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June 11th, 2008 Deeda Schroeder | Food Reviews & Stories
 

No Eggs, No Gluten, No Problem

Two bakeries redefine yeasty goodness.

     
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SWEET PEA’S VEGAN LEMON BLUEBERRY CAKE.
IMAGE: brianleephoto.com

Bread ain’t just bread anymore—especially if you’re part of the city’s growing legion of vegans or gluten-intolerant. Never fear, two new local bakeries have got you covered.

If you’re vegan, Sweet Pea Baking Company has got your fix. Whether you’re craving a slice of moist, cinnamon-kissed oatmeal layer cake ($4.75) or a decadent chocolate cupcake with peanut-butter frosting ($2.25), owner Lisa Higgins—a vegan herself—has a stocked pastry case for you to peruse. For the most part, if it’s sugar you’re after, Sweet Pea’s got the goods—even if you’re not vegan.

Sweet Pea’s lofty, concrete-floored space is made up mostly of a production bakery, filled with a cadre of bakers whipping up yummies for Sweet Pea’s four-year-old wholesale business. The front still has plenty of room for half a dozen small tables, and those multiply on Sundays for the regular all-you-can-eat $10 vegan brunch. Think vegan Benedict and peach crisp.

Because vegan baking is still fairly new on the baking scene, Higgins says she trains most of her bakers “from scratch,” and does lots of experimenting to find tasty replacements for the traditional baker’s ingredients. Finding a stand-in for eggs, she says, is pretty tough. Each item may use something different, she says, from ground flax seed in a muffin to a commercial, starch-based egg replacer in cookies.

The Linzer bar ($2) had a rich and nutty crust, and burst with deliciously tart raspberry jam. Giant cookie sandwiches ($3.50) spackled together with a thick slather of cookies-and-cream frosting are a chewy and gooey treat, definitely made for multiple sittings. The brownie ($2.25) comes in a fudgy but not too dense gluten-free version that could seduce any diehard chocolate fan.

If you’re not vegan, you’ll find that some of Sweet Pea’s treats threaten to topple the rumor that dairy- and egg-free pastries can’t rival the becoming traits of butter, cream cheese, cream and eggs. While that rumor may sometimes be true, Sweet Pea does an admirable job trying: Pastries are always fresh and are impeccably presented with lovely textures and flavors.

On the other hand, maybe it’s gluten you’ve been taking for granted. The stretchy protein in wheat flour, gluten is the magical substance that gives croissants their hundreds of light, flaky layers and pizza dough its chewy texture. It’s the essence of bread, pastry and baking itself.

If your tummy can’t stomach the stuff but you love baked goods, until recently there just weren’t many options.

Enter New Cascadia Traditional, a gluten-free bakery with a complete line of breads and pastries, roughly mirroring the “artisan” work of wheat-worshipping bakeries all over town. Set up in a tiny metal building next to Trader Joe’s on Northwest 21st Avenue since late March, the structure houses co-owners Teresa Atkins and Chris Gumke’s breads and pastries delivered daily from their Tigard production bakery.

If you’ve been craving a baguette for many years since swearing off gluten, then you may be in luck—if you can afford it. The breads are quite expensive—a foot-long seeded batard is $5.50, probably due to the high cost of the whole grains needed to make bread flour out of non-wheat ingredients. The flavor and texture may not live up to your memory, either. Unbelievably heavy, the loaf has a flat, blank flavor that improves greatly when toasted. When it comes to bread, if you can eat wheat, you should. If you can’t, I’m sorry.

Pastries fare better from the gluten-free touch. A hazelnut and chocolate macaroon ($1.50) is light and delicate, with lavish chocolate ganache filling—at a steal of a price. The brownie ($2.25) is rich and tender, but could have used more chocolate, and the chocolate cupcake ($3) has a velvet texture inside and smooth, soft chocolate frosting on top. Croissants are leaden and chewy with very little flavor, resembling the real thing in name alone.

Some inconsistencies glare. A peanut butter chocolate chip cookie ($1) was an incredible nugget of rich and intense nuttiness the first time we tried it, gritty and boring the second. At one visit, all items lacked signs despite the store’s being open for more than an hour, making buying a game of 20 questions.

That said, when you’re craving a treat that suits your special diet needs, these two bakeries are real sweet finds.

 
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