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A blog about all things allergen-free and delicious

Entries in cupcakes (3)


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


Tasting the Vegan Cupcakes of Grand Rapids. Dairy-free, Egg-free, & a Gluten-free Surprise.


We once again welcome guest blogger, Audrey Depenbrok.  She and a group of taste testers had the "painful" job of eating their way through all of the dairy-free and egg-free cupcakes they could find in Grand Rapids!  Their favorite, of course, is at the end.  Thanks Audrey!


Preparing to Score

Cupcakes seem to be all the rage these days. However, if you are a vegan, or suffer from food allergies or intolerances, finding an enjoyable cupcake can be a challenge. Our group of tasty testers scoured the local cupcake scene to find a few bakers who are creating treats for we, the allergen-free, the Tender Foodies.

"We" were a group of taste testers whose ages ranged from 9 to 75 years old.  We conducted a taste test and came up with four of our favorites.  Each person graded each cupcake in four different categories (Taste, Texture, Appearance, and its Similarity to a "regular" cupcake).  We then gave each cupcake an overall score, all on a scale of 1-10, where 10 reached perfection.


Cupcake Group #1 - Bartertown serving Roc's Cupcakes

Roc's Cupcakes at Bartertown 

Bartertown is a recently opened vegan eatery located in downtown Grand Rapids. Their cupcakes are provided on a daily basis by Roc's Cupcakes. These cupcakes are vegan, so they are free of any dairy or egg product. They offer a variety of different flavors each day. 

On the particular day that our taste testers swarmed into Bartertown, we were pleased to see that they offered five different flavors. The offerings were; Chocolate, Vanilla, Apple Crumb Cake, Orange Blossom and Rosewater. 

Our favorite from this group was the chocolate cupcake. Which scored an 8. It had great taste, although it was slightly dry. The icing was very good, very creamy and sweet. This cupcake was more dense than a traditional cupcake might be.

The vanilla cupcake was also a favorite, scoring a 7.5. Its taste, however, was a bit like cornbread, and again had the same dense and dry texture that we found with the chocolate cupcake. 

We were very excited to try both the Orange Blossom and the Rosewater cupcakes - but we were disappointed with the flavor. Both cupcakes scored a 4. The rosewater cupcake was a bit overdone, and came off tasting soapy. While the orange blossom cupcake didn't seem to have enough flavor, and it didn't offer much in the citrus department. 

The apple cupcake was delicious, and had beautiful texture. But, each taster made a comment that it was more muffin-like, even more similar to a coffee cake than a cupcake. It scored an 8, even though it wasn't perfectly "cupcake-like".

All of the cupcakes from Bartertown were beautiful. Each was iced to perfection, with coordinating sprinkles or decorative sugar. 


Cupcake #2 - Little Pearl Cupcake


Little Pearl Cupcake, located on Northland Drive in Plainfield Township, recently began offering gluten free cupcakes and vegan cupcakes.


First, we tested out their Cinnamon and "Butter"Cream Vegan cupcake. They use Earth Balance spread in place of the butter in their icing. 

Cinnamon & "Butter"cream Vegan Cupcake at Little Pearl

These cupcakes had a nice texture, weren't too dry, and they looked great. We found this cupcake to have a slight cornbread flavor as well. The cake portion of the cupcake didn't offer much in the way of cinnamon flavor. The icing was topped with a heavy sprinkle of cinnamon, which is the main source of cinnamon flavor on this cupcake. 


This cupcake scored a 7.


LIttle Pearl also offered a Gluten Free variety, so we took a bite out of their Gluten-free Lime cupcake. 


Gluten-free Lime Cupcake from Little Pearl


We found this cupcake to have a texture very similar to that of a regular cupcake. In fact,  many of our tasters commented that if they hadn't known it was gluten-free, they would have thought it was made with regular flour.

The taste however, left something to be desired. Nearly all of our tasters agreed that the lime flavoring seemed very artificial. The lime flavoiring did seem to please our 9-year old taster who said, "the flavor is very soothing".

The icing on this cupcake was very sweet. It also melted very quickly. I put these cupcakes into an already cool car, and drove them approximately two miles to the tasting location.  They were melted by the time I arrived. 

This cupcake scored a 6.


Cupcake Group #3 - Marie Catrib's 


Nestled in "The Center of the Universe" on the corner of Lake Drive and Diamond in Grand Rapids, Marie Catrib's offers a plethora of vegan and gluten free baked goods each day. 

Although there weren't any cupcakes available, we took a recommendation from the staff for two of their most popular cakes - which are also available as cupcakes from time to time. 

The Vegan Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate Cake.


 Vegan Chocolate, Chocolate Cake from Marie Catrib's - sometimes available in cupcake form

This chocolate cake was rich, moist and utterly delicious. A dark chocolate cake, with a "milk" chocolate icing and filling, and drizzled with a chocolate ganache. This cake could easily be passed off as it's dairy-laden counterpart. 

The Vegan Chocolate, Chocolate Cake scored a 9.


The second item we tasted from Marie Catrib's was the Vegan Carrot Cake, which is also available in cupcake form on certain days. 


 Vegan Carrot Cake from Marie Catrib's - on certain days, this presents as a cupcake, too.

The carrot cake was equally as good as the chocolate cake. Since this cake is vegan, the traditional cream cheese is missing. However, the icing is sweet and delicious and covered with toasted coconut that helps hide the fact that the icing is lacking cream cheese. 

The carrot cake scored a 9.


Cupcake #4 - Cakabakery 


Cakabakery, founded by J.T. Kakabaker in 2010, is a custom cake baker. Designing custom wedding and special occasion cakes and cupcakes. Cakabakery will attempt to meet any dietary need. 

Vegan Raspberry Lemondate Cupcake from The Cakabakery

From Cakabakery, we taste tested their vegan Raspberry Lemonade cupcakes. These cupcakes were a lemony cake, topped with a raspberry icing. The cake had pieces of candied lemon zest running through it, while the icing had bits of real raspberries. 

This was the unanimous favorite of our taste testers. Each agreed that the cake was beautifully moist, not too dense, and had a perfect balance of sweet and tart. You would never guess that this cupcake is dairy-free and egg-free. 

This cupcake scored  perfect 10. 


 Note from Elisabeth:  We will be contacting these bakers to ask if they would be willing to provide some information on their kitchen practices, so that highly allergice/ Super Tender Foodies will have more information regarding cross-contamination and baker knowledge.


Audrey Depenbrok is a Tender Foodie and a self proclaimed cake-aholic with an indecisive nature. She spends her days as a freelance non-profit consultant while taking care of her little boy, golden retriever and two cats.  You can find her tweeting away @mommy_kinz. 



Birthday BabyCakes in my Mailbox

When BabyCakes Bakery first came on the scene (or at least into my consciousness), I was about to move from my long-time home of New York City, so I didn't have the opportunity to try their phenomenal gluten-free baked goods made with organic, low glycemic and chemical-free ingredients.  But a dear friend came to visit me in Michigan 2 years ago with my then birthday wish in tow.  Gluten-free brownies from BabyCakes bakery.  We spent that May weekend in the famously historic Grand Rapids, Heritage Hill Area, then hiked the dunes at Saugatuck Dunes State Park, and then went to the Green Well Gastro Pub for a birthday dinner with friends.  For dessert, I pulled out those brownies that I saved (OK, I tried a few right away) to share as my birthday cake. The Green Well staff brought plates.  There may have been a candle.  Only one, mind you.

I was the only Tender Foodie at the table, and they were oohed and ahhed over by all.  Now, BabyCakes has three locations (New York, Los Angeles and Disneyworld) and they have two cookbooks.   Today, that same friend who brought towed my BabyCake treats onto the plane two years ago, just sent me both BabyCakes cookbooks.  I was so excited I simply had to tell you about it.

Its time to get baking.  And eating.  Birthdays aren't so bad when you get BabyCakes.