Rosanna Pansino does a lot of baking. The YouTube star, who has over 8 million subscribers, puts out one of her pop culture-inspired "Nerdy Nummies" recipes every week along with other videos on her channel, and that means a lot of time spent in developing, testing, baking and shooting in her kitchen. We spoke with Pansino about what makes a Nerdy Nummies-worthy goody, how she turned baking into online video stardom, her new line of appropriately geeky gear for bakers and the one item in her kitchen she absolutely loves.
Food & Wine: What makes a good pop culture object to inspire a cookie or cupcake or other treat?
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Rosanna Pansino: Whatever gets me the most excited. When I’m playing a new video game or I’m watching a new film or I’ve seen a screener and I notice an iconic food from the game, if it gets me super excited like a level ten I’m like ‘oh we’ve got to do this! I hope other people are requesting this, I hope we’re on the same page,” and if my community is, then we make it happen.
F&W: Your first video was almost six years ago, what have you learned in that time that could be applicable to people wanting to get their content online?
RP: Start with whatever you have. When I made my first baking video, that Mario star cake you’re talking about, I had a Flip camera. An $80 Flip camera that I got at Target, and I think the highest quality I uploaded at was 720 which is not the standard norm anymore. So whatever you’re starting with is good. You pick a starting place and then you just grow slowly. And I’m all about slow growth. It doesn’t seem like that sometimes when you look at the numbers, they seem so surreal and so large. But I’ve always had this slow and steady mindset so for me the evolution of the channel and the content has felt really gradual.
We’ve got better equipment over the years, better cameras, better lighting. You don’t want to use those orange, soft lights. Those are not the way to go, just avoid those completely.
F&W: That’s good advice even just for Instagramming.
RP: Yeah, daylight light is the best light. And even the food-wise you’ll see that first video I did I made a recipe using a box cake. I did this because I really wanted to focus on decorating. And I said you could use any cake recipe you like. I also didn’t want to alienate people.
But as time when on, the community asked for unique recipes. So I started to recipe develop, that was the first time I took my family recipes, my mom’s recipes and added my own twist into them.
F&W: When would you say it’s okay to cheat with a box recipe or when would you want more control of what you’re putting into it?
RP: Food allergies, that’s when you’d want a lot of control over what you’re putting in. But I have been seeing in Whole Foods cake mixes for people with food allergies. Or if you’re craving something specific, like if you have a particular hankering for something. But I think making things from scratch is just so thoughtful. It’s one of the best gifts you can give. That is the real deal. That is some love.
F&W: When you’re trying to recreate oddly shaped things, does that affect when you’d want to control how dense a cake is going to be versus a standard recipe?
RP: Absolutely, and there’s so many things we’ve made where I’ve had to MacGyver every part of it.
F&W: What’s the one item in your kitchen you cannot live without?
RP: My electric hand mixer from KitchenAid ($32). It’s powerful and quiet. I’ve had other mixers that were way too loud like a leaf blower or a hair dryer. I like it versus a stand mixer ($180+ dollars) because I can still feel texture when a dough comes together or when a meringue is the texture it’s supposed to be. I got mixing bowls from Cost Plus World Market that I love [too] with silicone on the bottom so they don’t slip around.
F&W: You’ve got a new line of silicone molds coming out with Wilton. When you would want a silicone pan versus a traditional metal pan?
RP: Well with cake pans, there’s nothing that bakes better than an aluminum cake pan. It just keeps your heat even, bakes cake perfectly, but a lot of people I know use nonstick, which is still a great metal, it’s durable, it’s the kind you can throw in the dishwasher. Aluminum is more finicky, you have to hand wash it. But I like the silicone molds for a lot of things, they’re so versatile.
The reason I fell in love with silicone molds is… I like tools you can use for many different things. The many things you can make with silicone molds are mini cakes, mini brownies, mini cookies. You can make mini cheesecakes in these. These are heat safe up to 500 degrees. You can make candies and chocolates. And non-foods. You can make little handmade gifts like crayons, you remelt them, and bath bombs.
F&W: Do you treat them with anything when you bake with them?
RP: Just spray them. Grease them with butter or a baking spray.
Rosanna’s “Ro” line of molds and other baking accessories by Wilton will be available later this summer and come in 8 bit and 16 bit hearts, tiny dinosaurs, hearts and Smart Cookie logos, gems, and poops—or “swirls” if you prefer—which is the first time the popular emoji is available in three glorious dimensions. Her New York Times bestseller “The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook: Sweet Treats for the Geek in All of Us” is available now.