Sweet, Sweet, Cupcakes & Cookies

A recipe for success in the baking business.
Chocolate Trio with Walnuts: This cookie won a ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair three years in a row (2014-2016).

Marcia Ryan
Age: 53
Background: Grocery cashier and mother of four
Advice for new entrepreneurs: Know that you will have long hours in your day. Follow the opportunity that God has given you.

Some businesses emerge from complicated plans developed during months of research and organization, while others arise out of what seems scant planning, out of necessity or simply convenient timing. Two food- related business that have emerged of late in our area can be characterized by this second scenario. Marcia Ryan and Annette Gustafson both transformed a long-time passion for baking into successful businesses that surprise and delight their customers and the proprietors themselves.

The Cupcake Lady
One day, Marcia Ryan answered a voicemail that would change her life. The voice belonged to the mother of one her daughter’s friends. It said, “Marcia, I was wondering if you would like to make 600 mini cupcakes in seven different flavors for Courtney’s graduation on May 29?” Ryan returned the call, puzzled as to why she, a cashier at Cub Foods for the past 29 years, was being asked to become a baker. “I don’t even know how to start to make 600 cupcakes,” was Ryan’s reply.

The mother was undaunted. She insisted that Ryan could indeed accomplish this feat and that she would be “amazing” at it.

A week prior, the sermon at Ryan’s church had been about not passing up opportunity when it is offered, and after much thought and prayer, she decided that this was an opportunity she was not going to pass up.

After delivering all the cupcakes to the party, the mother posted photos on Facebook. “She said some super kind words about me and the work I did, and how delicious the cupcakes were,” Ryan says. “The very next day I got my second graduation party order and it hasn’t stopped since.”

A year later, in August 2016, Ryan retired from Cub Foods after 30 years in the grocery business, to work on cupcakes full time. “I am really happy with how my business has grown, and only by word of mouth,” Ryan says.

She’s been surprised by how much time, work, energy (and love) it takes to create custom cupcakes, cakes and cookies. Many a wedding, retirement party, luncheon and birthday have been graced by Ryan’s “love” and this month marks the second anniversary of Marcia’s Cupcake Kitchen.

FOOD SAFETY & the law: for entrepreneurs

According to Minnesota Cottage Food Law, individuals can sell up to $18,000 annually of food such as baked goods, certain jams and jellies, home canned pickles, vegetables or fruits made in their home  kitchen. Producers must register with the state and take a food safety course followed by additional food training every three years.

Annette Gustafson
Age: 39
Background: Interface designer, creating user experiences for applications and websites in health care and financial services
Advice for new entrepreneurs: Have fun! Don’t let fear hold you back. There were many times I thought the whole idea of doing this would be perceived as silly, and wondered who would buy my cookies. 

Molasses Discovery
For Annette Gustafson the idea of a business evolved slowly over a few years. “I’ve always enjoyed baking and always shared my cookies with friends, family and coworkers,” she says. She often received feedback that her cookies were “the best cookies they’d ever had!”

Gustafson started entering her cookies into local competitions to see if she really did have some good cookies. And sure enough, the judges agreed. She won numerous ribbons at local and state fairs. Her molasses spice cookie alone has won twelve ribbons in the last 5 years—including a blue ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair in 2016.

“My first venture selling cookies started as a bake sale to benefit Children’s Cancer Research Fund,” Gustafson explains. She hosted the bake sale for a few years but, much to the disappointment of customers, the cottage food laws at the time restricted her from continuing.

In July 2015 a new cottage food law went into effect, allowing for more flexibility in when and where food items could be sold. When Gustafson learned about the change, she immediately registered. “I wasn’t sure what I’d do with my registration at the time, but knew I could now sell cookies to those that wanted them,” she says.

By April 2016, Gustafson had launched Birch Bakehouse. Using her professional background creating user experiences for applications and websites, she created the name, branding and online presence for the new business.

“I created a line of cookies I’m proud of. All cookies are made from scratch and home baked in small batches,” she says. “I’m particular about food quality. I bake using ingredients that contain no artificial flavors, no artificial colors, and no preservatives.” And, her cookies are “made to order”, so they are always fresh.

“I’ve exceeded my original expectations, and I’m surprised at how good things are going,” she says of her business. She especially likes hearing customers discuss which cookie is their favorite—some can’t pick just one.

Upon reflection, Gustafson believes that making and selling cookies is “an extension of her creative side.” Although hers is a small enterprise, she’s learned more about business and accounting and enjoys being in the kitchen trying new recipes and refining baking techniques, as well as meeting new people, both customers and fellow bakers.

“Cookies are something that make me happy,” she says, “and I love sharing and experiencing the happiness my cookies bring to others.”

Chocolate Trio with Walnuts

Makes 24-26 cookies  


  • 1 cup plus 3 Tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour (6 ounces)
  • ½ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder (2 ounces)
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. coarse kosher salt
  • 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 6 ounces granulated white sugar
  • 4 ounces dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup chocolate chunks
  • ½ cup white chocolate chips
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Toast walnuts for 7 minutes; let cool.
3. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.
4. Microwave butter for 45 seconds.
Stir in semi-sweet chocolate chips until melted. Allow it to cool back to room temperature. 
5. Beat chocolate mixture with
granulated and brown sugars on medium speed for 3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla and beat on medium speed for 1 minute.
6. Reduce speed to low; gradually add flour mixture. Fold in chocolate chunks, white chocolate chips, and walnuts.
7. Cool dough in refrigerator for 10
8. Using a #30 cookie scoop, portion out dough and drop dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake for 10 minutes, one sheet at a time. Cool cookies on baking sheet 10 minutes; then transfer the cookies to wire rack to cool.

Tips from Annette Gustafson
•Use a cookie scoop to portion out cookie dough. This creates a uniform shape and size for each cookie. It also helps ensure the cookies bake evenly.
•Invest in a food scale. I measure dry ingredients by weight vs. volume measurements (cups). It's more precise and faster.

Tips from Marcia Ryan
•You can freeze buttercream frosting for up to 3 months. When you're ready to use, simply refrigerate overnight to thaw.
•Fondant creation figures (example: baby carriage toppers, batman logo, flowers, etc.) can be made up to a month ahead of use. Let them dry completely and store in a cardboard box.
•Buttercream frosting takes time to whip. Mix for 5 minutes between adding each 2 cups of powdered sugar.