Cupcake Wars Goes Gluten-Free
I’ve been following Crave Bake Shop's progress on Facebook, intrigued by their emphasis on gluten-free integrity, exacting pastry standards, vegan Thursdays, and multiple allergy sensitivity. So when owner Kyra Bussanich contacted me and asked, “Can we send you some treats to try?” I was pleased, but had no idea that she was about to be named the first gluten-free baker to ever win the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars”.
Kyra and I chatted on December 16 (Doughnut Friday). At that time she couldn’t even discuss the win, let alone reveal on what show she would be appearing. She was also the first gluten-free baker to ever show up on Cupcake Wars in 2010, so I assumed the secret involved said show again. Needless to say, I rushed home that following Sunday just in time to see her grab the prize away from heavy hitting bakers who used traditional flours.
See Kyra's winning, gluten-free Boston Cream Pie Cupcake Recipe here.
Because of my somewhat complex allergies, I’ll be receiving Crave treats to review in 2012 – after the holiday rush. Perhaps then, I’ll coax Kyra into for an inside look at her experience with other cupcake warriors, that intimidating-looking panel of experts, and her introduction to namesake (and one of my fave actresses), Kyra Sedgwick.
Online Bakery to Retail Yum Store
In the meantime, let’s focus on what we could discuss: her journey from online baker to a retail store with lines out the door and down the block on opening day.
I didn’t anticipate such a crowd. I thought that it would be six months before I’d hire my first employee, but I had to hire someone the first day!
Kyra first launched Crave’s online presence in 2008, but on May 13, 2011, she opened “a whole different ballgame” in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Kyra said that this open-minded, small business community, located just outside of Portland, was committed to helping her grow.
As we chatted up the artsy quality of Lake Oswego, it reminded me of Saugatuck, MI – a town near my current state of repose, Grand Rapids. As small worlds would have it, Kyra’s grandfather was born in Grand Rapids before ending up in San Diego. Six Degrees.
I found it wise that Crave learned from the online business before opening the retail storefront. One important lesson was that neither the size nor the brightness of multiple orange “fragile” stickers could keep your precious cupcakes from being dropkicked on their journey to your door. So Crave packages accordingly and offers limited items available for shipment, like 3 kinds of cupcakes, ring dings, and the scones of the day. Sweet.
In store, they create beautiful special order wedding cakes, and have a pretty large menu of gluten-free yummi-ness from which to choose.
Passion, Sacrifice and Le Cordon Bleu
Kyra received her training at the famous culinary arts institute, Le Cordon Bleu. As we chatted, it was clear that she measures her gluten-free pastries against the best, and that she will not compromise taste, texture and flavor simply to make a treat.
We love requests. But it’s difficult when people expect us to serve sugar-free, vegan and dairy-free every day. My heart always sinks, because it’s so hard for me to say, “I can’t do that for you today”. Our goal is to do amazing tasting gluten-free things. There is no reason that gluten-free shouldn’t taste just as good. I don’t want to compromise our standards.
Thinking of her in a roomful of wheat flour, however, I thought of her health and she graciously let me inquire. Kyra has Crohn’s, and her mother has been recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease, so given her own diagnosis and the genetic propensity for CD, she was putting herself in front of a gluten-toting firing squad every day during her training.
I was sick a lot in pastry school and missed about 1 day every other week because I was too sick to go to class. Some of my professors understood, but others were not very sympathetic.
I thought of my tour of the bakery at The Secchia Culinary Institute in Grand Rapids, which I took earlier this year. I had a clear picture of what Kyra’s experience might have been like. Secchia’s bakery had huge bins marked “wheat”, “rye”, and “barley”. During my tour there was no class in action, yet the empty bakery was clouded with flour nonetheless. I could only imagine the sacrifice Kyra made to learn her craft. My respect for this chick climbed even higher as we spoke.
On Gluten-free Laws, GMO’s and Health
Whenever I interview a baker, researcher, doctor or flour manufacturer, I ask their opinion about the pending gluten-free law. Is 20 parts per million too much? Could the law go any further?
20 ppm is too much. I think it should be zero ppm, but that 20 ppm is realistic. You can’t control everything and mistakes do happen. The law itself will be primarily driven by consumers and their choices. Eight years ago no one knew about gluten, but consumers and their health drove changes in the market. Before I cut gluten out of my diet entirely, I had no appetite, was losing weight, not sleeping well and operating on a 30% gas tank. After only 3 days on a gluten-free diet I felt tons better. My mom, however, took a lot longer to heal. Even painkillers for my mom were formulated with gluten. It’s so important to have products that are labeled correctly.
As for modern day GMO’s (genetically modified organisms), she is one of the growing number of people who believe that GMO’s are one big reason behind the huge spike in gluten allergies – that and the fact that we are eating so many processed foods loaded with gluten protein.
If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. If you are sick, the only thing you can focus on is how you feel. Today, we often reach for a quick fix in the medicine cabinet. But that doesn’t get to the root of the problem, and just layers one medication on to the next. And it all could come down to taking care of ourselves through diet.
I think the answer is so simple. If you have celiac (or other inflammatory problems) – get off gluten.
Like so many people today, Kyra suffered for most of her life and had several misdiagnoses slapped on her forehead. On a gluten-free diet, however, she is thriving. We can all learn from experiences like Kyra’s, and garner hope, as well.
Advice for Tender Foodies
I asked Kyra for some advice for the Tender Foodie population. Here is what she said.
Experiment! I used to be one of those people who liked to draw inside of the lines. I didn’t want to try a recipe unless it came out perfectly. But this is not a way to start an alternative bakery.
Once, I made grilled nectarines with a tapioca and soy pudding for my dairy-free husband. The pudding did not set, so I served him Grilled Nectarines and Vanilla Soup! He looked up at me and said, “This is really good!” So the lesson is, If it tastes good, serve it. It’s all about how you present what you create.
Bake Shop Practices
I respect bakers and restaurants who not only have strict, trained practices in place, but who also know their limits. Here are a few highlights of Crave’s practices:
The only soy used is the soy lecithin that is already processed in the Callebaut bittersweet Chocolate (which is also dairy-free) and in their dark chocolate sprinkles.
Cleaning Practices & Dairy-Free:
- Between each cupcake batch they clean extensively with sanitizing solution and the racks are wiped down every day.
- The most restrictive batch, like dairy-free cupcakes, go first into the oven.
- They change parchment paper with every batch.
Ingredient Sourcing, GMO, Organic, Local:
- They use only certified gluten-free ingredients. No gluten makes it into the bakery. (They love Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-free flours)
- Crave uses no oat flour, and only use gluten-free oats (from Bob’s and Naked Oats) that are from farms that do not rotate their oats with gluten crops.
- Crave use organic, non-GMO, and local ingredients wherever possible.
- Prefer to make flavors using produce and products in season whenever possible.
Crave is a Kosher Certified Bake Shop
Special orders can be accommodated if planned ahead. For instance, Crave recently fulfilled an order for a “gal who had a fatal peanut allergy”. But they had to do it during a week when other special orders could be made that didn’t require peanuts. Crave didn’t use peanuts in any items for a week prior to fulfilling this non-peanut order. Crave knows that gluten and nut particles can linger in the air for quite some time. They respect that bit of physics. I respect that. And look forward to my taste test. Bring it on, Kyra!
LOCATION: 460 5TH STREET, LAKE OSWEGO, OR 97034
PHONE: 503.212.2979 | FAX: 503.212.2978
HOURS: TUE-FRI 8am - 5pm, SAT 8am - 4pm