It all started with a promise over dinner and drinks. A baking novice offered to create hundreds of cupcakes for her friends’ upcoming wedding. Forget the fact she’d never baked a cupcake in her life.
Who knew that personal challenge seven years ago would lead to worldwide fans, international media attention and a dream job that allows this talented mom to find the perfect balance between family and career? Today, Stefani Pollack and her blog, Cupcake Project, have become the go-to resource for amateur and professional bakers. With every scoop, stir and sprinkle, Pollack is encouraging readers to ditch the box mix and discover their creativity in the kitchen.
The start of something big
In 2006, Pollack, then a corporate technical training consultant, had nine months to research and master the perfect cupcake for her friends’ wedding. “I definitely wasn’t a baking expert,” she admitted. “I did it periodically – for a party, I might have made something. But it definitely wasn’t ‘yay, Stef’s bringing the baked goods.’ I wasn’t known for my baking.”
Yet, Pollack was up for the task. She began chronicling her cupcake journey through her blog – www.cupcakeproject.com – posting recipes along with the techniques she learned through her experiences. As the weeks until the wedding wound down, her readership began skyrocketing. Readers were not only curious how the big day would turn out, they were learning easy-to-follow tips from someone who was just like them.
Pollack’s wedding cupcakes were a success, yet she decided to keep the project going. Since Cupcake Project launched, she’s added more than 200 cupcake recipes to her repertoire, branched out to different desserts and beverages, and began writing for other food websites and magazines, including Paula Deen Online and Parade.
Most important, Cupcake Project has given Pollack the ability to leave the corporate world and follow a dream she never knew she had. Pollack works alongside her husband, Jonathon, a photographer, at home and can devote more time to her four-year-old son.
“The best part of this whole thing is because of our jobs, we’re able to be at home with our child as much as we can at this important age in his life.”
From idea to masterpiece
Pollack finds inspiration for her dessert creations in every aspect of her life. Once she has an idea of what she wants to bake, she starts developing her recipe. If it’s something similar to what she’s done in the past, she’ll build off her basic cupcake recipe to tweak ingredients and discover new flavor combinations.
For desserts or other delicacies she’s never tried before, such as her most recent dark chocolate fortune cookies, she’ll research different recipes to find out what works and what doesn’t before constructing a recipe of her of her own, giving it her own flavor and presentation twists.
It’s this hands-on discovery that has helped her ingenuity flourish. “One of my favorite things to make is something you would normally buy in a store. When I make it the first time, it’s so exciting to me – things like fortune cookies, homemade jelly beans, DIY Oreo Cookies and Lucky Charms. Figuring out to create a store-bought product at home is so exciting.”
By experimenting, Pollack has been able to craft cupcakes, frostings and desserts from the standard birthday variety to unique, one-of-a-kind creations that sound strange, but are actually delicious. Her savory Buffalo Chicken Cupcake in 2012 received notoriety in the national media and caused her web site traffic to explode. She’s also gained attention for her Pickle and Ice Cream Cupcake and her Cupcakewurst (a cupcake grilled in a sausage casing served up on a Long John “bun” with raspberry “ketchup”).
Yet, it’s her Ultimate Vanilla and Ultimate Chocolate Cupcake recipes that keep people coming back again and again.
Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake
“With the ultimate vanilla recipe, I had the blog for years. People wrote me all the time, wanting a basic vanilla recipe. I didn’t have one – it was almost embarrassing. I couldn’t recommend just a basic recipe. I had to come up with the best vanilla recipe there ever was. I couldn’t just say it was the best, everyone had to agree.”
Hundreds of reader leapt at the chance to assist, an experience Pollack calls, “Her most amazing moment – so humbling.” Eventually, 50 readers, both new bakers and professional chefs, tried their hands at helping Pollack develop the cupcake, sending reviews back and forth until more than 60 percent declared it the best they ever had. The next year, Cupcake Project readers did the same to uncover the Ultimate Chocolate recipe.
From a project to a dream job
Pollack’s blog has been just the beginning of this working mom’s ever-growing business. In addition to contributing to other publications, Pollack was one of the founders of St. Louis’ inaugural Food Media Forum in August 2013. She has taught baking classes at Kitchen Conservatory and will host a class at Dierbergs School of Cooking coming up this June. She is also highly sought after for speaking events to encourage women, including moms, to follow their dreams.
As impressive as her achievements have been, Pollack’s main focus is to encourage readers to discover their inner baker and let go of inhibitions in the kitchen.
“People have a fear of baking, but baking doesn’t have to be perfect,” she explained. “We can’t be so hard on ourselves. We need to remember it’s dessert, and dessert is always good. If you make a cupcake and it sinks a little, that’s just a hole to put more frosting in. People aren’t going to complain about dessert!”
Photos courtesy J. Pollack Photography
Metro East mom Nicole Plegge has written for STL Parent for more than 12 years. Besides working as a freelance writer & public relations specialist, and raising two daughters and a husband, Nicole's greatest achievements are finding her misplaced car keys each day and managing to leave the house in a stain-free shirt. Her biggest regret is never being accepted to the Eastland School for Girls. Follow Nicole on Twitter @STLWriterinIL
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