Q&A WITH SOULFULLY SWEET TREATS’ DEIRDRE

When did you first develop an interest in baking?

My mother is an incredible cook and was also very much involved in health foods and eating well, not just gourmet recipes and food, but really healthy ingredients. She was always in the kitchen, so I became interested in cooking and baking at a very young age. As I got older, during my college years, I started experimenting with healthier methods for baking, especially ways to increase fiber and whole grains in traditional baked goods. I’ve never been one to follow directions, so experimenting with different ingredients, tastes and textures was really fun and exciting for me. That led me to start creating my own recipes, which I really love to do. I’ve developed a lot of recipes over the years and really love baking, but then I started working in sales and making pretty good money. Leaving that security to start my own baking business was a risk and it took me awhile to work up the courage to take that leap of faith.

How did you come to be aware of gluten intolerance and the need for gluten free cooking/gluten free bakery products?

I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance and when I tried the gluten free food products that were available in my local health food store, well, they were just horrendous. Baked goods and breads, anything with any kind of flour, was just the worst. I couldn’t imagine that the estimated 20 million people in the U.S. with various forms of gluten sensitivities and celiac disease were eating all of this crap food.

In spite of my diagnosis, I still wake up in the morning and want a muffin, or a cookie or brownie in the afternoon. So I started converting the recipes I had developed earlier, experimenting again with different kinds of flours and sweeteners. I’d take batches of whatever treats I was working on to my doctor’s office and tested them on the staff and patients. They all loved the treats and kept saying they couldn’t believe they were gluten free. And because they were gluten free and tasted good, everybody in the family could enjoy them. Mom’s didn’t have to buy one package of cookies for their child with celiac and another for the rest of the family. It doesn’t take a genius to discover that when food tastes good, everybody will eat it!

Did your own gluten intolerance lead you to learn more about organic foods and healthier alternatives to the products we traditionally use for baking sweet treats?

I learned a lot about healthy ingredients from my mom, who was really into health food very early on. And when I was experimenting with my own recipes in college, I got into whole wheat flour because of the fiber and nutrition it contains, so I had a good knowledge base to start with.

But part of the problem is that most of the gluten free food products are made with a lot of starch. When you read the labels you’ll see tapioca starch and white rice flour which are very high in carbs, and spike glucose which leads to weight gain and other health issues. I wanted to find a way to make the baked goods I desired but with more fiber, protein and healthier ingredients.

If I could detect that taste, and anyone who has tried gluten free baked goods knows what I’m talking about, forget it. I’m not a fan of tapioca or garbanzo beans or some of the other ingredients used in most gluten free foods. So I started testing and discovered a bean flour that works very well. I also use brown rice for rice flour, and I’ve tried sorghum flour. Basically I was looking for flavor as well as more fiber and protein. Then I started grinding oats to make flour. That’s how I discovered the base for most of my products – brown rice, bean flour and ground oats.

What was the process for developing your own recipes for gluten free cookies and other sweet treats?

I already had the recipes for healthier versions of baked goods, so basically I just had to amend them, deciding what needed to be removed and what I was going to replace that ingredient with. You try it once and see what happens, taste how the various ingredients impact the flavor and make adjustments. I was pretty lucky in that most of the recipes were pretty close. I might have tried 10 variations of a recipe before I got it right, and then I continue to tweak the ingredients in very small measures until I think it’s perfect.

I started bringing in baked goods to my doctor’s office because I wanted feedback, to make sure the recipe was appealing to other people and not just suited to my tastes. I also had made friends with so many people in the doctor’s office and we were all searching for flavorful baked goods. I’d bring in a cake for someone’s birthday – something that they hadn’t enjoyed in years – and it was really rewarding to hear how much people enjoyed it. Plus, I was doing what I love, creating great tasting treats and the people were so appreciative, it just really got to me. Each of us searches for our purpose, and I was going through some pretty big life changes at the time – I was getting divorced, dealing with this health issue — and that’s how I discovered my purpose. I truly believe that this is what I was supposed to do. When you’re doing what you are meant to do, when you know this is why you are here, it’s really exciting.

It’s one thing to develop your own recipes for family and friends, but what made you decide to create your own online bakery for selling these gluten free products to consumers nationwide?

I had friends and friends of friends who would ask me to make different breads or cakes for them when they were having company over. Then people started paying me to bake special treats for them. I always knew that I could bake and cook really well, but I think when you grow up among a lot of really good cooks, you underestimate your talent. I have a sister who is a vet and a great cook, but she insists she’s not a great cook. Cooking, baking, eating good food, it’s just part of who I am. I didn’t realize how special it is and am often still taken aback when people rave about my cookies.

You currently offer nine different types of gluten free cookies on your website. Do you have any plans to expand your product line with other gluten free treats?

I think I’ll probably do cupcakes next. I also have developed recipes for brownies and cakes, but cupcakes are a little easier to ship and people love cupcakes, obviously. My chocolate cake with vanilla icing is really, really good. I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever created, but then I also think there’s nothing better than a slice of chocolate cake. I’ve been baking chocolate cakes for years, trying to get it perfect, always finding some ingredient to tweak a bit, but I’ve come up with this gluten free chocolate cake that I think is the best thing I make.

Your picture is on the website and it’s easy to notice that you’re not only attractive, but you’re also fit and thin. How do you bake all day and still say so trim?

My company motto is “Love your body, Feed your soul.” That pretty much sums up why I created Soulfully Sweet. Baking sweet treats is what I do for a living but I’m also promoting healthier eating. I have a passion for enjoying great food but at the same time, I respect myself by only putting good foods into my body and I want to encourage others to do the same. Once I realized that I would have a much better, happier life if I made choices that demonstrated self-respect both mentally and physically, my choices became easier. I’m also very passionate and want to live a passionate life in every way. Food is definitely one of my great passions, so it made sense for me to create a company that sold great tasting food that was as healthy as possible.

Eating well is one of the greatest pleasures in life and none of us wants to feel deprived. So, if you’re going to eat something sweet, eat my cookies because they’re damn good and they’re so much better for you. If you are going to indulge in something sweet, eat Soulfully Sweet treats!

We’re all trying to be healthier, eat more organic products, learn more about gluten free cooking and maybe even eat a gluten free diet. What advice do you give people who are trying to eat healthier?

With traditional baked goods or cookies, many people can consume five or six at once and still be unsatisfied. With Soulfully Sweet, people will eat one cookie and be satiated. It’s because the healthier ingredients are more flavorful and more filling, like the richness of the cocoa I use, it makes the chocolate taste so much chocolatier. Eating what you actually want, not depriving yourself, but choosing really healthy, tasteful foods is more satisfying. And when you’re satisfied, you just naturally eat less.

I have also found that there is nothing more important then eating in balance. Isn’t everything about balance? Eating a balance of protein, fat and carbs is the most important thing to do. It used to be hard to maintain my weight, but when I changed the focus to eating a balance of protein, carbs and fat — and more fat than I had previously allowed myself to eat for years, by the way – my weight stabilized easily. I remember hearing Dr. Sears, author of The Zone Diet say, “If you’re going to eat the Snickers candy bar, eat some cottage cheese along with it” which I thought was gross. The point he was making was that the cottage cheese is loaded with protein and your body reacts very differently to the sugar in the Snickers bar when it is ingested along with protein. It’s all about the interaction and how protein and fat and carbs work off of each other. It’s worked for me!