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June 14, 2014

Baking is the icing on Culpepper’s cupcake – and her passion

TIFTON — There's nothing sweeter than finding what you're good at and making a living at it.

Just ask Lacey Culpepper, who's working toward making her dreams of owning her own cakery in Tifton come true.

Culpepper began making cakes almost six years ago when she made her first one for her sister's baby shower. She laughs when she recalls how it turned out.

"It was absolutely horrendous. I look back at that cake and I think, oh my gosh. I thought it was good then," she said.

But since then, she's honed her skills, and now bakes about a dozen cakes each month for family and friends, in addition to cookies and cupcakes. She's also found that making cakes is more than just simply baking – it's an art form.

"It's a passion," she said. "People like cakes, and they've said to me, 'Can you try this?' and I'm like, sure I'll try. It just started taking off and I've made cakes for friends and family. I've dabbled in cupcakes. I love cupcakes and I do cookies. But cakes are my thing. It's great to get in there and make this big, magnificent cake, this work of art that people can eat."

Culpepper is mostly self-taught, but she is working toward taking classes, and she is also working on obtaining her cottage kitchen license.

She's even selected a name for her cakery, which she hopes to open in about a year.

"It's going to be Loulabelle's Cakery," she said with a big grin. "It's a childhood nickname my mom and my aunt called me growing up. I went through a pile of names, and I felt like it's sweet and southern, and I hope it's one that people will remember."

When asked if she has a specialty, Culpepper says she gets a lot of requests for chocolate cakes.

"People love my chocolate cakes. I make s'mores cupcakes that people adore. I make my own fondant, and the marshmallow fondant is way better than the store-bought," she said.

Along the way, Culpepper says she's made a few "boo-boos." She's not afraid to venture out and learn from others, as she watches online tutorials. And she says she uses Google a lot.

"I've researched the heck out of everything. Google is probably like, 'Girl, just stay off of me,'" she said, laughing.

The most difficult cake she has made thus far was a wedding cake for a friend.

"It had to have been 3 or 4 feet high. I traveled with it for her, and it was nerve-racking. I was so stressed about it," she said. "But it was the biggest cake I'd ever done and I was so proud of it. I was beaming that day. When I went to deliver it and set it up, I thought, this is the dream. This is what I want to be. I want to be the person who travels and somebody's like, I want you to come to my wedding and I want you to do my cake, because it's so fantastic."

Culpepper said her recipes stem from general recipes, but she's tried and tested them, and tweaked them to her own taste.

"I kind of make it up in my mind, and when people tell me it's good, I write it down," she said.

A single mom to six-year-old Reagan, Culpepper works full-time at Longhorn Steakhouse in Tifton, and enjoys being active. She's a runner, and took second place in the recent nurse's half marathon. She plans to run a full marathon later this year.

For now, she's content to bake just for friends and family, which she says keeps her busy.

"At first it was just a hobby, but now it's a passion. I love to watch people's reactions and I love to make people happy in that way. I like serving people. That's why I've worked at Longhorn for so long (10 years)," she said. "With cakes it's kind of the same thing. I work really hard and put my heart and soul into it. Just to see the people smile, that's the reaction I want."

She's also grateful for the support she gets from her friends and family along the way. Her inspiration was her grandmother, who she says has a bit of a sweet tooth.

"Good Lord, she has a sweet tooth," she says with a smile. "She was the one who triggered my passion. Everybody just believes in me so much. It's heartwarming. It's amazing the support they show me."

There are other bakeries in Tifton, and Culpepper says they're great, but she feels she can bring something special to the bakery world.

"I know how much my cakes mean to me. I send one off and I'm like, go be free, go be eaten. I take so much pride in what I do and making people happy. Memories are created around cakes and I really cherish that aspect. It's not just a cake to me. I'm very fortunate to have found something that I love so much and that I can create my life around. It's going to be great."

To contact editor Angye Morrison, call 382-4321.

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