Restaurant News & Reviews

Gluten-free treats: Paso Robles baker rises to the challenge

Among the offerings at Bless Your Heart Specialty Baking are gluten-free sourdough bread.
Among the offerings at Bless Your Heart Specialty Baking are gluten-free sourdough bread.

The products from Bless Your Heart Specialty Baking are lacking a lot of things, but flavor certainly isn’t one of them.

As the company’s website notes, “Bless Your Heart Specialty Baking creates only gluten-free products, sweetened naturally with organic, low-glycemic sweeteners. Corn- and soy-based products are used very rarely in our recipes. Most products are vegan or dairy-free.”

At first glance, this might just seem like chasing after several current food trends, but for owner Rosemary Hawthorne, it’s the latest manifestation of her own personal journey toward better health.

Already a baker by trade, Hawthorne was diagnosed with diabetes several years ago. At the time, it seemed that among her dietary options were to avoid her beloved baked goods or to use artificial sweeteners. But she wasn’t ready to accept doing either.

“I wanted a way to still enjoy a cup of coffee and a scone,” she recalled. “I still wanted to have sweets, but I didn’t want to keep damaging my body, so I went on my own search.”

She began researching which ingredients have a lower glycemic index. The lower that number, the slower the foods are digested and absorbed, so the slower blood sugar and insulin levels rise. By contrast, foods with a higher index cause those levels to spike — certainly not what you want if you’re diabetic.

Putting her baking expertise together with her energetic creativity, Hawthorne began coming up with recipes for healthier baked goods using ingredients such as cashews for thickeners, beet juice for coloring, even black beans to help add fiber. Eventually, she also went the gluten-free route, one of the biggest hurdles in baking.

“Gluten is that stretchy protein that holds things together,” she explained. “The trick is in figuring out how to make that happen without gluten, and it’s different with every product depending on whether it’s lighter versus denser.”

Eventually, in 2009, Hawthorne’s personal passion became Bless Your Heart Specialty Baking. Originally sharing space at another facility, the bakery found its own home in Paso Robles last year. However, there was one big catch — it had already been a conventional bakery, so every single inch of it had to be scrubbed down to get rid of any gluten, a painstaking but necessary process that took two full weeks.

Now Bless Your Heart is humming along, producing about 40 products at last count.

Among them are scones and tarts, cookies and cupcakes, pies and pizza dough, nutrient-packed “Bless Energy Bars” and satisfyingly crunchy “Diva Crackers.” Hawthorne also recently cracked the gluten-free code for a sourdough recipe, which is proving popular in both loaves and buns.

The freshly baked products are available at the Paso location (until they sell out) and at the Saturday Templeton Farmers Market, as well as in several local retail establishments such as New Frontiers, California Fresh Market and health food stores.

The goods are a bit more costly than their traditional counterparts “because our ingredients are more expensive,” said Hawthorne, “but they’re much better for you.”

She added that “a lot of what we do is still special orders for people here that have food allergies. I’ll create special recipes and products specifically for them. I can’t help myself! I’m always thinking ‘How can I make that?’ and ‘How can I make it so it tastes just as good — or even better — as the original?’ ”