Interview with Kyra Bussanich from Cupcake Wars

Kyra Bussanich is well known in the gluten free community for being a three time – and the only gluten free – winner of Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. She is the founder of the highly acclaimed Kyra’s Bake Shop in Portland, Oregon and has written the cook book Sweet Cravings: 50 Seductive Desserts for a Gluten-Free Lifestyle. Her bakery is 100% gluten free and ships nationwide. I was very fortunate to sit down with Kyra over Skype to chat about her work.

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It’s so wonderful to meet you! What inspired you to participate in Cupcake Wars, not just once, but multiple times?

The first time, I wanted to show the world that gluten free cupcakes could beat traditional cupcakes – they could be better tasting, have better texture and be more creative. After the first time they just kept calling me, so I said yes! (laughs)

Out of all of your recipes, what is your favorite cupcake flavor?

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I absolutely love our Pumpkin Caramel Sin. It’s a pumpkin cake filled with salted caramel and topped with vanilla bean buttercream and cinnamon sugar. I’m a huge pumpkin fan. My other favorite is the Curry Caramel Crush. My approach for baking is “exotic meets approachable.” This cupcake has familiar components like vanilla, salted caramel, and a whipped mascarpone cream. But we add curry powder to the vanilla cake, chipotle to the salted caramel, and top it with a ginger whipped cream. It’s just out of this world.

That sounds so interesting! Speaking of your approach, what is the first thing you consider when developing a new recipe?

My process starts with the flavors. If the flavors sound good in my head I jot down the components along with what I think a good starter base might be for the recipe. Then I get into the kitchen and start scaling it out. A lot of times I’ll change the amount of various ingredients on the fly and write down what I do. I’ll make notes about the texture, taste and flavor right out of the oven, after it’s cooled, and also the next day. Then I’ll go back and make tweaks.

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Gluten free baking often requires many different types of flours to help mimic the taste and texture that regular flour provides. What flours are your favorites to use?

It really depends on what I’m making. If I want to add some texture, I’ll often use millet flour – sometimes sorghum or teff – in combination with potato starch and/or tapioca starch and a little rice flour, though I’m not rice flour heavy like a lot of places are. When it comes to cakes, I want a more tender crumb that’s soft, so I’ll use a lot more of the starches – potato, tapioca, and a little fine white rice flour.

Do you have any tips for gluten free bakers who would like to start creating their own recipes?

Yes! Write everything down! It’s terrible when you can’t recreate a great recipe. I also really like to use a kitchen scale. I measure everything in grams – it’s so much easier to add small amounts of something without having to measure it out in teaspoons.

I also always like to tell people that whether you’re baking gluten free or not, if you’re using butter and sugar to make a cake – whip the heck out of that butter and sugar with your beater until it’s really light and fluffy. The more air you can incorporate into the butter, the fluffier and lighter your cake will be.

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Throughout your gluten free career so far what has been your greatest reward?

On one hand, winning Cupcake Wars multiple times has been really validating – not just for me and my business, but for showing the world at large that gluten free does not mean dry and tasteless. What’s also rewarding is getting letters. I have a customer whose daughter is gluten free and has never been able to walk into a bakery because she’s so sensitive. We made her birthday cake, and all of the kids loved it. The mother sent us an email saying we were cake angels – her daughter was able to eat a piece of cake and feel normal. I get teary-eyed because those letters are so rewarding.

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After a cookbook, a bakery that ships nationwide, and three Cupcake Wars champion titles – what’s next?

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of consultations for national brands on their recipe development side – I really enjoy that because it fuels my creative process. We talk all the time as to what the next step is for the business, whether it’s opening more locations in the Portland area or around the country. I don’t know yet. There are a lot of possibilities.

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There are many gluten-eaters who are still under the assumption that gluten free foods don’t taste good. As we know, that is no longer true. What would you say (or what do you say) to those people?

I had a couple come into the bakery – the wife had Celiac Disease, and the husband had tried other gluten free foods before and didn’t want to order anything because he thought it would taste terrible. This was their first time in the shop, and I was working the register. I asked if he’d like anything. He said, “Oh I know what this stuff tastes like. I don’t have to eat this. She does.” I promised him that he would enjoy it and if he didn’t I would refund their entire order and they could keep the pastries. That was too good for him to pass up! He got a cinnamon roll, took a bite and said, “That is really damn good!”

(laughs) I’ve heard that your cinnamon rolls are amazing!

They are! Increasing awareness about how amazing gluten free foods can be happens one person at a time. It’s not just talking about it – it’s having a shared experience. Tasting is believing.

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Find more information on Kyra’s Bake Shop at http://www.kyrasbakeshop.com.

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