By Darleen Gross, Culinary Director and Chef at Organic Pharmer
That is a question I get asked a lot - And the answer is not as complicated as you may think!
I spend a lot of time just thinking about how to “wow” our dedicated gluten and allergen-conscious crowd. All the good stuff we bring to the table - the sweet treats, breads and other baked goods, as well as the rest of the Organic Pharmer menu – they all start as a simple idea for something we think people will love!
When it comes to turning an idea for a new baked good into a brand new Organic Pharmer menu item, the process starts on paper. With a clear picture of the end result in mind, I’ll first compile a preliminary list of ingredients, and create a foundational recipe that I think will bring me close to what I’m looking for. I’ll do some research if necessary, but rely primarily on my training and experience to get me this far. From there, it’s off to the kitchen to begin the testing phase!
And truth be told, testing can be arduous, yielding varying results from instantly perfect (or pretty darn close!), to not quite what I expected, to complete and utter failure. While it’s definitely the most challenging part of the process, it is also the most fun - and I always learn something new about the ingredients, techniques or how everything comes together in the end.
When I was developing the most recent addition to our bakery line, the Lemon-Lavender Bars, it was the lemon itself that inspired me. The first thing I consider in the development of any new item is flavor. The most flavorful ingredients come first in all my recipes, and the structure of the recipe is built around them. With these bars, I really wanted the tangy, bright flavor of the lemon curd to shine through, and the floral lavender to add a complimentary accent note in the shortbread crust. Adding a rich, creamy layer in between tied the two flavors together harmoniously, and lent a great contrast in texture as well.
Since I do not use cane sugar in any of our baked goods, I have to work harder to achieve the right balance of sweetness. For the lemon bars I went with a combination of natural sweeteners including local maple syrup, wildflower honey and pure stevia leaf extract. And because the nutritional function of each item is just as important as flavor in all Organic Pharmer menu items, I rely on nutrient-dense additions such as nuts and seeds to enhance the taste, texture and to boost the nutrition.
Nuts are particularly versatile, as their flavor and texture can be changed by the application of different cooking techniques such as roasting, soaking, grinding for flour, or blending into a creamy or milky liquid. They also add an abundance of nutrients in the form of good quality fats, minerals, vitamins, protein and fiber.
And since our products are gluten-free and dairy-free, I rely on alternative whole grain flours and seeds for structure and binding. Some of my favorites include sorghum, brown rice, millet, quinoa and buckwheat flours, as well as ground flax and chia seeds. I also find coconut oil to be a great replacement for butter, as it imparts a rich buttery flavor and flakey texture.
There’s a whole world of great plant-based ingredients out there – and I continue to learn more about them with every new creation. So, how do I make gluten-free and dairy-free baked goods taste so good? It’s equal parts inspiration and experience – plus a whole lot of time spent in the kitchen!
Darleen Gross is married to Chef Lee Gross and together they lead the culinary team at Organic Pharmer. They reside in Westchester, NY with their two beautiful daughters.