Food & Drink

Local bakeries step up to the plate for the gluten-free

Visitors try samples of gluten free spice cake from Carrie Williams of Serendipity’s Cake of Distinction during the 2014 Central Pa. Gluten Free Expo at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center.
Visitors try samples of gluten free spice cake from Carrie Williams of Serendipity’s Cake of Distinction during the 2014 Central Pa. Gluten Free Expo at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center. Centre Daily Times, file

Heavily frosted cakes, all kinds of cookies, gooey brownies, fresh loaves of bread — for some of us, it means a well-earned, decadent and comforting treat. For others, though, these favorite foods can spell out disaster in the form of a host of uncomfortable symptoms.

Gluten sensitivities affect millions of Americans each year, in varying degrees of severity, and the incurable intolerance can make life pretty miserable if not managed. Even with a gluten-free diet, things aren’t always fun, particularly if you’re missing out on your favorite sweet treats.

Thankfully, several bakeries and cafes around Centre County have stepped up to the plate and are serving gluten-free options that will tempt any palate.

One such venue is Dolce Vita Desserts, which had been open in Lemont for several years, but recently found a spot on Commercial Boulevard. in State College. They make gluten-free cupcakes, cakes and brownies in response to customer requests.

“Our most popular gluten-free items are cupcakes, in particular, chocolate with salted caramel buttercream. They are made from scratch using the same recipes as our regular cakes and cupcakes, substituting a blend of gluten-free flours for the pastry flour,” owner Mary Hilliard said.

A variety of gluten-free cupcakes are available every day, and the gluten-free brownie options just expanded to include fudge and raspberry swirl brownies.

“We hope to expand the gluten-free options as time allows us to experiment with recipes,” Hilliard said.

Beyond baked goods, gluten is often hiding in unexpected places such as soups and salad dressings. Cafe Lemont recognizes this and serves up not only gluten-free versions of their baked goods, but gluten-free savory options as well.

“About one-third of our menu is gluten-free, although it may not look that way at first. Many of our sandwiches can be ordered as a bread-less, gluten-free option. One of our most popular is our chicken salad in a bowl, with lettuce and gluten-free crackers on the side,” Cafe Lemont co-owner Jodi McWhirter said. “Our soups are usually gluten-free and our chili is gluten-free, as well as vegan.”

According to McWhirter, customers love the gluten-free baked goods made in-house.

“Our gluten-free scones, brownies and peanut butter bars are all hard to keep up with baking enough to meet the demands,” she said.

Although the Cafe Lemont staff does its best to avoid any cross-contamination, they do warn that gluten items are prepared in the same kitchen, which for some more serious cases of gluten intolerance, can be a no-go.

For those individuals, a bakery like Serendipity’s Cakes of Distinction in Pleasant Gap may be more up their alley. A totally gluten-free facility, Serendipity’s is also free of many of the other top eight allergens. This is important, owner Carrie Williams said, because those with celiac disease are unable to have any gluten at all, and often have other food intolerances and allergies.

“Serendipity’s came about because of a combination of factors,” Williams said. “I myself have some health concerns, food intolerances and allergies. But my mother was diagnosed with celiac disease. We were converting all of the family recipes and I said, ‘There have to be other people who need what we’re doing here.’ We opened the bakery a few months after that and here we are, going strong four years later.”

One of Williams’ favorite menu items is the sourdough bread, but she said the most popular is the vegan whoopie pies.

“I keep increasing the number we make but we keep selling out every week,” she said. “I have customers who call in and say,’ I’ll take all that you have.’ I’m told they freeze well.”

Looking to expand the bakery, Williams is always experimenting and adding to her menu.

“People come in and ask for things we don’t currently offer and I say, ‘Give me a couple of weeks to experiment.’ That was how we added angel food cake to the menu a few weeks ago, ” she said.

As could be expected, Serendipity’s has a loyal following, and Williams seems eager to always please her fans, who’ll say they never thought they would be able to enjoy their favorite baked items again, following their diagnoses.