How do you start a baking blog if you are neither a baker nor a writer? Few people would even consider such a proposition, but for Stefanie Pollack it was a challenge. She had agreed, without any baking experience, to make 250 cupcakes for her friend's wedding.
As you might imagine, she rose to the occasion. There were a few blips along the way, but she'd managed to make and display all those cupcakes.
Stef started Cupcake Project in 2007, and has been posting her recipes ever since. As I write this, she is at 996 posts, so should be hitting the vaunted 1,000 mark sometime next week. Congratulations in advance!
For most bloggers, that first year is tough. But Stef learned plenty. Yet her most important lesson is what propelled her forward. "I realized that people other than my friends and family were interested in reading my blog," she says. "I never really expected that."
Blogging in 2007 was quite a different animal than blogging in 2015. Twitter was still in its early days, far from the promotional tool it has become. Facebook, too, wasn't quite a marketing machine. Pinterest didn't exist. So how did she get Cupcake Project off the ground?
"I worked hard on my search engine optimization so that people could find my blog using Google. I would also comment on other baking blogs (there weren't nearly so many back then) and share my posts on Tastespotting."
Still, it took plenty of work before she was comfortable quitting her day job to become a full-time blogger: two and a half years since launch. Patience appears to be a common theme among our Sweetest Bloggers. Few, if any, food blogs are overnight successes.
Even after going full-time, she waited even longer, almost another three years, for her first real viral hit: Buffalo Chicken Cupcakes for the Super Bowl. Seriously, give that one a look. She even offers an FAQ — because a recipe as peculiar as Buffalo Chicken Cupcakes will certainly raise some questions. The post was shared more than 6,700 times on Facebook and was Pinned another 15,000 times.
Yet her most-shard post shatters those numbers — and it was actually posted before the Buffalo Chicken Cupcakes. Her Easter Egg Cupcakes Baked in Real Egg Shells has been shared on Facebook nearly 11,000 times, while it has been pinned over 60,000 times. "I think it's because they are so unique and adorable," she says.
As you might have guessed by this point, Stef doesn't bake just any old cupcakes. Her recipes veer off the beaten path. "I'm not afraid to take culinary risks," she says. "If I bake something and half of the people who see it say, ‘Gross!', I'm OK with that. For example, I baked cupcakewurst (cupcakes baked in sausage casings). I was super proud of the creation and it received a bunch of press, but it was highly polarizing to my readers. People turn to my blog for extreme creativity."
It was quite a challenge for Stef to learn both blogging and baking at the same time. Of the two, "Blogging is more challenging," she says. "It is so multi-faceted and the rules change just when you think you have something figured out. Blogging is not so much a learning curve as a learning ladder." Later she added, "I cringe when I look at some of my older posts."
Through the years Stef has become part of the food blog community. She's planned conferences, and appreciates every food blogger. "Every food blogger, newbie or veteran, inspires me. Each blogger is out there sharing their love of food with the world. I learn from every blog I visit!"
If you're a newbie who wants to start a new food blog, listen up. "I always tell people to just start posting," Stef says. "Many new bloggers obsess about the look and feel of their site and how they are going to promote it. I suggest starting with lots and lots of great content and going from there."
Yet you do have to promote, and Stef understands that. How much time does she spend on social media every day? "To give you an idea, I probably checked Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest six times while I completed this interview."
Like the state of blogging, the state of social media has changed as well in Stef's time as a blogger. "Facebook has changed their algorithm and now only 200 of my 35,000 followers will see some of my posts. It's been tough to accept that I can no longer depend on Facebook as way to get the word out about my posts. Now, Pinterest is my best social network. My husband is a professional photographer so I'm lucky to have amazing photos that really shine there."
So what does Stef consider the most rewarding aspect of being a food blogger?
"I love that my husband and I get to work from home together and that we can be there to spend time with our five year old. Working for myself is not easy (I can be a tough boss sometimes), but I wouldn't trade it for anything!"
Many thanks to Stef for being our third Sweetest Blogger for February. Make sure to check out Cupcake Project.
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