Joy Wilson was listening to Drake when she took my call. She needed the perfect lyrics to scrawl in icing on pancakes for her Drake on Cake Instagram page. It was three days before Wilson, 35, launched her nationwide book tour for her third book, Joy the Baker’s Over Easy: Sweet and Savory Recipes for Leisurely Days. The Instagram post would promote her brunchy book’s release March 21. This kind of savvy, playful cross-promotion in social and traditional media didn’t exist when Wilson jumped in nine years ago.
“I have to listen to a weird amount of Drake,” Wilson says with laugh. She’d always thought the rapper-singer-songwriter-actor was clever and funny, and when she realized his name rhymed with cake, she eventually ran with that sweet nugget. “I can relate when he was talking about being busy; you know how rappers are always talking about how busy and rich and great they are? Drake too. Not all of it I relate to, but the busy part, yeah. It feels crazy.”
Wilson’s four-week book tour spans New York, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Nashville, Houston, Austin, and San Francisco, among other places. “I get to eat food everywhere, so that’s fun,” she says. Home is the The Big Easy, ie: New Orleans, a “wacky, sometimes fascinating place that feels like another country.”
The journey began in January 2008, when Wilson created her hit blog, Joy the Baker, out of a need to play with food outside of her restaurant jobs. She grew up in Los Angeles and learned baking from her father, who relaxed after his post office shifts by baking. Wilson moved around California and settled in Venice for awhile as a professional baker, turned food blogger, turned food photographer and cookbook author. These days, Wilson’s @joythebaker Instagram page has 392,000 followers, and her just-for-fun Drake on Cake page has 175,000 followers.
Of course, gaining this much attention hasn’t been easy.
“The learning curve is steep and constant. When I started, it was before social media was a thing; it’s hard to imagine. Maybe even before Twitter,” Wilson says. (Twitter was founded in March 2006). “I remember signing up for Instagram and thinking, ‘Oh, I’ll keep that for my personal stuff, and my website for professional use,’ but no, that didn’t happen. It’s all very blurry now.”
Managing her time, presence, and priorities among all the opportunities online and in paper has been an imperfect, evolving process. “But it’s important. Adapt or die,” she says.
Wilson was on Snapchat for a moment. She doesn’t enjoy it, so she’s let that slide. “I don’t share every detail of my life because I don’t need every detail of everyone else’s life,” Wilson says. “So I find myself trying to share the things that might be an inspiration to someone, or just silly and funny, and it’s like a light moment. But not every little detail.”
When it comes to priorities, Wilson’s website remains at the top, professionally. “The website is the home of everything, and it’s why any of my other outlets exist. So I try to feed it with content and build a community there and stay focused on it,” she says. She’s been feeding her website three or four times a week for the last nine years, even those first years when she still working full time at restaurants. Wilson would create a recipe in the morning, go to work in the afternoon, and when her coworkers would go out after work late into the night, sometimes she’d beg off to go home instead and write her blog posts. “They’d make fun of me so hard,” Wilson says, laughing. “But I loved it. I think persistence is half of the battle when it comes to building a place for yourself online; just keep doing it.”
Wilson creates about two recipes a week and on Sundays, she posts a roundup of news and links about what’s on her mind and what’s happening in the world. When social media’s prominence grew, Wilson transferred her more personal posts to those outlets, keeping her website for more useful, hands-on posts like recipes.
She takes most of her own photos, although has an assistant sometimes. An enthusiastic home collector, Wilson scours her home for her food-styling props, using one of her five cake stands and random other odds and ends. She doesn’t have a social media strategy. “I try not to overthink it too much. It’s not how I operate. I just want it to feel a little more fluid,” Wilson says.
But what about that Drake on Cake pancake post? It nabbed 26,230 likes in one day … well, by 6:47 p.m.
Check out five of our favorite recipes from Wilson’s latest cookbook, some coming soon on our recipe page:
1. Cajun Soufflé
2. Huevos Rancheros
Think of these as egg tacos, but with a filling much better than you’d slap together without this recipe. The elote is a sweet corn mixture with cojita cheese, cilantro, and jalapeño. The tomato sauce rocks too. Get this Huevos Rancheros recipe.
3. Happy Birthday Pancakes
Any day is a good day for rainbow sprinkles, but when you’re having a brunch with a birthday guest, then you gotta sprinkle in those colorful little confetti bits into your pancakes. Get this Happy Birthday Pancakes recipe.
4. Banana Bread Granola
Dehydrated or dried banana slices plus coconut flakes with vanilla, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, maple syrup, and pecans make this feel like banana bread, deconstructed. Get this Banana Bread Granola recipe.
5. Chocolate Brioche Cinnamon Rolls
Shiny, sultry brioche studded with deep, dark chocolate chips, all of it slathered with a cream cheese glaze — it’s enough to drive anyone crazy with wanting. This is a seriously sexy twist on the standard cinnamon roll. Get this Chocolate Brioche Cinnamon Rolls recipe.
— Head photo: Joy the Baker.