Bakeries seem to be on every street corner these days displaying their take on the latest trends such as the recent cupcake explosion — those sugary, sweet treats that everyone loves to eat. Everyone, that is, but the growing population of people who, for a number of health-related reasons including celiac disease and wheat allergy, follow a gluten-free diet — free of wheat, barley, and rye. Without a choice, they are leading lives that exclude food favorites such as bread, pizza, cakes, and pies.
Char Lofgren was an organic meat farmer before moving to the Twin Cities and opening Madwoman Foods, a gluten-free store and bakery in South Minneapolis. Her inspiration came after her partner was diagnosed with celiac disease, which restricted him to a gluten-free diet. To accommodate his new diet, they searched for gluten-free foods, but found most inedible.
“It was an insane idea…that’s where the name came from,” says Lofgren, referring to the founding of Madwoman Foods in 2003. Their first business model was as a wholesaler, serving co-ops and food stores in several cities and states. Two years ago, this business model changed and they opened the retail store and bakery that stands in its current location on Nicollet Ave. and 48th St.
Using made-from-scratch recipes and experimenting in their kitchen using flours such as rice and almond, they created foods that they enjoyed. They began selling this food in small volumes directly to the consumers in their store, a change which Lofgren describes as: “gratifying – we were able to get feedback from grateful customers who were practically in tears because they couldn’t find things to eat.”
Not only are Lofgren’s foods gluten-free but many also have a reduced Glycemic index and are casein free, catering to diets that require these considerations like diabetes and, although it’s controversial, autism. And going a couple steps further, Lofgren also sources her ingredients locally when possible; she knows all the farmers who raise the meats she uses and sources her cheese from Wisconsin. She also uses biodegradable packaging.
When asked about her most popular products, she points to the pizza, which she says has brought grown men to tears after ending 25-year-long pizza fasts. Other popular products are her tea cakes, birthday cakes, soups, and sticky buns. In fact, these very sticky buns almost caused a “rumble” between two women recently who both wanted the last one – clear evidence of the need for good tasting, gluten-free food in the metro area.
With recipe substitutions and limitations, a natural skepticism rises about the taste of Madwoman’s products. Lofgren’s philosophy is that “things we sell should be just as good as things with gluten in them…or I’m not satisfied.”
A sampling of several bakery items demonstrated that they’re not just gluten-free good…they’re any diet good. In particular the lemon cranberry tea cake was a favorite – moist and springy with a bright lemony zest and tart cranberry finish.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats. It gives baked goods elasticity and allows them to rise, and provides chewiness in doughs for pizzas and bagels. It’s also used in the meat substitute known as “mock-duck” and is found as an additive in many unsuspecting places such as ketchup, mixed spices, some charcoal briquettes, and ice cream.
Gluten-Free Resources and Information
University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research
Northland Celiac Group
Raising Our Celiac Kids (ROCK) – Twin Cities Chapter
Glutenfree.com – includes recipes and online grocery store for gluten-free diets
Minneapolis/St. Paul Gluten-Free Shopping Guide
Minneapolis/St. Paul Gluten-Free Dining Guide