sugar, eggs, milk and butter are five ordinary ingredients, found in most Oklahoma kitchens. However, in the hands of a master they can be used to craft an extraordinary cake.
One such cake-maker, Lori Cossou, a Northeast Oklahoma Electric Cooperative member, grew up in small-town Kansas. The youngest of three sisters, she watched as Margaret, five years her senior, dabbled in cake decorating for a season. At age 10, Cossou picked up the remnants of a hobby forgotten and began to use them to create cakes, cupcakes and cookies. Family members’ and friends’ birthdays became the practice grounds for her growing passion.
“My mom never liked to bake, but my sister had the decorating tools and I started playing with them,” Cossou says. In days prior to Internet tutorials, Cossou taught herself the intricate art of cake decorating, mastering the fundamentals like piping icing and hand molding sugar flowers.
In 1996, she married Rob Cossou. As she became a mom of three young children, she traded in her career to stay home; she started an in-home daycare to help with the family’s finances. At the same time, she refined her cake decorating skills whenever one of her kids, nieces or nephews celebrated a birthday.
“After I got married, my sister and I both had our first child at the same time. I was determined I would make their birthday cakes,” she says. “I started making cakes for people and I decided I liked it better than the daycare.” Cossou closed the daycare and started a bakery out of her garage with a used convection oven and four piping bags. The bakery started small, but her efforts were rewarded as the business grew to attract a wider client base.
The fall of 1997 marked the beginning of Cossou’s competitive career as she entered a cake into the Grand National Wedding Cake Competition in Tulsa, Okla. The annual contest, founded and directed by internationally renowned cake decorator, Kerry Vincent, is the biggest and most prestigious cake show in the U.S. It regularly attracts participants and press from around the globe.
“I had never been to a cake show before. I walked in and after seeing the other cakes, I was embarrassed to bring in my cake,” Cossou says. “Fortunately, my mom was with me and she convinced me to go.”
“I remember the first competition cake she did. If I shared a photo of it, she’d want to kill me,” Vincent says with a laugh.
Though Cossou’s cake didn’t place, she was inspired by what she saw and learned at the show. Two years later, she returned to the wedding cake competition and placed as second runner-up, showing impressive progress in a short amount of time.
As she competed, her bakery continued to grow. In 1998, the family moved from Kansas to Welch, Okla., and she established a storefront in the border town of Oswego, Kan. Today, Lori’s Creative Cakes & Cookies has a loyal customer base, and regularly draws clients from Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas to purchase her beautiful cakes and famous sugar cookies.
In 2002, Cossou was awareded her first grand prize placement in the wedding cake competition. She repeated grand prize wins in 2007 and 2015. She also placed as first, second, third or fourth runner-up seven times since 1999.
“Winning is an international honor, and Lori is the only person in the show’s 22-year history who has won three times,” Vincent says.
The victories have earned her publicity in national and international publications, such as Brides magazine. Her bakery has been featured on the Food Network cable channel, and one of her cakes was displayed in New York City’s Grand Central Station.
“For a small town girl to get to New York … it’s pretty amazing,” Cossou says.
In early 2016, she received recognition from Dessert Professionals magazine as one of the top 10 cake artists in North America.
Cossou credits her success to her foundational years when she learned how to hand pipe icing.
“When I started, we did everything with buttercream icing; fondant was something no one around here used,” she says. She remembers seeing fondant, a stiff, moldable icing, for the first time at a cake show. She has since worked with it; however, she says it’s important to master both buttercream and fondant techniques in order to be successful in business and in cake shows.
“I do a lot of piping and string work on my show cakes,” Cossou says. “Hand piping is my signature. It has almost become a lost art.”
Vincent says Cossou’s cakes have stood out among her competitors because of her attention to detail and her refining of techniques.
“People today are molding cakes madly and half of them can’t pipe,” Vincent says. “I expect people to be able to pipe, to make flowers and to do hand modeling.
“Lori pushes herself to master techniques that are extremely difficult. She has invested a lot of time in making sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. She is ever reaching for perfection.”
Perfection does not come without a price. Cossou invests 200 hours over two or three months into her cakes.
Inspiration for her 2015 five-tiered, grand-prize winner came from a colorful dress by a Pakistani designer.
“I wasn’t very excited about the competition’s “Fashion Week” theme because I’m not into fashion. I found inspiration online and as soon as I saw the dress, I knew it’s what I wanted to use,” Cossou says. “You have to be inspired and love what you’re doing to spend that much time on a cake.”
Cossou is grateful for the role Vincent and the Grand National Wedding Cake Competition have played in her growth and success.
“I appreciate that Kerry always shares her insight and that she has encouraged me to try new things and to perfect what I know,” Cossou says.
Just like the ordinary ingredients that are required for cake making, it has been the everyday disciplines of hard work, determination and faithfulness to perfecting her craft that have helped Cossou create stand-out cakes and have taken her on an extraordinary journey.
In coming months, Cossou and her husband plan to sell her bakery and relocate to Missouri in order to be closer to their children and grandchildren. She will continue baking, but on a smaller scale.
This fall, her work will be on display at the Grand National Wedding Cake Championship, Oct. 1-2, 2016, at the Tulsa State Fair.