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Gluten-Free Tasty Cakes: Cupcakes, Anyone?

 Gluten-Free Tasty Cakes: Cupcakes, Anyone?

Maryann James | The Baltimore Sun

It’s almost cool to be gluten-free. More national brands are offering gluten-free versions of their popular products, cookbooks for celiac disease sufferers are available at your local bookstore and now allergy-friendly bakeries – such as Sweet Sin Bakery in Waverly – are available at your doorstep.

But it hasn’t always been that way. Jules E.D. Shepard of Catonsville was diagnosed with celiac disease in 1999, what she calls “the dark ages of cooking gluten free.” At the time of her diagnosis, Shepard was an avid baker, whipping up cupcakes for friends and classmates. But when she tried to create gluten-free cakes that she and her friends could love, there was no joy. Instead of light, moist and fluffy, she got gritty, crumbly and dry.

“You’d eat something, and it’s unmistakably gluten-free – in a bad way,” she said. “There was nothing, not a single satisfactory piece I was baking.”

Amy Ratner, 50, of Abingdon faced similar issues when she found out 17 years ago that her 2-year-old daughter had celiac disease, a digestive disorder that damages the small intestine and is marked by an inability to process gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.

“In those days, you really did bake things yourself,” Ratner said. At that time, there were only two gluten-free cookbooks, she said, so there was lots of trial and error. “I think that up until, let’s say, two or three years ago, there was probably a very broad consensus that most gluten-free baked goods weren’t very good,” she said.

“The idea of a free-standing bakery that would bake gluten-free things,” said Ratner, now associate editor of Gluten Free Living, a quarterly magazine, “I can’t tell you how unimaginable that was.”

According to Pam King of University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research, as many as 1 of every 133 Americans are affected by celiac disease. But awareness, not numbers, has been key to the gluten-free revolution, says Renee D’Souza, 29, co-owner of Sweet Sin Bakery.

“It’s [gluten-free goods] becoming big because people are more aware of it now,” she said. “Before, they would go to the doctor, and the doctor would be like, ‘Eh, you just have IBS, just take this pill,’ and nobody got better.”

D’Souza has a story similar to Shepard, Ratner and other gluten-free bakers: Once diagnosed with celiac disease, and faced with a future of lackluster baked goods, the Baltimore International College-trained pastry chef decided to build a better baked-goods future.