Red House Bakery owner Jimanne Hayes sells her treats through several Santa Cruz County retailers and stocked her first display case last week at Pacific Cookie Co. in downtown Santa Cruz.
“Our goal is to create something that won’t taste gluten-free,” Hayes said.
Hayes discovered several years ago that she couldn’t digest the protein found in traditional wheat flour. After scouring local grocery stores searching for gluten-free items she would actually enjoy eating, she decided to try baking them herself.
As part of her research, Hayes found that no two recipes for gluten-free wheat substitutes were the same. She tried many combinations before settling on her own, a recipe that she says satisfies taste buds and gluten-free aficionados.
“It took a year and a half,” Hayes said. “All my friends and neighbors on Pine Drive (in Felton) were my tasters.”
With help from the staff at New Leaf Market in Felton, Hayes packaged and marketed the resulting cookies, which are for sale in all New Leaf Markets except Boulder Creek; at Coffee 9 in Ben Lomond; and at Coffeetopia in Santa Cruz. A gluten-free cake made by Red House Bakery is also on the menu at the Trout Farm Inn.
Hayes seems primed to expand her budding business, which used for its logo a painting composed by Hayes’ stepson Shane of the family’s red house in Felton.
Last week, the first batches of Red House Bakery gluten-free snickerdoodles and gluten-free chewy chocolate chip cookies with sea salt came out of the oven and went into a display case at Pacific Cookie Co. in downtown Santa Cruz.
The company has high hopes for the new offerings, according to Pacific Cookie Co. Vice President Cara Pearson.
“Gluten-free has been on our radar for a couple of years,” she said. “But we realized that we couldn’t even make gluten-free (cookies) in this environment.”
Pearson said the company cast a wide net throughout the Bay Area looking for a baker who could supply gourmet gluten-free cookies, but initially had little success.
“On a trip to New Leaf, (Pacific Cookie CEO) Larry (Pearson) came across Red House Bakery,” Cara Pearson said.
An interview and a tasting session with a local celiac support group followed.
“We were impressed with Anna and her cookies,” Cara Pearson said.
She said Red House had the “mouth feel” the Pearsons were looking for and a gluten-free process that satisfied their high standards.
Hayes ensures that her cookies are safe for those with allergies by baking in a gluten- and nut-free commercial kitchen in Santa Cruz. Dough destined for Pacific Cookie Co., is shaped into balls and frozen before being transported to the downtown shop, where the cookies are baked on designated gluten-free baking sheets throughout the day. The process avoids contamination, as no airborne flour is present in the shop.
Hayes is proud of her ingredients, which include organic dairy, unrefined organic coconut nectar, whole-grain brown rice and organic cinnamon.
“I wanted a product that I felt really good eating,” Hayes said.
Despite the higher cost — $1.75 for a gluten-free cookie at Pacific Cookie Co., compared to $1.05 for a wheat-based cookie — Cara Pearson said she thought customers would be pleased with the Red House offerings.
“You can’t find many fresh-baked gluten-free products around,” she said.
Gluten-free at a glance
-A gluten-free diet means that the protein gluten — found most often in wheat — is not consumed.
-Many gluten-free foods use flours and starches made from other grains, nuts, roots and beans to replace wheat and maintain nutritional value.
-The diet is traditionally a treatment for celiac disease, in which digested gluten causes inflammation in the small intestine.