Behind the Scenes at a #GlutenFree Bakery

Gluten Free Cupcakes at Sweet Ali's BakeryThere are many things that I took for granted growing up.  I think we all tend to do that.  I think back to the adventures and field-trips I had as a kid and as long as it didn’t cost too much to go on them I was off (to be honest I really don’t remember how much any of them cost).  My oldest boy doesn’t get the same luxury.  Since he has been diagnosed with Celiac Disease we have to consider the gluten risk of any adventure.  Is he going to need to bring his own food (almost always)?  Are we going to need to send a special treat option with him (sometimes)?  Is the destination someplace he can safely go? Bakery field trips were out… or so we thought. However recently when had the great opportunity to go behind the scenes at a local Gluten-Free bakery, and I won’t lie it was quite a kick.

Sweet Ali's Gluten Free Bakery in Hinsdale, IllinoisThe bakery we visited was Sweet Ali’s Gluten Free Bakery in Hinsdale, IL.  We discovered it shortly after moving to the Chicagoland area a  few years ago.  My wife, in particular, is really good at finding great gluten-free food options for our boy. We knew we had found something special when a local restaurant, that has become a family favorite, was offering gluten-free pancakes made with Sweet Ali’s pancake mix.  The pancakes are so good that our non Celiac son prefers them to the standard pancakes.  No small feat I assure you.

If you visit the bakery’s website (www.sweetalis.com) you will learn a lot about how it came to be and about the bakery’s owner, Ali Graeme.  I’ll give you a brief synopsis, you know ’cause I’m a nice guy.  About 7 or 8 years ago Ali and her son were diagnosed with celiac disease.  Along with the necessary diet change for their family came a struggle with finding delicious comfort foods, the sweet kind we all really like.  Experimenting in the kitchen, she came up with some really great recipes. Those experiments ultimately led her to open an all gluten-free bakery that makes and sells delicious baked goods and mixes you can take home and bake yourself.

Tasting Gluten Free samples at Sweet Ali's BakeryWhich brings us to our behind the scenes tour.  Our family along with a couple others from our home-school group met up at the bakery just as it was closing for the day.  Once the doors were locked and the closed sign put up the kids were treated to some samples of breads and treats that they make.  The samples didn’t stand a chance against this hungry crew of grade schoolers.  We were then invited back into the kitchen where Ali Graeme met us and introduced the kids to the world of gluten-free baking. She gave a quick explanation about herself and celiac disease which allowed her to talk about cross-contamination, and why it is such a big deal that this bakery is completely gluten-free.  She walked us through the bakery showing the kids the different equipment used to make their goodies.  She explained how running a bakery works and gave them an idea of how the process works for both what they sell in the store and what they ship to other stores and restaurants around the area.

…and then we got to work…

My Boys Back in the Kitchen at Sweet Ali's BakeryFor this trip we had the chance to make crêpes.  We started by making whipped cream from scratch, learning little tricks, like using a chilled metal bowl.  Then the kids learned how to mix the batter for the crêpes.  During which they discussed the kind of things you could fill crêpe with.  The options for these crepes were whip cream, chocolate chips, blueberries, and/or strawberries (which I had sliced up while Ali and the kids worked on the batter). Finally we got to the cooking which really excited the kids, because let’s face it, they knew what came next.  It almost seemed that the crêpes were coming off the pan just in time for the next kid in line to be ready to fill his or her’s up with the sweet stuff. While the kids ate their crêpes out front, I had a great experience to sit back and talk with Ali about cooking, food, flavor combinations, and how much good food is out there… even for those with celiac disease.

Like any good adventure all good things must come to an end.  All filled with crêpes and some new baking knowledge, we may have taken a moment to buy a few cupcakes on the way out.  They had so many fun flavors we just couldn’t help ourselves.  If you live in Chicagoland whether you eat gluten free or not you should visit and try some of their baked goods (you may even find some of them in your local store)… you really won’t be able to tell the difference, and your taste buds will totally love you!

If you are social media savvy you can follow Sweet Ali’s all over the place: Twitter – @sweetalisbakery, Facebook – Sweet Ali’s Bakery , Instagram – sweetalisgfbakery.

P.S. Ali if you need a taste tester… I’m your guy!

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