The YouTube Star Who's Teaching Kids How To Bake | KUOW News and Information

The YouTube Star Who's Teaching Kids How To Bake

Jul 19, 2017
Originally published on July 19, 2017 1:25 pm

Rosanna Pansino broke into the world of nerdy baking videos in 2011 with a cheap $80 camera and a boxed cake mix. Actually, it's entirely possible that Pansino created the world of nerdy baking videos, with decorations for cakes, cookies and pizzas inspired by pop culture sensations like Super Mario, Minecraft, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones.

Now, Pansino is a celebrity chef and one of the highest-paid people on YouTube, with an annual income of around $6 million, according to Forbes magazine. Her YouTube channel boasts 8.5 million subscribers and 2 billion views. And among her fans are thousands of kids eager to learn how to bake.

Since 2011, Pansino, 32, has morphed from a sweetly scruffy, pigtailed look to something resembling a carefully coiffed Food Network star. I ask her what else has changed.

"They've become actual recipes," she says, dryly. Then she bursts into laughter.

Pansino has always been about the fun of decorating, the do-it-yourself ethos that's always driven maker videos on YouTube. Now she has a team of 10 employees helping her dream up real recipes for frozen princess cakes, rainbow cakes, unicorn cakes and even unicorn rainbow poop cookies.

"My favorite episode is where she made a unicorn cake," says Sofia Roberts, 12, of Pasadena, Calif. Her best friend, Sofia Mathews, also 12, chimed in. "That one's cool."

The Sofias epitomize a certain kind of contemporary underage baker who loves Nerdy Nummies, Masterchef Junior and Tasty on BuzzFeed. They had just finished making four kinds of French macarons.

Back when I was 12, in the 1980s, just making chocolate chip cookies counted as a major culinary win. But these days, a foodie grandparent and grandchild might go to the craft store and pick up fondant for an afternoon of baking and decorating, inspired by Pansino and other YouTube channels such as The Scran Line or the extreme and engrossing How to Cake It. (Watch the turkey episode.)

It's impossible to know the exact ages of people watching these channels. YouTube says it does not track viewers under age 13. In fact, a company spokeswoman told me YouTube does not even see itself as serving kids.

That comes as news to Sofia Mathews. She says YouTube's do-it-yourself videos are perfect for kids figuring out how to make stuff. "You can tell if you're doing it right because a person is actually doing it," she says.

And that's especially helpful for visual learners — including Nerdy Nummies host Pansino. "I have a learning disability," she says. She says she is dyslexic. "And the best way that I learned was through visual content and clear communications that are very clear and direct."

In fact, that's what this digital cooking star learned from her analog ancestor, a public television star who used to trill a famous sign off: "Bon Appetit!" "The only person I watched was Julia Child," Pansino says, almost dreamily. "She's fun. And she's fearless. She's not afraid to make mistakes. And if you watch her videos cooking in the kitchen, she makes mistakes all the time."

(Side note: While Child did once spill potato pancakes all over her stove top, she never dropped a turkey on the floor and then stuck it in the oven, as has often been claimed.)

"Who cares?" says Pansino. "Try it out. Try everything."

What a great lesson, for kids both in and out of the kitchen. That said, the mother of one of my acquaintances wryly joked that she wished online cooking videos paid just a little more attention to cleanup.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

You'd like to think that a kid learning to cook would do it by spending hours in the kitchen with a loving parent. But failing that, there is YouTube. For our series on children's media, NPR's Neda Ulaby introduces us to a celebrity chef for the digital set.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Rosanna Pansino may have created with sounds like an impossibly tiny niche, nerdy baking videos, about six years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "SUPER MARIO CAKE - NERDY NUMMIES")

ROSANNA PANSINO: Hello. Today I'm going to make a "Super Mario" star cake - or attempt to - with fondant. So this could get a little messy.

ULABY: Now she makes $6 million a year decorating baked goods inspired by "Super Mario," "Harry Potter," "Minecraft" and "Game Of Thrones." At first, she made cakes from mixes and used frozen pizzas.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

PANSINO: This is super funny. I am going to decorate it like a cake. I'm going to put barbecue sauce.

ULABY: 8.5 million people subscribe to Pansino's YouTube show, "Nerdy Nummies." The 32-year-old has morphed over the years from a sweet, scruffy, pigtailed look to something more like a coiffed Food Network star. I asked in what other ways her show has changed.

PANSINO: They've become actual recipes (laughter). In the beginning, I really focused on having fun and decorating.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "HOW TO MAKE A UNICORN CAKE - NERDY NUMMIES")

PANSINO: Pansino's team of 10 employees help her dream up real recipes for "Frozen" princess cakes, rainbow cakes.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "HOW TO MAKE A UNICORN CAKE")

PANSINO: The recipe that we're making today is a Funfetti cake from scratch. The things you'll need will be two cups of all-purpose flour, 1.5 cups of sugar...

ULABY: "Nerdy Nummies'" devout fans include two best friends - both named Sofia, both 12 - who live in Southern California.

SOFIA ROBERTS: My favorite episode is where she made a unicorn cake.

SOFIA MATHEWS: That one's good.

SOFIA R.: It was really cool.

ULABY: Both Sofias love to bake. They just finished making four kinds of French macarons. That's normal for a certain kind of foodie kid today, who did not exist when I was 12. Back then, just making chocolate chip cookies counted as a major culinary win. The Sofias' moms, Katheryn Roberts and Ellen Mathews, swear their daughters almost made the macarons alone.

KATHERYN ROBERTS: I helped to fold egg whites. That's my job. So...

ELLEN MATHEWS: Yeah. Me, too. I didn't help either. I just cleaned up.

ULABY: The Sofias like to text each other recipes and notes about other YouTube shows, like "How To Cake It," which comes from Canada, or "The Scran Line" from Australia.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

NICK MAKRIDES: I'm going to line my cupcake tin with some cupcake liners, filling these up about three quarters of the way.

ULABY: It's impossible to know the exact ages of the people watching these channels. YouTube says it does not track viewers under age 13. In fact, a company spokeswoman told me YouTube does not even see itself as serving children. That's news to 12-year-old Sofia Mathews. She says YouTube's do-it-yourself videos are perfect for kids.

SOFIA M.: You can tell if you're doing it right because a person is actually doing it.

SOFIA R.: They show you...

SOFIA M.: Yeah.

SOFIA R.: ...Exactly what you're going to do. And they tell you exactly what you need to do.

ULABY: So helpful for visual learners like Sofia Roberts and the host of "Nerdy Nummies," Rosanna Pansino.

PANSINO: I have a learning disability, and the best way that I learned was through visual content and communication style that was very clear and direct.

ULABY: In fact, that's what this digital cooking celebrity learned from an analog ancestor, a public television star.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FRENCH CHEF")

JULIA CHILD: Hi, I'm Julia Child.

PANSINO: The only person that I watched was Julia Child.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FRENCH CHEF")

CHILD: Now we're going to have what I think is one of the great desserts of all time, a souffle Grand Marnier.

PANSINO: She's fun, and she's fearless. She's not afraid to make mistakes. And if you watch videos of her cooking in the kitchen, she makes mistakes all the time.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FRENCH CHEF")

CHILD: Well, that didn't go very well.

PANSINO: Who cares if you spill a little batter? It'll bake out. Try everything.

ULABY: A great lesson for kids both in and out of the kitchen, although one mom I know wryly joked she wished online cooking videos paid just a little more attention to cleanup.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.