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Mmmm...fresh brownies, cookies, and cupcakes! Who doesn’t love them? But for those living gluten-free, they’re off limits -- unless made without gluten ingredients like wheat flour. As those who’ve tried baking with gluten-free ingredients quickly discover, getting outstanding results isn’t exactly a piece of cake! Chefs at Wegmans Food Markets tweaked lots of recipes to come up with the assortment of gluten-free treats now in the bakery departments of all Wegmans stores.
“We’re very proud of the work that has gone into these new bakery items,” says Mike Gross, category merchant for bakery at Wegmans. “Customers have been telling us for some time how much it would mean to be able to pick up a delicious, gluten-free dessert when there’s no time to bake at home, and we believe these will get a big thumbs up for taste!”
All of the treats are baked and packaged in a dedicated, gluten-free facility to prevent any cross contact with gluten-containing foods or ingredients.
Here’s the lineup:
“We’re working hard to expand our selection to include gluten-free breads and cakes, but we think all Wegmans brand products should be as good as or better than national brands. Until the breads and cakes meet all of our goals for quality, taste, nutrition, and affordability, we’ll keep tweaking them,” Gross says.
Meanwhile, Gross expects the new introductions to be an instant hit with customers – especially the ultra-chocolatey brownies. “All of the recipes are great, but brownies are simply amazing. Tasting is believing!”
How it all began
The first chapter in the story of Wegmans gluten-free baked items started a few years ago. “Customers looking for gluten-free versions of desserts like cookies, brownies and cakes told us how hard it was to find great-tasting, affordable treats for birthdays, family parties, and other celebrations. We wanted to help and got started by building a dedicated, gluten-free test kitchen near our corporate headquarters in Rochester,” Gross says.
One of Wegmans’ artisan bakers, Patty Fowler, and Wegmans Chef Christine Hellman, who oversees new product development for the grocery section of stores, worked for a year together to create Wegmans gluten-free baking mixes for cakes, brownies, and cookies. Customers gobbled them up, using the mixes to whip up oven-fresh, gluten-free goodies at home.
Next, Wegmans baked ready-to-eat versions of these treats for a pilot program at the Pittsford and East Avenue stores, just across town from the gluten-free test kitchen. “We used the same recipes for the ready-to-eat cookies and cupcakes that we used in the packaged baking mixes, so customers who’d fallen in love with the mixes could get the same great flavor and texture in the fresh-baked version.”
Wegmans gluten-free test kitchen couldn’t make enough goodies to supply all 85 stores, however, so the company looked for a baking partner. It chose Get Fresh Bakehouse in Fairfield, NJ, launched by a father of a daughter with Celiac disease, who needed to live gluten-free to stay healthy. “He wanted better products for his own daughter and others like her, and starting this company helped him achieve that goal,” says Gross. At Get Fresh Bakehouse, a pastry chef trained at the Culinary Institute of America oversees the production of the gourmet breads and sweets coming from the dedicated, gluten-free facility.
Eating gluten, a protein in wheat, barley and rye, can cause digestive disturbances for those with gluten sensitivity (about five percent of the population) and can trigger serious health complications in those with the autoimmune condition called Celiac disease (about one percent of the population). The only way to treat either condition is to avoid gluten. Interest in gluten-free versions of foods has risen dramatically over the last decade, as awareness of these two health conditions has grown.
Wegmans Nutritionist Trish Kazacos, RD, who has gluten sensitivity herself and who writes a blog on wegmans.com about living gluten-free, speaks about the place of sweets in a healthy diet. “An occasional treat can definitely be part of a balanced, healthy diet that includes plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans and lentils, low-fat dairy, and fish.”
Treats should be enjoyed on occasion, she says. “But there are two good reasons to like these new, gluten-free sweets: First, they’re so good that everybody can enjoy them – it saves prep time when everyone eats the same meal, and it creates a better shared experience. The other reason is that you won’t feel deprived when you enjoy one of these treats. You’ll feel like you’ve tasted something special.”
Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. is an 85-store supermarket chain with stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, and Massachusetts. The family-owned company, founded in 1916, is recognized as an industry leader and innovator. Wegmans has been named one of the ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ by FORTUNE magazine for 17 consecutive years. In 2014, Wegmans ranked #12 on the list.
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