Gluten-Free. It goes way beyond a dietary restriction, it’s a lifestyle. Now the lifestyle is bringing delicious, gluten-free goodies to Lakeway via crafty baker and Lakeway-resident Karen Morgan and her business Blackbird Bakery.
Her first location has opened at the Lohmans Crossing Shopping Center in Lakeway and she could not be more excited about sharing her skills with the Lake Travis community.
We had the immense pleasure of sitting down with Karen to talk shop … gluten-free style.
LTL: You finally have a brick and mortar store, congrats! What has the journey been like from gluten-free baker/author to storefront owner?
Karen: Yes, at last we have a storefront and the journey has been nothing short of daunting. The learning curve for me has been tremendous because I am self taught, so every day is a new beginning and a new lesson on how to be better for my customers and be a more efficient business owner.
LTL: Lakeway is overjoyed to have your business be a part of our community! What was your reasoning in choosing Lakeway as your location?
Karen: Well, I live out here, so it just made sense to work as close to home as possible, and thankfully, all of our research kept saying that Lakeway was the best place to set up shop, so it was a win-win all around.
LTL: Gluten-free has become a very popular lifestyle in the last few years. You have been baking GF since 2008, what were the influences that made you a gluten-free baker?
Karen: I actually became a gluten-free baker out of necessity. I was diagnosed with Celiac disease in 2002, which basically wiped my Italian culinary heritage right off the table. Literally. So in order to have my nonna’s [grandmother] homemade pasta again, I had to teach myself how to bake and cook gluten-free, which was tricky, because back then it was like the Dark Ages.
There weren’t any gluten-free cooking schools and even fewer cookbooks that shed light on the uncharted waters of how to make gluten-free taste edible. I can’t tell you how many loaves of “bread” I baked that looked more like futuristic building materials than actual food. So I got pissed off in the “Texas” kind of way and used that as my fuel to make gluten-free better than what came before.
Since I’ve been at it for so long, it’s been really gratifying to see how much gluten-free has improved across the board, so fewer and fewer people have to suffer through the REALLY bad parts of gluten-free. But the market isn’t totally out of the woods yet.
LTL: Your claim-to-fame are your GF flour blends for specific recipes such as cookies, donuts, and bread. Why did you decide on going that route?
Karen: After my first cookbook Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free came out in 2010, I started teaching as much as I possibly could because I love to teach and because I really wanted to understand what people struggled with the most when they are making the transition to the gluten-free lifestyle.
Without fail, every single one of my students said they were frustrated with the quality of the gluten-free flours. None of them worked the way the manufacturers said they did, so all these poor people felt jilted and left to flounder out in the gluten-free unknown; abandonment of any kind is devastating.
I actually started working on the flour blend line after I lived and worked in France for four months in 2006, but it was an ambitious undertaking and I knew it would take years to complete, but I didn’t think it would take seven. The professional chefs of Europe use over a dozen different flours, with each one grown and milled to specific specifications and each one containing a different ratio of gluten (the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye).
There is no such thing as an all-purpose flour in Europe, so why should there be an all-purpose flour for gluten-free baking? I took this philosophy and applied it to my research and broke all of gastronomy down into 7 sections, then engineered a gluten-free flour blend for each of these sections.
We have the “Donut & Fritter Blend”, the “Pancake & Biscuit Blend”, the “Cookie Jar Blend”, the “Cake & Muffin Blend”, the “Pie & Pasta Blend” and the “Bread & Pizza Blend”. (The seventh blend is my white whale, the “Puff Pastry Blend”, and will be out next year).
So take, for example, the “Cookie Jar Blend”; It’s one blend, but it makes thousands of recipes. It can make any kinds of cookie or bar imaginable. Same goes for the “Donut & Fritter Blend”. Think fryer friendly foods. Tempura shrimp, donuts, fried chicken, beignets, fried calamari. Savory or sweet, the gluten-free world is your oyster! Each blend is gluten-free, soy free, dairy free, nut free and xanthan gum free.
LTL: What are the items visitors to your store cannot miss?
Karen: Well, we got our footing in town with our ‘adult’ pop tarts, which feature a lemon cardamom icing that is mind blowing. I’m partial to the Lavender Lemon Fig.
We sell out of our donut holes, chocolate chip cookies, and breads every single day, so we’ve been encouraging people to call in and reserve them so we don’t have to turn anyone away. (Oh, and did I mention our breads are dairy free???)
LTL: Do you have plans for a second location in the future?
Karen: Oh absolutely!!!! We want as many people to see that they don’t have to make two meals for their families any more. Everyone can eat like kings and queens, with Blackbird Bakery.
LTL: Are you going to offer any events at your store, such as tastings and baking classes?
Karen: I’ve got a real soft spot for teaching, so YES, but they won’t surface until after the holidays.
LTL: One last question, what is your favorite thing to bake?
Karen: Oh man, that is such a tough one. When you get right down to it, I love baking anything for my friends and family because the best memories I have are when we are all sitting around the table, eating delicious food that were made right there in the kitchen.
Well there you have it. Make your way over to Blackbird Bakery and get yourself a dang pop-tart!
You can connect with Karen on the Blackbird Bakery Facebook Page.
Lakeway Store Location: 2300 Lohman Spur #163 Austin, TX 78734 (map)