Gluten-Free Gluttony

There’s a fine line between crunchy and crumbly, even for the best baker. But consider food allergies in your recipes and those cupcakes can easily go from moist to mush.

Luckily for those who need to be gluten-free, Central Ohio is quickly earning a regional reputation for treats without the wheat.

“We don’t try to recreate gluten products with gums and flour blends,” said Geri Peacock, owner of Cherbourg Bakery. “Our focus has always been on creating the best baked goods with minimally processed ingredients—pure, good, raw.”

Just around the corner from the Drexel Theatre in Bexley, a step inside the bakery transports eager eaters to another time and place. In her travels to France, Peacock discovered the city whose sweet and savory fare inspired her. Upon learning her grandfather helped liberate Cherbourg following the Allied invasion of Normandy, the connection became clear.

“I didn’t go to baking school, but I come from a long line of bakers,” Peacock explained. “My mother used to bake wedding cakes at home, and we made our own pizzas on Friday nights.”

That personal touch is part of the process at Cherbourg. There are no mixers or designations between bakers and cashiers. “Gluten-free recipes ‘feel’ different. That’s why everyone here does everything, by hand,” she explained.

“Our double lemon bars and espresso brownies are still our best-selling items,” Peacock said. “But our seasonal specialties are very popular.” Cherbourg also offers a “Savory Sunday,” a decidedly French “brunché” of soups, quiches, and sweets.

“Our bakery is free of the eight major food allergens…My family has food allergies, just like many families do. So I started with our own recipes.”

New to the gluten-free scene is Bake Me Happy in Merion Village, with a balance of sophisticated sweets and childhood treats to satisfy any age or appetite.

“Our bakery offers gluten-free goodness for everyone,” said Wendy Miller-Pugh, co-owner of Bake Me Happy with her partner Letha Pugh. “I’ve always been creative, but Letha is the entrepreneur.” Bake Me Happy’s signature sellers—creme-filled sponge cakes and oatmeal cookie sandwiches—aren’t simply nostalgic knockoffs. They’re more like a gluten-free tribute band. “People tie so many memories and emotions to food. We wanted to recreate that experience for children and adults,” Miller-Pugh said.

Those craving complex flavor combinations will also find savory scones, sweet and salty dark chocolate chip cookies, and peanut butter “burners,” unique reimagined recipes. “It feels like we ate a million peanut butter cookies to get the mix of heat and sweet just right,” she explained.

Beyond the bakery, Bake Me Happy also operates a food truck of sorts for area festivals—a branded, vintage VW Microbus.

“The bus was a whim we found on Craigslist, and we bought it for less than a billboard,” Miller-Pugh said. “We don’t bake in it, but it allows us to do deliveries and community events in a more memorable way.”

Sometimes gluten isn’t the only problem. So those with dairy, egg, and soy allergies will find Soodles Bake Shop in Worthington a welcome addition to serve that selective sweet tooth. “Our bakery is free of the eight major food allergens—though we do use coconut in some recipes,” explained Amy McCrea, Soodles owner. “My family has food allergies, just like many families do. So I started with our own recipes.”

Customer rapport is big with any bakery, more so when allergies enter the mix. “Our bakers know our families and often share the same food sensitivities,” she said. “Our customers know they can trust us.”

Cinnamon coffee cake, baked doughnuts, and handmade graham crackers are big sellers, but Soodles also supplies several area restaurants with staples and seasonal favorites. From pizza crusts and dinner rolls to dainty delights and decadent desserts, you may already be a fan of Soodles and not know it.

“We work with Mama Mimi’s, Taranto’s, Yabo’s Tacos, and Cameron Mitchell,” McCrea said. “If you’re planning a birthday party at the American Girl store, you can also request our allergen-free cupcakes.”

Sometimes gluten-free greatness is thrust upon you, as was the case with Holiday Baking Company of Worthington.

“We hadn’t been open that long, and a customer asked if we could bake a carrot cake for his wife who was gluten-free,” said Lisa Schaber, the bakery’s owner. “She loved the cake so much, she recommended us to her gluten-free friends and requests grew.”

Within six months of opening, at first alternating gluten-free baking days to avoid cross-contamination, Holiday Baking Company became an entirely gluten-free operation. A career pastry chef before she even started her own bakery, Schaber adapted her mother’s recipes one by one to match the taste and texture.

“People aren’t always sure, especially when they’re buying a dessert for a family holiday,” she noted. Saturday’s breakfast and special events offer curious customers comfort food and gluten-free rarities like biscuits and gravy, pizza by the slice, and pies like apple crumb and sweet potato.

There are seasonal selections like pumpkin and cranberry pecan bread, but also year-round favorites—like their variety of breads, dessert bars, and hand-painted sugar cookies. “We’re known for our sticky buns,” she said.

Holiday Baking Company’s catering menu has supplied plenty of family celebrations and events, but perhaps none so meaningful as the funeral of Schaber’s inspiration, her mother. “My family was so surprised that I’d made my mother’s recipes taste the same, despite being gluten-free,” she said. “Being able to keep sharing them, that was the icing on the cake.”

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