How to Make Grain-Free, Dairy-Free, Refined-Sugar-Free Desserts That Actually Taste Good

The duo behind Sweet Laurel prove baking can be delicious <em>and</em> healthy

“Before Laurel brought me the slice of chocolate cake that changed everything, we were two normal girlfriends,” says Claire Thomas, now a partner with Laurel Gallucci in the healthy baking concept Sweet Laurel. They shared a love of food and cooking. Thomas had launched a popular blog, the Kitchy Kitchen, and Gallucci, an ambitious home baker, had been cooking since early childhood. But when Gallucci was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, she had to give up all grains, gluten, dairy, and refined sugars, and her doctor told her she would never eat chocolate cake again.

Claire Thomas and Laurel Gallucci of Sweet Laurel

Photograph by Keith King

Swearing off cake forever didn’t work for Gallucci, so she started experimenting with how she could create versions of her favorite recipes that complied with her new dietary needs. She also kept baking her favorite cakes to give to friends and family so she could observe them enjoying them, even though she couldn’t taste a bite. Which is exactly what Thomas thought was going on, when Gallucci showed up with that special chocolate-caramel cake.

“I take my baked goods seriously, and have been constantly disappointed by gluten-free or vegan options,” Thomas says. “The textures and flavors always seemed a bit off, like a photocopy of a photocopy of the thing they claimed to be.” Her friend watched her devour the treat before revealing that it was a completely wholesome, allergen-free dessert. Thomas was so impressed with the cake and what it could mean for others like Gallucci who thought they might never again engage in the traditions of celebratory, social eating that so many of us take for granted, that a bakery collaboration was born.

“The next few months were spent baking, tasting, and then baking some more,” Gallucci says. The duo opened an online shop, offering custom-order cakes, combining Gallucci’s recipes and Thomas’ decorating and styling. And while their following was starting to grow amongst gluten-free, vegan, and paleo diet adherents, the tipping point came when the pair started offering private baking classes where they would answer questions and demonstrate that creating these special baked goods wasn’t as complicated as it might seem.

Now, they’re expanding on that with their first cookbook full of recipes that make nutritious baking a DIY reality. “Our goal is for this book is to empower others who may be on a healing journey of their own, or those who are simply trying to create beautiful, healthy food for themselves and loved ones,” Gallucci says.

When it came to selecting the recipes in the book, they included their famous cakes, of course, but then they decided to expand the scope. “We wanted to create the definitive grain-free baking book,” Thomas says. “Foods people love eating, the recipes that get handed down across generations, needed to be on the list.” That ultimately meant crafting their own versions of nostalgic childhood treats, classic cookies, holiday pies, and breakfast and savory items.

Next up for the pair is a brick-and-mortar cake shop cafe in the Palisades Village complex. “People can actually come, sit, and have a piece of cake, paired with a delicious latte made with delicious dairy-free options like house-made nut milk or coconut milk,” Thomas says. “We will feature a line of delicious unique tea and coffee beverages designed to complement our cakes. Think lavender or rose tea lattes and vegan caramel coffee.”

While you wait for the cake shop’s July opening date, whip up your own batch of Sweet Laurel-approved cookies with this recipe from their new book.


 Double Dark Chocolate Cookies

Recipe from Sweet Laurel: Recipes for Whole Food, Grain-Free Desserts (Potter, 2018)

“These double-chocolate cookies are our downfall. A still-warm batch with melted chocolate chips and a glass of cold almond milk is pure heaven. We love the dark, bittersweet flavors of the cacao, giving these cookies a rich, deep flavor. Good luck waiting for them to cool before devouring half a pan!”

Sweet Laurel Double Chocolate Cookies

Ingredients
1 cup date paste (store-bought or homemade)
½ cup coconut oil, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2½ cups almond flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened 100% cacao powder
½ cup arrowroot powder
1 cup vegan chocolate chips (store-bought or homemade)

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a food processor, pulse the date paste, coconut oil, and vanilla together. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cacao powder, and arrowroot powder. A little at a time, add the dry ingredients to the date paste mixture, pulsing until a dough forms.

Transfer the dough to a sheet of parchment. Knead the chocolate chips into the dough and gradually form it into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Place tablespoon-size scoops of dough on the baking sheet and gently press down to flatten to about ¼-inch thick. Bake for seven to nine minutes, until the edges are set, then transfer the cookies to a rack to cool completely. Store in a sealed contaner at room temperature for up to five days, or in the freezer indefinitely.

Makes approximately 36 cookies.


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