SUSPENCE NOVEL OR COOKBOOK?
I had always dreamed of one day writing a book. Of course, when I was younger, long before I became a pastry chef, I thought I would simply turn one of my vividly crazy dreams into a suspense novel. I even sketched an outline and wrote a few pages for the particular dream I had in mind (a case of identical twins, and a horrible accident that left one dead and the other to unwittingly claim his brother's identity), but life got in the way and I was too busy with my hobbies, and then dating my now-husband to put my effort into the novel.
After I became a pastry chef and opened my gluten-free bake shop, putting together a cookbook seemed like a no-brainer. Afterall, each of my recipes is original, and when I develop them, I also compile them alphabetically in order to find and recreate them for my shop. Plus, based upon my lackluster experiences with the gluten-free pastries available on the market (when I first went gluten-free eight years ago and before I started baking), it seemed that there was definitely a need for a cookbook full of gluten-free desserts that you could proudly serve to gluten-eaters.
So much of what was on the market was dry, crumbly, and tasted like overly-sweetened sawdust (which is probably why gluten-eaters are still hesitant to taste gluten-free pastries for the first time). But this didn't really become my focus until I wowed the judges on "Cupcake Wars."
The cookbook manuscript!
THE GIFT OF CUPCAKE WARS
Award Winning African Yam Cupcakes - got the win on Cupcake Wars!
When I first appeared on the Food Network's "Cupcake Wars" in 2010, I was the first gluten-free baker they had ever had on the show. I had been told by many people that my cupcakes were better than anything else out there (gluten-free or NOT), so I was hopeful that the judges on the show would feel the same way. And once Candace Nelson and Florian Bellanger raved about the "moist, light, tender crumb" and the "flawlessly executed flavor," the phone started ringing off the hook. Ten minutes into the east coast premiere of the show.
By the time the show had aired on the west coast, I had more than a thousand emails in my inbox. Some people just wanted to thank me for showing the world that gluten-free can be absolutely delicious. Some folks wanted to share their story about their diagnosis or their struggle to find delicious gluten-free pastries. Most wanted to place an order for cupcakes or cinnamon rolls, and overnight, I had to figure out how to adequately ship! It was a steep learning curve (and I realized that no matter how many bright orange "FRAGILE" stickers you slap on a box, the ungentle hands of the delivery system don't necessarily heed them).
Four days after the show aired for the first time, I received a phone call from an editor at "Gluten-Free Living" magazine. Kendall told me that she usually catches a few minutes of whatever is on the Food Network as she's unwinding from her day. She often falls asleep to the station. This particular day, however, she heard mention of "gluten-free cupcakes" and sat up straight. Kendall told me it was the first full episode she had seen, and even though I ultimately came in runner up (losing to Brenda's very sleek and elegant sleigh display in the final round), Kendall was impressed. In our phone call, she mentioned that I had inspired the idea of an article called "Cupcakes Coast to Coast," and asked if I would be willing to be interviewed. I welcomed the idea, mostly because I have long felt like an ambassador for the gluten-free world, wanting to show people a little that gluten-free can be delicious. And it can be the start of a vibrant and healthy life.
MORE THAN CUPCAKES, JUST AWESOME GLUTEN-FREE DESSERTS
I happened to be featured in the article next to some very well-known and high-profile gluten-free bakers. In particular, Elana Amsterdam (from Elana's Kitchen and author of "The Almond Flour Cookbook") and Erin McKenna (owner of Babycakes Bakery in NYC and LA), both of whom have cookbooks published by Ten Speed Press (an imprint of Random House). In the article, I mentioned that I was compiling a cookbook of gluten-free desserts, not just cupcakes, but also including tiramisu, cannoli, muffins, scones, cakes, pies, tarts and cookies. My cookbook isn't vegan, and it isn't grain-free/paleo/primal. It is simply awesome desserts and pastries that just happen to be made with gluten-free ingredients. Apparently, my Ten Speed editor Lisa Westmoreland was following up on the two published authors and liked what I had to say in my interview. She sent me an email, opening the dialog to begin working together.
DECISIONS, LUCK, & MORE DECISIONS
Raspberry Linzertorte Bars (Chapter 4)
Now, let me be frank. I hadn't considered trying to hook up with an established publishing house, mostly because, from what I hear, editors don't really look at authors unless those authors have an agent. At the time, I was still agentless. And agents prefer to only take on clients who have a proven track record for being able to make things happen. So it's difficult to land an agent without already having published, and it's difficult to get interest from an editor unless you have an agent. I happened to get lucky and be in the right place at the right time. But Lisa was very nice, and walked me through the process of writing a proposal (54 pages long!) about exactly what my book would cover. And my mentor Laura B Russell (another Ten Speed author) has published many books and coached me on what to include in my proposal.
THE HARD WORK TO MAKE IT EASY - FOR EVERYONE
Classic Cream Puffs
It took me 3 months to write and polish that proposal (submitted July 4th, 2011), and even though I had most of the recipes written at that point, it took me another 11 months to write the manuscript and have non-pastry chefs (teenagers, men, and cooks who adamantly stay away from baking) repeatedly test out each recipe. I wanted them to be as straightforward as possible, making it as easy to replicate my results as can be. Each recipe of the 7 chapters is marked according to ease of preparation ("Easy" for the things ANYONE could follow, even if they only skim over the directions; "Intermediate" for the recipes that have a few more steps and require you to slow down a bit; "Advanced" for techniques that are very familiar to professional pastry chefs but may be a little more intimidating for home bakers). Mostly, I want this book to be accessible. It can be intimidating to bake gluten-free, especially if you're new to the different flours and ingredients. I wanted to simplify this as much as possible. Each recipe is given in the traditional volume measurements that most home bakers are familiar with (such as ⅓ cup, 2 tablespoons), but since it is always more accurate to measure by weight, I also give the weights in grams. This way, someone in Australia who is used to the metric system could still use these recipes. A home baker here in the States who happens to be allergic to millet flour would know exactly how much of an alternative ingredient to substitute (because a cup of say, tapioca starch or sweet white right flour does NOT equal a cup of millet flour).
FINAL MANUSCRIPT & BOOK TOUR!
I turned in the "final" version of my manuscript on June 30th, 2012 (just days after my fourth appearance on "Cupcake Wars"). There is still some fine-tuning and polishing that I'm doing, and just last week, we re-shot a few of the photos for recipes in the book. I am very visual, and I only buy cookbooks with gorgeous photography of edible and delectable looking dishes, so I want the photos in my book to look as inviting as possible. I am very proud to say that "Sweet Cravings" will come out on September 10th, and though I don't yet know details, there WILL be a book tour!
CAN YOU DO IT ALL?
My Gluten-free Sisters!
I've often been asked how in the world I managed to compete on Cupcake Wars so many times (with 2 wins!), run the bake shop, write the cookbook AND still have a personal life. The honest answer is that I haven't. My personal life was the first to go: I have let many friendships lapse, and date nights with my husband have gone by the wayside.
I have an amazing team of staff who keep the bake shop humming along (in particular, my managers Jackie Eizik, who was my assistant on Cupcake Wars, Jen Petersmark, Lisa Horness and Carly Sullivan). We bake 17 hours a day, beginning with a midnight shift, and thank goodness I no longer need to be present the entire time the shop is open. And the conferences are things that I probably shouldn't have time for, but I really enjoy. I have made some friends who feel like family and these expos are the only time we see eachother. It's a lot like summer camp friends who actually stay in touch. We bond over good food (and food we can ALL eat, as each and every one of us is gluten-intolerant), and email, text and talk during the months in between conferences. And though the show hours are long and grueling, knowing that I'll be having dinner with my sisters makes it all worth it.
SECRETS: ALMOST LOSING IT ALL
Being passionate about what you're doing makes it all worth it, but there are indeed sacrifices along the way. Most people don't know this, but in the very early days, before I had my retail location, my husband Jason was out of work and looking for his place to land. We couldn't keep the mortgage with the paycheck from my restaurant job and we wiped out our savings and my 401K trying. Eventually, we decided to put what little money we had left into the bake shop and while we were building the brick and mortar storefront, we lost the house that we had owned for 8 years, and had to move into Jason's dad's house. Every penny I earned from the business went back into the business.
THINGS GET BETTER!
My New Mixes!
Along the way, Jason found a great job, and eventually bought the practice. The bake shop was immediately busy and I scrambled to hire the right employees. I went back on "Cupcake Wars" (and again and again). My new line of gluten-free cake and cupcake mixes has come out, too! The mixes use the actual recipes that I won "Cupcake Wars" with: The Vanilla mix was used for the Spicy Peach Bellini, NY Cheesecake and the Coffee & Doughnuts cupcakes; the Snickerdoodle mix was used for the Chai Spice and Apple Fritter cupcakes; the Chocolate mix for Chocolate Hazelnut, the Dark Chocolate Delight and the Ding Dong cupcakes). And now my book!
I do have regrets along the way (if only I knew then what I know now!), but my job is never one of them. Everything that has happened has been for the best, and I am truly excited to see where things go from here!
Article Written by: Kyra Bussanich