SHUTESBURY — Veteran cookbook author Dede Wilson, who describes herself as “5-foot-1 on a good day,” is making the most of equally diminutive kitchen prep space. Her baking station has been successively pressed into service for an angel food cake, a panforte, a white hot-chocolate project, and a batch of brown-butter milk-chocolate chunk cookies. Around the corner, a miniature studio under bright lights holds the finished confections. Just beyond, stacks of linens, shelves of props, and a candy apple-red KitchenAid mixer await capture by intern Peter Muka’s camera.
The reason for all this flour-based activity is Wilson’s website, Bakepedia.com, a free hub for original recipes, baking tips, photographs, and information. In 2011, Wilson (whose first name is pronounced DayDay) had been debating where to go next with her food career when the name Bakepedia popped into her head. “I literally felt like something physically hit my head,” she says. The Internet in this semi-rural town near the Five Colleges was on the blink. So she phoned a domain registry to get the name.
What the site would eventually turn into was less clear at that point. Over the course of 28 years, Wilson, 52, had bluffed her way into a first pastry-chef job by answering “yes” when asked if she made her own puff pastry (she learned the next day), developed demonstration recipes for Whole Foods, started a bakery, made wedding cakes, went on to book publishing (the Baker’s Field Guide series), and worked as a TV cooking show host and a contributing editor for Bon Appetit magazine. But for Wilson the idea of establishing an interactive Web presence was new.
The baker knew that Bakepedia.com would not be a link to her own site. She thought it could be something bigger. “In 2012, I started serious research and discovered there was no leading resource for bakers. If you wanted a recipe for pumpkin pie, for example, some 10 sites would come up. There was nothing like Allrecipes.com for desserts.” Yet, Wilson discovered, about 25 percent of all traffic for recipe sites is for desserts and baking. Millions of people were searching for confections, but, as Wilson was learning, “most people’s experience with online baking was that it’s unreliable.”
Wilson trademarked a slogan: “Bakepedia, the baker’s resource.” But it was another matter to attract funding. Despite her track record elsewhere in the industry, and despite having a vision for the product she wanted to create, potential funders wanted her to launch before offering backing. The idea she owned, she decided, was “worth nothing.” She began to build.
A local organization, Valley Venture Mentors, devoted to helping establish digital startups, gave her a crash course in website development. Over a year, Wilson assembled a team of five (including cookbook author Lauren Chattman) to assist with content, marketing, photography, and development. She took offices in the Food Loft, the food startup collaborative space in the South End), while continuing to test and develop recipes at home in Franklin County.
Currently in beta, Bakepedia offers the rudiments of an ambitious architecture, which will eventually include MP3 audio, video, articles on tips and techniques, recipes, links to purchases, author interviews, and a glossary. A glimpse of that interconnected experience appears in Wilson’s recipe for Concord grape pie, currently live on the site. The recipe calls for cornstarch slurry and egg wash; click on either phrase and a link takes you to explanations of those techniques. At the moment, the site features 110 recipes and about 300 non-recipe content entries.
Next up will be an array of features, including one in which users can register, upload their own recipes, rate, and comment. Recipes that Wilson’s team has tested will have a Bakepedia “stamp of approval” logo, a way of telegraphing the reliability, in such short supply on the Web. Down the line, Wilson hopes the site will have a strong user community. “I take a very democratic approach to baking. I don’t ever want there to be a snobbery about that. If you use a mix and you don’t have time, we want to be there for you.”
In a year, Wilson hopes to link recipes with audio, video, tips and tricks, and encyclopedic content. “Wherever you enter, it gives you success in the kitchen.” At the moment, the work of building the site is a shifting, but aromatic, process. The panforte and white hot-chocolate will be gone by tomorrow, transformed into virtual property. The angel food cake is both a recipe and a backdrop for the comb-like angel food cutter to be featured in the site’s equipment section; the recipe will come out later. And the cookies will be shared by everyone on the premises.
Whether Bakepedia has bitten off more than it can chew remains to be seen. For now, Wilson and her team will continue working toward satisfying a readership which, it seems, is always hungry for cakes, cookies, bars, pies, and more.
T. Susan Chang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.