“I want to start a blog.”

Those 6 words take me right back to June of 2009, when I snapped a (dark, blurry) photo of some blueberry lemon cheesecake cupcakes with lemon frosting, waxed poetic about them, and hit “Publish” on my very first Willow Bird Baking post. When I hear those words now, part of me wheezes under the weight of the work I know awaits the speaker. Another part of me, though, feels excited about the fun they’re about to have.

Because that speaker will often go on to ask me for advice, I thought of doing a post to sum up my “You’re Starting a Blog!” tips and ideas. It sounds like such an easy task, but actually, I’ve been racking my brain to think of what’s most important to convey.

There’s all the easy advice you’ve heard before: start your blog on WordPress, write about things you care about, write at least one post per week, include photos, use natural light to take those photos, create a social media presence on various websites (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram) and interact with your friends and readers there to build community. But all of that advice has been given a million times over on a million other blogs. What can I add to this conversation?

If I say that my advice is to be authentic, I know you’re gonna groan. I know you’re going to secretly think of this article that makes fun of giving that advice. (Incidentally, I found that article frustrating in that it took a variegated, organic field and created, facetiously or not, divisions: an “in” and “out” crowd if you will. I think it serves us better to recognize that there are organic trends that ebb and flow and to not be judgy-judgy about other people doing their thang, even “all in fun,” but I digress.) But despite all the lip-service people give to being authentic, I think there’s more to be said about it. And I think I’m the one to say it.

So here goes: the most important piece of advice I can give you is to be authentic.

If you’re finished with your eye rolling (and they’re not stuck), let me elaborate.

1. Define YOU — your values, your goals, your style. To be true to yourself, you have to have a firm idea of yourself. When you blog, you run into ethical dilemmas all the time: whether or not to post about a certain product, whether or not to accept offers from certain companies, whether or not to participate in certain contests. You also run into opportunities to define who you are all the time: from deciding on the content of your posts to choosing the visual design and layout of your blog. Without a clear vision from the beginning, things can get muddy, contradictory, and forgettable to your readers. Or worse: ethical faux pas can be offensive or exploitative.

Awhile back, people made the connection that a blog was a brand you were creating. Your online persona and really your entire blog package was marketing your brand both to readers and companies that might want to work with you. I both hate and love that terminology. I hate it because it reduces this beautiful, passionate extension of my life to a sterile business and also, in my humble opinion, tempts bloggers to become profit-machines, contracting with businesses, pushing products, and viewing their blog primarily as a means of income. There’s nothing wrong with that — but those certainly aren’t the blogs I love to read and it’s certainly not the route I hope you choose with your blog. Call it a personal preference.

I also love that people have realized their blog is a brand, just like I’d love it if people realized they themselves were walking BRANDS: advertising with their words, actions, and values who they are and what they stand for. Realizing this breeds intentionality, and I am nothing if not intentional about things — maybe even to a fault.

So define yourself. Make a list of the values that are important to you. For me, some of my values include honoring God, analyzing and processing in writing the journey He’s sent me on, being adventurous in the kitchen, being honest, and being humble.

Make a list of your goals. Is your goal just to tell your stories? To build traffic and be heard? To create a community? To make money? (It’s possible to do, but make sure it’s not your main goal or you’ll produce another of those spammy blogs with tons of coupons offers, pinnable recipe roundups, and no real voice. Am I being judgy-judgy? I’ll stop.)

Make a list of the words that define you (and your blog) as a “brand.” For me, that includes words like comforting, home, sweet, simple, humble, laughter, realistic, welcoming, loving. And, okay, snarky. ‘Cause I can’t keep the snark at bay. I know; I’ve tried.

2. Be intentional. After you define yourself and your “brand,” make every choice to build that representation of “you” in your online space. Choose the colors that communicate you. Find the voice that communicates you. Take the photos that communicate you. Write about the content that communicates you. Accept the offers that communicate you (and politely decline the ones that don’t.) Interact with your community in a way that communicates you.

Being intentional also includes being deliberate about building that community. Reach out to others — starting with friends and family — to share what you’re doing in a genuine way. Don’t become a salesman and pitch it to them. Be yourself and share it with them. Make connections with other people doing the same thing and support them; you’ll find that they often want to support you, too.

Be intentional about the way you accomplish your goals. I’m betting you didn’t say your goal was to “get a ton of blog traffic no matter WHAT I have to do,” so don’t act like it. Don’t spam people, don’t annoy your Facebook and Twitter friends, don’t become what I call a “climber”: someone who only interacts with others for their personal gain. Don’t sacrifice quality of posts for quantity. Don’t resort to being churning out quick-and-popular posts like an SEO-obsessed robot.

Instead, revel in the fact that “networking” for you can really mean making awesome friends in the blogging community and enjoying relationships with your readers. “Dress for the job you want” by trying to make your work consistent and professional. Print up some business cards to give friends and people you meet. Know how to describe your blog in a sentence or two for folks who are interested. All of these things are positive, intentional steps to get the word out about the great stuff you’re doing without becoming a slave to “success.” Keep sight of your ideals. You can care about growing your readership (slow and steady) and getting your name out there while still honoring your values.

3. Be yourself, but be yourself in the unique ways. There are so many food bloggers. Don’t worry; I still want to read your blog, too! But I do want to know you and not just another Food Blogger (TM). I want to know about your crazy life as a dental hygienist by day, culinary student by night. I want to read about your horrifying experiences as a retail clerk at an unnamed superstore. I want to know about your puppy rescue and the heartwarming lengths you go to to save animals. I want to hear all about how your kid painted herself blue and ate only blue foods at daycare on what they dubbed Smurf Day. I want you to explain how being a Catholic-Jewish Elvis impersonator went for ya.

One thing people love to read on my blog (and I’m glad, because it’s what I love to write!) is stories about teaching. My students are so surprising and smart and hilarious — so those are the unique stories I have to tell. Think about what you have to say. What’s your story?

There’s a lot more I could say, but I really think whatever you do will be lovely as long as you define yourself and then are intentional about being yourself. Just to answer some of the questions you all left on Willow Bird Baking’s Facebook page, though, I got together with the awesome Kaitlin Flannery of Whisk Kid (you’ll love her blog — it’s wonderful!) and recorded a little Food Blogging 101 chat for you. Hope you enjoy!

* * *

One thing I know you’ll enjoy is this white sheet cake. I’d been craving white sheet cake for awhile — one of those light, moist slabs o’ cake that you can pick up at Sam’s Club or Costco or Walmart slathered with white icing. And I don’t mean that crusty, heavy, dyed buttercream you scrape off, but the really light whipped icing. I don’t know what they put in that stuff, but it is all kinds of amazing! I’m always shocked that a store-bought cake can be that good.

After a little internet sleuthing, I made myself one of those satisfying white sheet cakes at home. This sheet cake is a white Texas sheet cake iced with a lovely whipped frosting I found on Cake Central. A hint of almond is what brings the entire recipe together and makes it taste bakery-quality. Since the cake is easy to throw together and comes out huge, it’s perfect for a birthday party! Or, you know, a Tuesday.

Do you have any blogging questions that didn’t get answered? Do you have some advice you’d add for new bloggers?

One year ago: Cheeseburger Bāozi (Steamed Cheeseburger Stuffed Buns)
Two years ago: Carrot Cake Sandwich Cookies with Honey Cardamom Cream Cheese
Three years ago: Ugly as Sin Coconut Cake

White Sheet Cake with Fluffy Whipped Icing

Recipe by: Adapted from recipes found at The Girl Who Ate Everything and Cake Central
Yield: 24 servings

This quick white sheet cake is light and moist with a hint of almond flavor and whipped icing on top. Let the cake sit out for 10-15 minutes before serving so the icing can get nice and soft.

Cake Ingredients:
1 cup butter
1 cup water
2 1/4 cups cake flour
2 cups white sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Frosting Ingredients:
1/2 cup salted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, room temperature
3 3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon meringue powder

To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and grease (I use Wilton’s Cake Release) a 15 x 10 x 1″ baking sheet. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the butter and water to a boil. In the meantime, in a separate large bowl, whisk together the cake flour and sugar before adding the eggs, sour cream, almond extract, vanilla extract, baking soda, and salt. Mix to combine. While mixing, slowly pour in the boiling butter and water mixture. Mix to combine completely. Your batter will be very runny. Pour the batter into the prepared baking sheet.

Bake at 375 degrees for 17-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in several places comes out with a few moist crumbs (don’t wait for the top to get golden brown, necessarily — mine stayed pale). Cool completely.

To make the frosting: Cream together the room temperature shortening and butter until fluffy. Cream in the powdered sugar. Add the salt, almond extract, vanilla extract, meringue powder, and whipping cream. Blend on low until just combined, and then beat on high until fluffy. Spread over cooled cake. Add sprinkles. Store in refrigerator, but let sit out for 10-15 minutes before serving so the icing can get nice and soft.

P.S. Here’s another great post on blogging you should read. And another.

40 Comments on White Sheet Cake with Fluffy Whipped Icing

  1. Jen @ Savory Simple
    February 5, 2013 at 5:04 am (11 years ago)

    A beautiful cake! I think some people ease into blogging faster than others. I spent a long time watching what everyone else was doing because I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, I just knew that I wanted to do it. It took a long time to feel confident enough in my own voice. My biggest advice these days when people ask is just to keep at it. It all makes sense eventually.

  2. Sarah
    February 5, 2013 at 5:14 am (11 years ago)

    May I also add that it pays to stick with it! Like anything else that you do entirely on your own, there will probably come a time when self-consciousness or second guessing comes into play. Stick with it, ya’ll! If you’re doing something you care about, in a way that feels right, then screw everyone else.

  3. Catholic Gelt
    February 5, 2013 at 5:18 am (11 years ago)

    Thank you so much for answering my questions! I am so impressed. And I really liked listening to the call while reading the post! Keep doin’ yo thang!

  4. Angela @ the fairy bread chronicles
    February 5, 2013 at 5:36 am (11 years ago)

    that cake is just gorgeous! I love sprinkles sooooo much, I used them on the nutella brownies I just posted about! Xx

  5. Jenny @ BAKE
    February 5, 2013 at 9:37 am (11 years ago)

    This cake look beautiful – it just screams party! thank you for writing this post, I’ve been mulling over what I want to do with my site and reading your tips has been really helpful.

  6. Amanda @ The Dormestic Goddess
    February 5, 2013 at 12:47 pm (11 years ago)

    I see you went with the sprinkles in focus 😉
    All this advice is oh-so necessary…even though I have a blog. Learn something new everyday!

  7. DessertForTwo
    February 5, 2013 at 1:11 pm (11 years ago)

    This is a beautiful cake, and what great advice, Julie! 🙂

  8. Lauren at Keep It Sweet
    February 5, 2013 at 1:32 pm (11 years ago)

    Love this post, Julie and will definitely be watching your conversation later. Be yourself seems to be the trend, and though we can all get sick of hearing it, it never becomes bad advice.

  9. Amanda
    February 5, 2013 at 2:11 pm (11 years ago)

    Beautiful Cake~ beautiful thoughts!

  10. Abby
    February 5, 2013 at 2:23 pm (11 years ago)

    I echo Amanda’s comment, what a lovely cake and post! You keep the integrity of blogging in your advice, and that’s the real stuff in life.

  11. Stephanie @ Girl Versus Dough
    February 5, 2013 at 2:46 pm (11 years ago)

    Excellent advice, Julie! It might seem cliche to say “be authentic,” but it really is the foundation of a food blog that makes people want to come back again for more.

    Also, this cake? WANT.

  12. Marcia
    February 5, 2013 at 5:30 pm (11 years ago)

    Thank you for another beautiful post! I have been thinking about starting a blog, but I’m 60 years old. I don’t know if anyone cares to hear about that! This cake looks delicious, and your pictures make it look so pretty. You certainly have given me food for thought Julie!

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      February 5, 2013 at 5:38 pm (11 years ago)

      We definitely care to hear about that, Marcia! I hope you will, and that you’ll send me the link!

      Thank you!

  13. Amanda @ Once Upon a Recipe
    February 5, 2013 at 5:38 pm (11 years ago)

    Great post Julie – wonderful advice for new (and existing) bloggers! And the cake is gorgeous! (PS. I’ve never made a sheet cake!)

  14. Gina
    February 5, 2013 at 5:52 pm (11 years ago)

    I was eyeing your cake this morning and couldn’t help think how much I would have loved it for breakfast, lol. I have to say the buzz word “Authentic” is great, but I feel it is being overused at the moment and people are starting to fall all over themselves to tell you exactly how “Authentic” they are. I think if anything people should know if they are going to start a blog it’s a lot of hard work with the possibility of nothing at all coming out of it except maybe being proud of the work you put into it.

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      February 5, 2013 at 6:07 pm (11 years ago)

      Thanks, Gina! I think that’s why it’s important to lay out what’s actually meant by “authentic,” and the real effort it takes to define oneself and then make intentional decisions to be oneself.

  15. Averie @ Averie Cooks
    February 5, 2013 at 8:33 pm (11 years ago)

    Congrats on almost 4 yrs of blogging! I started my blog in June 09 as well! I had another blog for 6 mos prior that was truly just a mommy blog and then branched out. I look back at those old burry, dark pics and cringe but if there was one thing I was, it was authentic. Maybe too much so. Then I toned it way down and recently feel like I found a good balance again of sharing and being authentic.

    I love this cake! Do you think baking this in a smaller pan like a 9×9 if I halved the recipe would work? We don’t need a sheet cake!

  16. lynn @ the actor's diet
    February 5, 2013 at 10:01 pm (11 years ago)

    this is such a terrific blog post – from the advice to the recipe. as always, your blog is a source of inspiration and comfort. thank you for sharing.

  17. Sarah O.
    February 5, 2013 at 11:24 pm (11 years ago)

    This is a really great, informative post. And that cake looks like a vehicle for sprinkles into my mouth, which I have no problem with.

  18. Joanne
    February 6, 2013 at 1:33 am (11 years ago)

    I love how wonderfully honest this is! And what good advice it gives. Yes everyone says to “be authentic”, etc. but it really is the key. Because if you’re just spending all your time putting on a blogging persona, then it can’t be much fun can it?
    This cake is beautiful! Simple and oh so fabulous.

  19. Rachel @ Bakerita
    February 6, 2013 at 6:36 am (11 years ago)

    Love this post, and this cake looks amazing! So pretty and deliciously simple.

  20. grace
    February 6, 2013 at 9:49 pm (11 years ago)

    i’ve never seen this method before! do you think i could adapt this into a half-sheet cake (18″ x 13″)?

  21. Kate
    February 7, 2013 at 2:23 pm (11 years ago)

    Terrific advice, and I admire you for stating it so concisely. I’ve been blogging for nearly 7 years, and not once have I prostituted my blog for any kind of gain. At times, it’s lonely and frustrating because everywhere you look, all the food blogs look the same, and garner tons of attention and comments and RT’s, and here I am, writing from my heart and posting about the foods I love in my own voice and keeping my site real and organic and largely, those lone wolves just get ignored. It’s cooler! better! trendier! to follow the crowd, to crow over the perfectly styled photos (and hey, newsflash…. NO ONE eats like that. Ever) and to truss up everything to be perfect and artistic. But to me, those blogs don’t make me hungry. They make me feel like I’m in a museum, gazing at art on a wall that’s wholly one dimensional. I want to read a blog that speaks an impassioned response in me; that makes me feel like I’m sitting at one’s kitchen table, sipping tea and having a conversation with them. I want to FEEL something stirring. I want to want what they’re making. I want to want their presence. Their warmth. Their voice. I’ve watched many of my favorite blogs jump the shark and become so commercialized that justing being on their page feels like walking in to a department store. That doesn’t evoke passion. It isn’t what I want. Thank you for being true to you. To your path in life. It makes me love coming here.

  22. Ala
    February 8, 2013 at 1:07 am (11 years ago)

    You are a gem, Julie. Don’t doubt for a second posts like these are why we love you so much–it definitely is! I’ve had a life-revealing sort of day on more than one level, and this blog post about blogging really put the cherry on top to that theme. Thank you so much! Maybe I’ll try my hand at this cake this weekend, to celebrate. Cheers and love!

  23. natalie@thesweetslife
    February 8, 2013 at 3:52 pm (11 years ago)

    this is probably the best post on blogging I’ve read…and it’s because YOU are so authentic and intentional. I appreciate that so much about you!

    ps. this cake is awesome! must try! think i can skip the meringue powder in the frosting?

  24. LeAndra
    February 9, 2013 at 4:13 pm (11 years ago)

    I would encourage new bloggers to subscribe to as many RSS feeds as they can, and then read, read, read what other bloggers are saying. I tend to leap before I look, so I wrote my first blog post without ever having done the research into the basics of what makes a blog look better, like taking photos with natural light, making photography boards at home, etc. I was more interested in an outlet where I could write, but it makes it hard for readers to want stick around when a blog does not look somewhat nice. That is my head advice. My heart advice is to just go for it. After a few months of blogging, I felt a lot of pressure to “optimize for SEO”, gain Twitter followers and all that other jazz. Today, I have not looked at my analytics since last June and have less than 100 Twitter followers. So from a “business” sense, I have failed miserably. But on a personal level, I am fairly pleased with the little creative outlet I have established through my blog. Thanks, Julie, for “keeping it real” by writing about authentic topics.

  25. Laura Dembowski
    February 9, 2013 at 5:07 pm (11 years ago)

    The cake looks amazing! I have had a craving for a white sheet cake to take me back to when I was a child baking them from the box with my mom. Such good memories! I love you advice about blogging. It just seems there’s no magic bullet of advice to make a blog explode with popularity.

  26. Tanna
    May 1, 2013 at 4:19 am (11 years ago)

    I just found your blog via pinterest while browsing for a white sheet cake recipe. I was asked to bring one to a church party and realized I’ve never made one before. So the search began. I think yours is going to be the winner for my first attempt at a white sheet cake. It looks beautiful and delicious. I came for the cake recipe, but absolutely loved your post and advice. I am an extreme newbie to blogging, like in the stage where only my mom and sisters read my blog, kind of newbie. I have been trying to decide what to do with it and your post gave me a lot to think about. Thanks!

    • Julie Ruble
      May 1, 2013 at 12:29 pm (11 years ago)

      Tanna, Thank you for your kind words! I can’t wait to hear what you think of the cake — we so enjoyed it! The almond flavoring really makes it, and you can use imitation almond flavoring in case anyone’s allergic — no difference that I can taste 🙂

      I love your blog! I’ve pinned a ton of recipes — may I share some of your posts (with a photo+link) on Willow Bird Baking’s facebook page?

      • Tanna
        May 2, 2013 at 6:23 pm (11 years ago)

        Julie, The cake turned out great! It turns out we WAY over planned the amount of food we would need for the party. I ended up bringing about half of it home which was perfectly fine with me!

        Thanks, I would abosolutely love for you to share my posts on facebook.

        • Julie Ruble
          May 2, 2013 at 6:26 pm (11 years ago)

          That is so great to hear, girl!!

  27. Le renard et les raisins
    May 23, 2013 at 6:16 pm (11 years ago)

    You’re photos are amazing !!!
    I love your style, and of course I love the recipe !
    Bravo and thanks so much for sharing 😉

  28. Jocelyn
    May 29, 2013 at 11:31 pm (11 years ago)

    just made this cake for my kid’s 2nd birthday. it was a huge hit, especially with the 4 year olds! i even used the same confetti sprinkles that you did. love it!

    • Julie Ruble
      May 30, 2013 at 1:33 am (11 years ago)

      I’m so glad to hear that!! YAY!

  29. Elisha
    November 25, 2014 at 3:44 pm (10 years ago)

    This cake looks so yummy! Was wondering — did you turn it out before you iced the cake? I know with traditional Texas Sheet Cake and icing you leave it in the pan, but I’d rather take it out of the pan if you think it will work! Thanks!

    • Julie Ruble
      November 25, 2014 at 5:07 pm (10 years ago)

      Thanks, Elisha! I didn’t, but I bet you could! Just grease very well and turn it out onto a large platter or cutting board before icing. Enjoy!


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