Support the Work

If you have found the information on this blog useful, enjoyable, candid, or inspirational ... help keep it reader supported, journalistically driven, available to all, and advertiser-free. If you are able and inspired to do so, please consider a subscription to this blog. You can drop a dime or two every month, every year, or whenever you feel moved.

It will keep me writing, gathering facts, and interviewing the experts.




Parent / Sponsor



Join The Email List

Get Tastiness to Your Inbox

* indicates required

A blog about all things allergen-free and delicious

Entries in Cupcake Wars (3)


Behind the Scenes of Cupcake Wars with Kyra Bussanich

Kyra's winning smile on Food Network's "Cupcake Wars"

Last year, I had the privilege of conducting my first interview with Kyra Bussanich, pastry chef, owner of Crave Bake Shop,  and the first gluten-free winner of Food Network's famous Cupcake Wars.  She then won a SECOND time in May, 2012, when she was invited back to compete in Cupcake Champions.  Then, in the Champions Finale she took second place out of 16 other champions.  All of her competitors used traditional flours.  Gluten-free can't be good, right?  Right. 

Having an auto-immune disease hasn't stopped her one bit, in fact, if fuels her passion to do what she loves - and boy does she do it well!  One thing that struck me during our first conversation is how she doesn't settle for pastries unless they meet very high standards.  Thank heaven for those standards as they have given us the best brownie on the planet, and it has helped raise the bar for gluten-free bakers everywhere.

Since then, Kyra has been a guest blogger for the Tender Foodie, sharing her delicious Truffle Brownie Recipe (gluten-, dairy-, soy-free) and her fabulous Paleo Brownies for those who are completely grain-free.  I asked her if she was ready to chat about her experiences behind the scenes at Cupcake Wars, and lucky for us, she is. We corresponded over email for this interview.



TF:  How did “Cupcake Wars” first contact you? And what was that like (how did you feel, what went through your head, etc.)

Kyra:  I was sitting on the couch relaxing one evening and watching Cupcake Wars with my husband. I don’t recall what the secret ingredient or the taste challenge was, but I do remember that one of the contestants hid the special ingredient behind 5 or 6 other flavors and I was yelling at the TV at the oversight. Instead of burying the secret ingredients, s/he should have been highlighting it! My husband Jason nudged me and said I should go on the show but I initially declined because I don’t love competitions. They stress me out and make it more likely I’ll get over exerted and run-down.

After goading me for 20 or so minutes, I stomped and said, “FINE! I’ll apply if you leave me alone!” And I sent off a short paragraph about why I thought I would be good on the show, how I was different (baking entirely gluten-free, which they had never had before), and a few photos of myself and press clippings. Then I decided I didn’t actually want to participate, even if they did invite me, and it probably wouldn’t happen since I was still running my bakery as a custom-order business and didn’t even have a storefront yet.

TF: What were all of the steps that you had to go through before you actually appeared on the first show?

Kyra:  Within an hour of sending off the application paragraph, the casting director called me. I was still on the couch watching TV! Jessica told me she thought I was “super cute” and wanted to know if I could send her a short (2-minute) application video to show what I was like on-camera. By the following day. GULP! Luckily, my husband went to journalism school, specializing in videography so we put together a short, playful video, which you can view here: 

After I sent in the application, it was a few weeks before I heard back from them, during which time I had decided I DEFINITELY did not want to go. What if I choked? Anyone who has baked gluten-free knows that it can be finicky, and I worried that I would be reinforcing the negative connotations of gluten-free desserts if I had a bad baking day, or didn’t correctly judge the ovens and overbaked my cupcakes, or failed to finish in the allotted time.
My assistant Jackie (now my bakery manager) was ecstatic about the possibility of going and her collectedness really steadied my resolve. I did it for her as much as anything else.

TF:  Was this a dream of yours?  To be the first gluten-free winner of Cupcake Wars?  Or a challenge you didn’t expect?

Kyra:  I think it’s a little of both: I had always dreamed of appearing on the Food Network, and when I started baking gluten-free, I felt like it was my role to champion delicious-tasting gluten-free pastries. I hadn’t really thought seriously about Cupcake Wars until they invited me to compete.

New York Cheesecake Cupcakes w/ Ginger Cookie crust, vanilla cake, filled with raspberry compote, topped with cream cheese frosting and raspberry coulis. Florian LOVED this one!

Get the Recipe for Kyra's New York Cheesecake Cupcakes (pictured above)!

TF: How did you handle the time off from Crave Bake Shop?  Did you have to close ? or was your staff able to handle it without you?

Kyra:  The first time I went to Cupcake Wars, I didn’t even have a storefront, so I simply closed down the schedule and didn’t take any orders for a short time. By the time my subsequent visits to Cupcake Wars came about, I had a full staff I could rely on to open and close the bakery without me there. That said, it still made me nervous to leave my baby (the bake shop) in someone else’s hands.

TF:  Describe your feelings when you first walked onto the set.  Who did you meet?  Anybody that made you toungue tied?  Did you have an out-of-body experience? ?

Kyra:  Being on the set of Cupcake Wars was very surreal. The kitchen is a whole lot larger than it appears on TV, and when you’re running cupcake batter to the ovens to get them baking in a short time frame, that means it’s a whole lot farther than you’re actually running. Jackie and I ran drills before going, where we selected odd ingredients for ourselves (like avocado and jalapeno peppers) and practiced getting batches of cupcakes mixed, baked and decorated in less than 45 minutes. Let me tell you, we were a whole lot faster in our home kitchen than on set!

Jackie & Kyra in the dressing room for the first time

TF:  How did the first taping go?  Is it like we see it on TV? 

Kyra:  It’s very much like you see on TV, only there is a lot more standing around and checking microphones and camera angles before everything begins. It’s a long day of taping. I think they picked us up at our hotel at 6 am and we stood around for 2 hours drinking coffee and diet coke before anything started. Needless to say, we were pretty amped up by the time the cameras were on us and we were baking!


TF: Did you just LOVE the Christmas / Holiday theme in the first show?  Or was that tough?

Kyra:  Christmas is my all time favorite holiday, so I was thrilled when Justin revealed the inspiration challenge. And because dinner rolls and stuffing and gravy were on the inspiration table, I automatically knew that they would be filled with gluten and I couldn’t use those ingredients. I think this actually helped me, rather than hindered because it narrowed down my list of options for me.

Ultimately I selected the apple cider and the cranberry as inspirations and made a Cranberry AppleCider cupcake.

TF:  What was your competition like, and how did you handle them?  

Kyra:  Honestly, I was so focused on what I was doing that I didn’t pay much attention to our competitors. I kept my head down and just worried about doing the best job I could.


TF:  Was there a lot of trash talk?  (Anybody you want to “out” as sneaky :))  or was everyone professional?  Or even supportive? 

Kyra:  I have experienced supportive competitors, as well as those who were trying to get in my head, or worse, sabotage my baking. I’d say the majority were very sweet and professional though. There’s a reason we all became pastry chefs and bakers: we like to sweeten the day of those around us!

TF:  OK.  The judges.  Was there anyone that you thought you had to particularly win over? 

Kyra:  Yeah- all of them!

TF:  Anyone extra tough on you?  

Kyra:  I don’t know that I’d call it extra tough on me, but Florian is a very well-respected French pastry chef and easily recognized when I mistakenly overcooked my sugar (TWICE!) while making Italian Meringue the first time I appeared. I figured I wouldn’t point out my mistakes to the judges, but if they asked me about it, I would fess up. He said to me, “This meringue…it tastes like it’s not cooked right?” and I grinned and nodded. He smiled back and that was that.

TF:  Did you learn from their advice as they gave it?  and were you able to apply it under pressure like that?

Kyra:  I’m fortunate that my strengths include thinking quickly on my feet, and creating dynamic and memorable flavor combinations—two things that have served me well during my four appearances on Cupcake Wars. And of course, every time one of the judges gave me something to work on, I made sure to incorporate their suggestions, regardless of whether I personally agreed with them. After all, they’re the judges. And they decide who wins.

African Yam Cakes


TF:  Describe the pressure.   I can’t imagine.  Don’t even know what to ask here.

Kyra:  I don’t know what to say.  "E:LIHWLIUEGOAGSBD" is what comes to mind. It’s crazy intense. The nerves prevented us from getting much sleep so we were a little ragged on set. And the first time I competed, I was fresh out of the hospital not 3 hours before I hopped on the plane. I hadn’t eaten solid food in almost 6 days, and I figured that just staying on my feet was a win, regardless of the outcome. But it’s also fun, and creates lasting memories.  

People ask me every day at the bake shop if Cupcake Wars is really as crazy and stressful as it appears on TV and I always shake my head. No, it's not as crazy as it seems: it's at least 20 times more intense. You have to remember that they are filming everything in one day, which equates to roughly 16 hours of tape time PER CONTESTANT. And there are four teams. So they have to condense all that footage into 42 minutes (plus commercials), which means that a lot of it ends up on the cutting room floor.


TF:  Wait. You were in the HOSPITAL just before the first competition?  What happened?
Kyra:    I'm not sure what I was sick with. Perhaps the flu? Perhaps food poisoning? I hadn't been able to keep ANYTHING down for 3 days when my husband took me to the emergency room, worried about dehydration. They kept me there for an additional 2 days, and then I immediately hopped on a plane and went to LA (Jason was scared sick and mad at me for not putting my health first).


TF:  What was it like when you got back home?

Kyra:  There is a small time lapse between when you film and when the show airs, and because I had signed a non-disclosure agreement, I couldn’t TELL anyone what happened, or even that I was involved. So it was really anti-climactic.


TF:  When it was over, exactly how exhausted were you?  Was it different after each competition?

I slept for 15 hours a day for the following 4 days after the first show!

NOW.  Let’s talk about the 2nd show.


TF:  OK. Let's!  Describe your second experience and how it differed from the first.  
Kyra:  Well, for starters I WON the second time (came in runner up in the Holiday Tree Lighting the first time!) That was pretty spectacular. And since I had been on before, I already knew that the judges loved my cupcakes as much or more than “regular” cupcakes, so that was a load of pressure off.


TF:  Kyra Sedgewick, who happens to be a personal favorite of mine, and the team from “The Closer” were your end “client” for the 2nd show.   When did you get to meet them?

Kyra:  We met them on-stage on the set of The Closer right after the competition (in December 2011).


TF:  Did you interact with them much? And how did that go? 

Kyra:  There was less interaction than I would have liked, but I did get to wander the set of the police station while we were waiting for the cast and crew to wrap filming. And GW Bailey (the guest judge from my episode, and Lt. Provenza on The Closer) kept popping his head in to taste test our cupcakes and chat with us.


Jackie, Kyra Bussanich, & Kyra Sedgewick

TF:  What was Kyra Sedgewick like?

Kyra:  She’s beautiful, and warm, and funny and sweet, and at the same time, whip-smart. She’s also teeny tiny! I love her oversized smile and the way she talked to everyone (cast and crew and strangers like me).  I’ve always been a fan of hers, at first because we have the same name (spelling and pronunciation and all), and then later because I admired her work ethic and from what I’d read about her in interviews, she seemed really positive and down to earth and playful. In person, all of those are true of her!


TF:  She must be teeny tiny - because you are teeny tiny!

Kyra:  Oh, I love you!

TF:  Did anything funny happen with the crew?

Kyra:  Tony Denison, who plays Lt Andy Flynn on the show, came from a scene where they were filming the crime scene. He was wearing booties and gloves and kept them on while he ate cupcakes. It was pretty comical, and Jackie didn’t at first put two and two together -- she thought he was a germaphobe!

Rifling through Brenda Leigh Johnson’s candy drawer was also a hoot! There were Twizzlers and Reese’s PB Cups and DingDongs and Sixlets in there! 

Kyra & Jackie with the cast of The Closer. And Tony Dennison's gloves.. 

TF:  Oh, I adore that drawer!  What went through your head and your heart when you won?

Holy MOLY! I just beat traditional gluten-filled cupcakes! WOW! Huge coup for gluten-free people everywhere!


TF:  What was the FUNNIEST thing that happened on Cupcake Wars?

Kyra:  Jackie is pretty hilarious under pressure, and we just kept a rolling banter going. One of her great quotes, “Kyra- I am sweating in places I should NOT be sweating!”

I think Jackie and I were at our most entertaining in the Madagascar 3 Cupcake Champions Episode. Neither of us had slept a wink the previous night and we were all hopped up on caffeine so the remarks flying out of our mouths were mostly nonsensical, but we were so deliciously tired that we thought it was all hysterical.

Jackie told me that she felt really behind and wanted to cry, to which I responded "I know, me too, but we don't have time. Start making some decorations. You can cry later." And she did!


TF:  Were there any twists in the Champions Episodes?

Kyra:  They had sprung a last minute twist on us partway through round 2: not only were we going to have to make the judge's cupcakes, but we would ALSO have to make an extra 8 dozen cupcakes and a 2 foot by 2 foot cupcake mosaic in the Madagascar 3 theme. I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying something inappropriate on camera! ARGH! And we finished the round with our judges cupcakes to taste and the mosaic completed, but it certainly wasn't something pretty, or that I was proud. And Jackie, being the perfectionist artist that she is burst into tears. It's really hard to present something for judging that you'd rather just throw on the floor and jump on, and she sobbed that she was sorry she lost it for us, and that it was okay if I fired her. I hugged her and said, "You did the best you could and that was a mean trick to throw at us, and I am glad to be done and we can just go home and eat M&Ms." (Side note: I don't even like M&Ms all that much! No idea why I said that)

As it happened, the judges appreciated our artistic take on the hand painted Alex the Lion, rather than a bunch of fondant shapes cut out with cookie cutters, and we went on to win the episode!

Jackie, Kyra, and Cedric the Entertainer after the Champions Win!

TF:  What was the SCARIEST thing that happened?

Kyra:  Just being there the very first time and not knowing if the judges were going to spit out their cupcakes and tell me that it TASTED like it was gluten-free.

TF:  What was the most MADDENING thing that happened?

Kyra:  My very first time on, I was decorating a sheet pan of cupcakes right before we loaded them on the display in round 3: I spun the sheetpan and dropped the ENTIRE tray of 250 cupcakes on the floor. And I knew I was on camera, so I had to remind myself not to say a swear word and not to cry!

TF:  What was your FAVORITE moment of the entire experience?

Kyra:  WINNING! And then Winning again!

TF: Did you make lasting relationships from the show?

Kyra:  I still keep in touch with one of my producers (from the 3rd and 4th times I was on the show), and the gentleman who ultimately beat me in the all-star version, Cupcake Champions!

TF:   Who was the MOST interesting person you met on all 4 shows?

Kyra:  Candace Nelson fascinates me because she is such a smart business woman. And Florian is a giant teddybear (although I think he likes that people are a little afraid of his gruff exterior). And Kevin Vanderaa (the guy who edged me out of the competition during Champions) is a sweetheart and a gem.

TF:  You are a great competitor.  You came in 2nd on Cupcake Wars Champions after being first - TWICE.  That is pretty amazing.   Put that in perspective for us – from your point of view.  

Kyra:  My first time on Cupcake Wars, I was the runner up, after just getting out of the hospital, and after a long day of the judges raving about my baking. It was bittersweet to lose, but my competitor on the Holiday tree Lighting had a very elegant display that better suited what the judges were looking for.

My second appearance went much more smoothly, because I had a better idea of what the judges were looking for, and so I was better able to give it to them. That was The Closer episode, and I just kept on honing in on what the judges wanted to see to bring victory home on my 3rd appearance.


TF:  How did it feel when the judges loved your cupcakes? 

Kyra:  Incredibly validating! Especially since they have eaten thousands cupcakes, and I was competing against traditional all-purpose gluteny flour cupcakes!

TF:  What was the BEST compliment you received from the judges?

Kyra:  Florian said of my Dark Chocolate Delight cupcake “This cupcake is the perfect chocolate cupcake. I have eaten the whole thing!” (It was a dark chocolate cake filled with dark chocolate mousse, topped with dark chocolate Italian Meringue buttercream and a ganache drizzle)

Candace told me, “I think you’re a very inspirational It-Girl for gluten-free baking. These are just delicious!”

What could be better than that?


TF: What was the worst thing the judges said?

Kyra:  Well, I mentioned how Florian called me out on my overcooked Italian meringue on the Peppermint Hot Chocolate Cupcake: Candace didn’t think the ginger cream cheese frosting on the Chai Spice cupcake tasted gingery enough, but that’s a simple fix!

Europe's Most Wanted Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes

TF:  How did the judging/judges for the Cupcake Champions Finale differ from the first show?

Kyra:  By my 3rd and 4th appearance for Cupcake Champions, the judges acknowledged that as we were the best of the best, they were going to be more exacting and looking to be dazzled. I knew I had to pull out all the stops with both, my cupcake flavors AND the decorations, and so I filled every cupcake and layered the flavors and components and made all edible decorations for each cupcake.

I was told that no one had attempted such complicated components and pulled it off successfully—until me!

TF:  That is pretty incredible, Kyra.  Tell us something else that nobody knows about behind the scenes at Cupcake wars… that you are allowed to, anyway!

Kyra:  Some of the assistants have never baked before! That was a mini-challenge to hurdle.

TF: Seriously!  That must have been a challenge, indeed!  How has your life changed since this has happened?

Kyra:  Well, because of my first appearance on Cupcake Wars, I was interviewed for “Gluten-Free Living” Magazine, where I was featured alongside two gluten-free bakers who have written cookbooks for TenSpeed Press (an imprint of Random House). The editor was following up on her authors and saw my portion of the interview and contacted me, so that’s how I got the book deal, without having to get an agent. And the outpouring of support from gluten-free people across the country and shipping orders all over gave me the momentum to open a retail store. I feel very blessed that I’ve been able to do what I love day in and day out, and I attribute a lot of that to Cupcake Wars.

TF: What’s next for you, Kyra?  Anything new coming up?

Kyra: I’ve been finalizing edits of my cookbook, set to be released late next summer. I’m very excited to see it finished (I’ve been working on it for nearly 2 ½ years, testing and re-testing all the recipes to make sure they’re foolproof). I’m also working on a new website, where I’ll debut different sorts of recipes, all of them gluten-free and many dairy-free or grain-free, and I’m also working on getting a few of my gluten-free and dairy-free cupcake mixes packaged and to market!


TF: If you could some up your experience in one sentence – or one word – what would that be?

Kyra:  WOO HOO!


Watch Clips from the Episodes

December 2010 Cupcake Wars "Holiday Tree Lighting" runner up
December 2011 Cupcake Wars "The Closer 100th Episode" WINNER!
May 2012 Cupcake Champions "Madagascar 3 Premier" WINNER!
June 2012 Cupcake Champions "Finale" runner up


More About Kyra

Kyra Bussanich is the owner of Crave Bake Shop, and the first gluten-free winner of the Food Network's Famed, "Cupcakes Wars".  Kyra graduated with honors from the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu patisserie program, which gave her a solid foundation of knowledge about classical French baking techniques which she was able to apply toward baking gluten-free.  Kyra was diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder when she was 20 years old. Part of staying healthy meant switching to a gluten-free diet, avoiding all wheat and overly processed foods. Whenever possible, she uses local ingredients, and serves customers with multiple allergies, as well.



About the Interviewer, Elisabeth Veltman

Writer, owner of Blue Pearl Strategies, and lover of all culinary delights, Elisabeth is a Tender Foodie. She started The Tender Palate, a website for foodies with food allergies where she consults with experts from every area of the Tender Foodie life. She believes that everyone should live deliciously and have a healthy seat at the table. Find her at


REVIEW: Crave Bake Shop (Let's move to Oregon)



The Box Arrives

When I interviewed Kyra Bussanich, the owner of Crave Gluten Free Bake Shop, I laughed when she said that her shipping boxes were tightly wrapped and covered with bright orange "fragile" stickers.  But she wasn't kidding.  My box arrived like it was going to war.  But when I opened it, a few tasty little friends were happily looking up at me from their crisp white bakery box.  Unbroken.  Unharmed.  Waiting to be devoured.

Those little friends were called Peanut Butter Ring Ding Swiss Rolls and Grasshopper Mint Brownies.  My inner kid was clapping. 

Last December, Kyra and I discussed the bake shop's process to prevent cross contamination.  Kyra knows what she is doing.  There is no spelt, rye, wheat, triticale in the bakery.  She sources from tested gluten-free manufacturers.  I had also sent her my allergen list, so I was confident that these treats would be safe for me to eat. As I speak to more restaurant and bakery owners, I"m finding that when the owner of a foodie establishment has serious food restrictions themselves, they tend to be much more knowledgeable about food allergy practices.


 Peanut Butter Ring Dings

Peanut Butter Ring Dings (forefront); Grasshopper Mint Brownie (back)

I tried the Peanut Butter Ring Dings first, partly because brownies are my favorite food of all time (wait.... no, they are pretty much my favorite food of all time) and I wanted to save them for last.  I also enlisted a few non-food-allergic taste testers:  my mom and my friend Val.  Kyra was the first gluten-free baker to ever win Cupcake Wars, so this tasting responsibility was not to be done alone. 

My mom took the first bite and exclaimed, "Oh these are amazing!  These are gluten-free?"  When I replied yes, she had another question, "Where are these from?"  When I responded with "Oregon", she said with finality, "Oh, we are moving to Oregon." 

What I appreciated most about the ring ding was that the cake was really light and fluffy.  Even with the advances in gluten-free baking lately, these are two rare qualities in a gluten-free cake. 

The cake and filling had also retained their moisture, even though the intended arrival was a day late (thanks Postmaster).  The hard chocolate shells that surrounded each ring ding may have had something to do with that.  The peanut butter, dairy-free "cream" was also light and the peanut butter taste was surprisingly delicate.  I'm not used to peanut butter anything being delicate, and I liked it.  The chocolate shell, however, was a little too thick to let you truly recognize the lightness of the cake and filling, so I removed half of the chocolate shell.  When I did so, I could better appreciate the talent that went into the cake and the filling. Please note that this is more of an observation rather than a complaint.  The peanut butter ring dings are delish.

I saved a second set of treats for the next day.  They were still surprisingly fresh.   I asked my friend Val stop by to get another opinion.  She grew up with a celiac sister, so she has tasted many a gluten-free item, plus her taste buds are accustomed to wheat.   I left off part of the shell for her first bite and she started raving and repeating the, "This is really gluten-free?" question over and over.   Then she said, "Hey, where's the rest of the chocolate?  Hand it over.  That's mine."  The ring ding, plus complete chocolate coating, was her favorite.


Grasshopper Mint Brownies

 Grasshopper Mint Brownie

I have been searching for the world's best brownie ever since I popped forth from the womb.  For nearly 10 years, I had also made it my mission to find the best 2 am. grilled cheese and bacon sandwich in Manhattan.  With the onset of my allergies I've had to give up one search (seriously, a gluten-free, dairy-free grilled cheese is possible?), but not my quest for the best brownie. 

Wheatless or not, my standards remain high.  I still want the perfect mix of chewy, moist and only slightly cakey.  I still want the chocolate to have depth and a nice finish.  Yes, I'm serious.  Chocolate is like wine.  You don't want your brownie to leave you hanging.

I've tasted some very good gluten-free brownies within the last decade.  BabyCakes Bakery in New York City serves a lovely brownie bite.  My own brownie tart recipe, though quite rich, is one of my favorites, too.  Until now.

Crave makes the best brownies I've ever tasted.  The texture of the brownie itself was heavenly.  Chewy, moist, just a hint of  cakey - all there.  The mint "cream" was a nice surprise.  At first, I was unsure.  There was a lot of it and I wanted just a little more brownie.  So I tried the brownie alone.  Perfect.   I tried the mint cream alone and I was amazed at the perfect balance of fresh mint flavor.  I absolutely loved the two layers together.   I wanted more.  Usually mint flavored baked goods have a rather fake taste to them, which I find offputting.  Crave's mint, however, was fresh and satisfying.  I miss that grasshopper mint brownie. 

In fact, my annual birthday brownies are coming from Crave this year, and I"m going to order a bunch. 


Find Crave


PHONE: 503.212.2979 | FAX: 503.212.2978


HOURS: TUE-FRI 8am - 5pm, SAT 8am - 4pm

 Full length view: Grasshopper Mint Brownie




My Chat with Crave – First Gluten-free Bakery to Win "Cupcake Wars"

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.  

 Pictured: Jackie, Kyra Bussanich, Kyra Sedgwick. The episode let Kyra have a chance to cater a Hollywood party on the set of "The Closer" starring Emmy award winning 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

Custom Birthday CakeKyra 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

Wedding CakeWhenever 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

Kyra Bussanich, Owner and Creator of Crave Bake ShopI 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

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!

Find Crave


PHONE: 503.212.2979 | FAX: 503.212.2978


HOURS: TUE-FRI 8am - 5pm, SAT 8am - 4pm