Quitting your job to bake pies full-time might sound like a scene out of a Nancy Meyers movie, but for Lauren Ko, the self-taught baker behind the Instagram sensation @lokokitchen, it recently became a reality. She started documenting her elaborate pies and tarts on the platform in August of last year and left her day job as an executive assistant in Seattle just five months later, after her account became a runaway success.
She now bakes in the mornings (cooler temps for handling dough and better light for shooting), teaches pie workshops around the city, and of course updates her Instagram, which at the time of publication, boasts 207,000 followers. It’s an especially impressive feat for someone who doesn’t post very often—Ko only has 103 posts. Plus, one of those 207,000 followers? Martha herself—Ko is the guest star on this week’s episode of “Martha Bakes,” which is aptly titled “Embellished Pies.”
Ko grew up watching her mother and grandmother bake, but neither of them made pies. It was always cookies or cakes, like their family recipe for tres leches. Her yen for baking pies started because she couldn’t find any that were in line with her aesthetic. Most of the pies Ko saw on Pinterest or Instagram were beautiful, but very floral and feminine, and she wanted to create something more abstract.
Ko has received flack on social media about her pies looking prettier unbaked, which took her aback at first, but she has since settled into being in the public eye and now takes all feedback in stride. She posts some desserts before they go into the oven, as well as others in their finished state, and is always 100-percent transparent about it. “I’m in this for the design,” says Ko. “I consider myself more of an artist, and my medium happens to be edible. Of course my pies look more immaculate and pristine unbaked—you’re subjecting flour, butter, and sugar to 400-degree heat!”
Her inspiration ranges from architecture and string art to wicker purses and bathroom tiles. “I’ll see someone walking down the street with a cool shirt and file that away in my memory bank,” says Ko. “Anything with geometric shapes and straight lines catches my eye because they’re easiest for me to replicate with dough and fruit.” She recreates one of her most popular pies on the show, her signature blueberry spoke, which has strips of dough fanning out in a swirled wheel pattern. She'll also be making one of her other defining designs in a different "Martha Bakes" episode: a multicolored, mosaic tart with pieces of mango, kiwi, and dragonfruit that evoke tangram puzzles.
Some of Ko's desserts may look different after a turn in the oven, but they’re still striking, and more importantly, always delicious, at least according to her friends and family. “I don’t really have a sweet tooth, so I was already sick of pie by the time I made pie number-three. I rarely eat anything I bake,” says Ko. The only exception is when she ventures into savory territory, like she did recently with her take on Martha’s roasted radish tart. She used the same pâte brisée and creamy cauliflower filling but went ombré for the top, showcasing radishes in hues from bright red to dark purple. She posted the unbaked version, which garnered nearly 26,000 likes, and ate the baked version—talk about a win-win!