Sally McKenney is building herself a baking empire, one homemade cookie at a time. The author of three cookbooks and the wildly popular blog, Sally’s Baking Addiction, never met a sprinkle she didn’t like, and her love for baking from scratch exploded from a hobby to a full-time job — completely unexpectedly.
Sally grew up in a family of fabulous cooks.
“My grandmother always made everything from scratch. She had a garden here in her backyard. She made homemade jams and homemade pies, and I remember sitting at her table and just eating everything,” she says. “My mom carried on that tradition. Everything was always centered around food and fun in the kitchen, and just bringing everyone together. It’s pretty much what my childhood was made up of, and it stuck with me.”
Those childhood memories were more than just warm and fuzzy feelings. Those everyday moments actually led to years spent in the kitchen, running a food blog — a wildly successful career that has seen Sally add “chef,” “photographer” and “professional writer” to her resume.
“Where can I get the recipe?”
It didn’t begin that way, though. In fact, the blog was first launched as just a simple way to share a few recipes with friends who asked for the details after enjoying the goodies at get-togethers.
“It started with, ‘I made this, and now my friends keep asking for the recipe.’ Instead of just emailing recipes, I put them somewhere so that friends could find them. I just kind of treated it as like an online recipe journal, and I just plugged recipes in.”
But then something remarkable happened: Her friends started telling anyone and everyone they could about how delicious Sally’s desserts were — and, more importantly, where to find out how to make them.
“So, then, besides just my friends and my family checking out my blog, there were these strangers, which was really cool… I actually remember the day I had a hundred page views in a day. That was the best day of my life,” she says with a smile. “I couldn’t believe that people came to my website 100 times in a day. It was crazy. There was no feeling like it.”
As her blog grew, so did her interest in photography. Her then-boyfriend (now-husband) Kevin was taking classes and began teaching her how to use his DSLR camera. It was a huge step up from the iPhone snaps she had been posting, and it helped catapult her to a whole new level.
The transition took some time, but was absolutely worth every overexposed photo and blurry snapshot. “I was not good at all, but you have to start somewhere. So I just began taking better pictures of my recipes and putting them online, and then more and more people started coming to my blog.”
When she started Sally’s Baking Addiction, Pinterest was a fledgling website, a new playground for bloggers. It wasn’t long before Sally caught onto the fact that better photos garner more clicks.
“Within the first year, I started looking around on Pinterest and reading other blogs,” she says. “Everyone had these beautiful pictures. Once I started to take better pictures of my recipes, I started to get more traffic.”
A hundred views a day turned into 200, and then it was 300. “It just kept getting more and more. I had 25,000 page views in one day in December 2012 — my website server couldn’t handle it anymore, and I had to upgrade.”
From community to print
As most bloggers will tell you, one of the most rewarding parts of the work is the community that springs up around it. In Sally’s case, from that community sprang forth one of the most exciting opportunities of her life.
“One of my readers … turned out to be an editor for a publishing company. And she said, ‘Hey, I made a couple of your recipes. I love your stuff. What do you think about writing a cookbook?’ And that’s how my first cookbook came to be.”
That offer marked a professional and personal crossroads. Sally was still working full-time, but her blog was taking more and more of her attention, and had become her overriding passion.
“I had this growing love of food photography, and I had a lot of wonderful dedicated readers. That motivated me to just keep working harder and to post more recipes,” she says. Even though she already had a job, her blog was starting to earn a little income. “And then I was contracted to write a cookbook.”
That opportunity made her question her life path. Could she really go from corporate America to a successful self-made career?
…And then to full-time blogger
Sally didn’t know anyone who had made this kind of leap before: from the safe, secure world of working 9-to-5 to the life of a full-time blogger. She knew she’d be risking a lot to make that jump, but sometimes you just have to do something a little bit audacious to make dreams come true.
“I quit my job, and it was probably crazy at the time, but I was at least making enough money to pay off my bills from my blog,” she says. “So I was like, I’m just going to do it. I’ll have more time to expand my blog and make it even bigger.
“And so it was just all this big dream. And then I started working on my first cookbook. I signed that contract, and I said, ‘If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it 100 percent.'”
And she did.
The rest is history. Three cookbooks, a marriage, a baby and two assistants later, Sally revels in the flexibility that being a successful author and blogger affords her. In fact, that flexibility is more important now than ever, because in 2017, her life path took a new turn when her daughter arrived.
“Becoming a mom has truly changed my outlook on life in general, and most specifically on running a business,” Sally says. “I am so grateful that I can be a role model to my daughter, and show her what it’s like to be a hard working woman, a mom boss — a woman who is empowered and can run her own business.”
Sally’s adjusted her schedule to try to get as much done as possible while the baby’s asleep, but she’s also had to cut back on the workload just a little. “I still want to maintain the same quality of work on my blog, and I’ve just had to be a little more strict with my schedule, and say no to different opportunities, because the priority is being a mother,” she says. “I still want to be able to hold onto a piece of me that has made me who I am today — and that’s my blog.”
Making memories — with sprinkles on top
So while the future holds the promise of many more years filled with baking and blogging, food and fans, there’s one big thing that Sally hasn’t been able to do yet, but that she cannot wait to try: the chance to cook alongside Noelle.
“I want to be the kind of mom that my mom was: going into the kitchen, getting my hands dirty, baking along with her and tasting everything,” she says. “I want to be that mom to my daughter, and I can’t wait for the day that she can get in the kitchen and get her hands dirty, too. Yeah, we’ll make a mess. But it’s all worth it.”
So many memories are just waiting to be made when when this new mother and daughter duo begin to cook together — rolling out pie dough and stirring cake batter and making huge batches of cookies just so they can decorate them with lots and lots and lots of sprinkles.
Sally can’t help but smile at the thought. “I can’t wait for those special times to come. I’m really excited.”
WATCH: Sally walks you through delicious, gorgeous recipes on her new show, Sprinkled.
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