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My Story 

virtula_baking_2_framed.jpgI can remember baking as far back as when I was five years old – when I had to ask my mom to turn on the oven because I wasn’t allowed to. My fondest memories were of baking holiday cookies with my mom and little brother – decorating them with mountains of colored sprinkles and powdered sugar… while sneaking little bites of dough.

But I didn’t bake only during the holidays. On any given day, I might pull one of my mom’s baking cookbooks off the shelf to look at all the pictures of pretty, decorated cakes, and try to pick the one that looked like it would taste the best. Then I’d take out all the ingredients and the trusty old hand mixer, and after I’d stirred up a fine mess and poured the batter into pans, I’d run to find my mom (who had no idea what I was up to) to ask her to turn on the oven.

Our kitchen was an exciting place to be because it was always full of activity, wonderful smells, and delicious food. My mom was an amazing cook and I would watch and sometimes help while she altered recipes from around the world and turn them into something uniquely her own. This is where I learned about taste, texture, and quality, and how to sort of follow a recipe, and to make changes to it and create something entirely my own.

When I was about 10, I gravitated toward baking, not cooking. The reason? Because you’d be hard pressed to find a cookie in our house, unlike my friends’ homes. (We did have graham crackers, but they aren’t true cookies.) In our house, we ate fruit for dessert – except for celebrations or holidays. As much as I loved fruit, there were still those times when a cookie was the only thing that would hit the spot, and I knew I would have to bake it myself.

Most of my baking was done during the holidays. Every year we were seduced by the music and the snowy glitter of decorations in the streets and on store windows, buying into the whole mythology of “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas...” while we were walking around in shorts. The season was infectious, and it was exciting to be swept up in the frenzy, baking hundreds of cookies and cakes of all kinds for everyone we knew.

I loved the tradition then – and I still do. When December rolls around, I bake like a demon, making holiday cakes and cookies for friends and family, and deliver them in pretty boxes tied up with bows.

In 2003 my life changed. I learned I was gluten-intolerant and had to eliminate everything in my diet that contained wheat. I hoped that the gluten-free cookies in the markets would be able to satisfy my occasional cookie craving, but I was very disappointed. The taste and texture I wanted and expected simply were not there… so it was back to fruit.

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But the turning point came when my friends celebrated my first gluten-free birthday with the candles embedded in a pretty dish of fruit. It was thoughtful (and healthy!), and tasted better than any gluten-free dessert out there, but it just wasn’t as festive and celebratory as a cake (or even a cookie). It was right there and then that I decided I had to somehow figure out how to bake a gluten-free cookie as delicious as the ones I had baked all my life. 

With some research and whole lot of experimenting, I converted a couple of my cookie recipes into gluten-free versions. I thought they were delicious. I then brought them to my parents’ house and they thought they were delicious! Next I decided to share them with a few co-workers and they thought they were delicious. And no one cared if they were gluten-free or not – they just wanted to know if they could buy some for holiday gifts. Not knowing what to do with the request, I politely passed. I didn’t know how I could fit in their holiday gift orders when I had my own list of friends and family to bake for. After the holidays I thought about this a bit more and realized that if everyone who had tried the cookies loved them, (and not one of them had to eliminate wheat from their diet) then something very exciting was happening. It occurred to me that as I was trying to solve my own “cookie problem” I could also help others who were living around the margins on celebrations like I was. We were all yearning for a cookie that we could eat without worry – and also share with others. My cookie could be a cookie for everyone.

My family and friends had been my first tasters, but I knew that I needed to test the cookies on people who had no emotional attachment to me. So, I decided to use the company I worked for – it was the perfect secret test market. There were over 500 people, and over 200 of them unknowingly sampled my gluten-free cookies. They had no idea they were eating a gluten-free cookie, and every one of them asked for more.

Just to be extra sure, I did even more testing. And a few thousand confections later, we are thrilled to open our doors – to everyone. All the confections I now bake for family, friends (and now you!) I call Virtulas, and they are all gluten-free.

 

Welcome to Virtula Bakery and The Art of Gluten-Free Perfection

 

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