Going Gluten-FreeSeptember 24, 2014

Secrets From a Three-time Winner of Cupcake Wars

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Posted by Erica Dermer


The Gluten Free Food Allergy Fest from Gluten Free and More magazine are more than just expos full of yummy and safe treats. Every fest, there are several sessions of cooking demonstrations and educational lectures throughout each day by those in the top of their field. However, I understand that getting to one of these fests is not always geographically feasible. I’m hoping to get you some of the information learned at the lectures and demos directly to you in a post and an additional link to watch the session on YouTube.

The second in this series is from Kyra Bussanich, founder and head baker at Kyra’s Bake Shop in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Her demonstration featured a recipe for grapefruit chiffon cake – made both dairy-free and gluten-free. During the demo, she also revealed how she got onto TV’s Cupcake Wars and why she went gluten-free in the first place.

So why gluten free in a world full of gluten? Kyra was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease – an inflammatory bowel disease and a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract. She was in the hospital more times than she could count and wasn’t living the life she had planned – afraid that any time she stepped out of the house she’d be sick. While her doctor didn’t think that a gluten-free diet would do much for her Crohn’s, she started the diet anyways. Within three days she improved and just kept improving after each day gluten-free.

Now that she could actually live her life, she went to pastry school and studied with top chefs. Although she had made a wedding cake before in pastry school, when she made a gluten-free wedding cake for a friend, she realized that her stuff stood up to the gluten-full competitors. Guests at the wedding came up to her and asked, “That was delicious, I hear you also make gluten-free stuff too?” To their surprise, Kyra told the guests that the cake they were eating was gluten free!

Because she had this massive talent for baking gluten free, her friends (and her husband) bugged her to go on shows like Cupcake Wars. After watching an episode where someone tried to stealthily hide the secret ingredient, Kyra yelled at the TV with creative ideas to actually showcase the secret ingredient. Her genius seemed to the final straw, and eventually she got up the nerve to just do apply. Kyra received a call from the casting director practically immediately. She had big dreams of opening up a brick and mortar shop if she won, and we’re all thankful that she did – three times over.

Her Cupcake Wars appearance paid off. Within minutes of the airing of her on the first Cupcake Wars, she had a thousand orders in email inbox. Since then, she’s been on Cupcake Wars five times – 2 times as the runner-up and 3 times as a winner. And yes, all of these were against regular gluten-full bakers. Since then, she’s used the creativity the used on the show for fun and creativity in her own bakery, pushing her own limits on flavors and styles.

During the Gluten Free Food Allergy Fest, Kyra adapted a vanilla chiffon cake from Sweet Cravings – found on page 77 of her newest book out now and available on Amazon.com. However, instead of blackberries, this demo was for a dairy-free and gluten-free grapefruit chiffon cake – perfectly light since Portland was facing a heatwave with Gluten Free Food Allergy Fest hit town.


Here are some tips from her presentation:

  • When it comes to meringue  – don’t over whip the whites! It’s better to whip at room temp (you’ll get 3x the volume that way). However, it’s better to separate the whites from the yolk when the eggs are still cold. By following this tip, you’ll end up with a light and fluffy product.
  • Another pro tip – add two tablespoons of granulated sugar in the tube pan along with a gluten-free spray, as it will help you get the cake out of the pan.
  • It’s better to under bake your cake and then check for doneness. You can always bake it longer, but it’s really hard to recover after over baking a cake.
  • To make a glaze that would be perfect for a grapefruit cake, you can infuse some lemon or orange zest into the sugar to make the citrus flavors pop.
  • Use a toothpick to check for doneness, and look for a toothpick that comes out clean or with a little crumbs, not wetness.

PS During the video, she also tells some of her stories from Cupcake Wars, like her sharing that boiling tamarind smells like vomit!


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