Allergen-free treats dominate Annie May’s menu because Annie May is on a mission.
story & photos by Bakery Boy
“I’m allergic to corn gluten and about 50 other things,” says Annie May McGill, the founder, namesake, head baker, allergen-free-ingredients missionary, and generally smiling owner of Annie May’s Sweet Café in Louisville, Kentucky.
You might think her multiple allergies got Annie May started in allergen-free baking, but the way she tells it, her motivation first grew from baking for someone else.
“I have a nephew who is allergic to nuts and eggs and wheat, three common ingredients in a lot of baked goods,” she says. “To make him a birthday cake, I had to find things he could eat.”
So Annie May studied up on substitutes for various ingredients, eventually discovering useful things like brown rice flour, tapioca starch, rice milk, palm fruit oil that works like a soy-free shortening, and other gluten-free, allergen-free, and non-dairy items good for replacing traditional foodstuffs. Through experimentation, she eventually converted a neighbor’s basic cake and icing recipes into allergen-free versions for her nephew’s birthday cake, no doubt earning favorite-aunt status as a welcomed side effect.
But she didn’t stop there. Repeating that same basic process of converting recipes in order to avoid ingredients many people are allergic to, she added more and more goodies to her baking repertoire. The hobby grew into a career track that blossomed when she opened Annie May’s Sweet Café, billed as “Louisville’s only dedicated gluten-free, nut-free, and soy-free bakery,” on Frankfort Avenue east of downtown Louisville.
“I’m a totally self-taught baker,” Annie May says. “I like figuring out ways to make treats people with allergies can enjoy.” Her lineup now includes a wide variety of cakes, pies, cookies, brownies, bars, cheesecakes, banana bread, pizza crust, crescent rolls, hamburger and hot dog buns, blueberry muffins, and by the time you read this most likely a few more as well.
Building on her original success with her nephew’s birthday cake, Annie May’s features about a dozen different kinds of cakes and about twice that many kinds of icing, nearly all of them featuring allergen-free and vegan ingredients. Consider her carrot cake: It includes brown rice flour, tapioca starch, sorghum flour, carrots, carrot juice, palm fruit oil, eggs, cinnamon, baking soda, cream of tartar, xanthan gum, and sea salt. Only the eggs present a potential allergy problem, so she also developed a second version, a vegan carrot cake, by substituting flax seed for eggs.
Other cakes, some with vegan versions and some made only seasonally, include pumpkin, red velvet, strawberry, vanilla, chocolate, mocha, lemon, and spiced beer cake. For the spiced beer cake, the title ingredient is gluten-free beer that contains only sorghum, buckwheat, honey, water, and yeast. Between layers and atop these cakes, she spreads her host of icings, each one built around butter cream (using palm fruit oil for shortening), cream cheese (with rice milk), or whipped agave nectar.
Among Annie May’s assortment of allergen-free cookies, which range from chocolate chips and snicker-doodles to pumpkin spice, lemon, and oatmeal, one version has risen to become this bakery’s signature item. Annie May calls them Allergen Free Supercookies (see photo).
An Allergen Free Supercookie involves dairy-free chocolate cream cheese filling smashed between two thick chocolate chip cookies that are vegan and allergen-free, with no eggs, no gluten, and no dairy, Annie May explains. After a Supercookie is assembled, one end is dipped in a vegan chocolate coating for accent.
As a service to her allergy-prone customers, who are intensely interested in every detail about what’s in their food, Annie May posts ingredient lists online for all of her baked goods. Here is a breakdown of what’s in the Supercookies:
- Cookie: brown rice flour, tapioca starch, sorghum flour, palm fruit oil, brown sugar, chocolate chips (evaporated cane juice, chocolate liqueur, non-dairy cocoa butter), egg replacer (potato starch, tapioca flour, calcium lactate, calcium carbonate, citric acid, cellulose gum, modified cellulose), water, vanilla, salt, xanthan gum
- Filling: powdered sugar, palm fruit oil, agave nectar, salt
- Coating: chocolate chips (evaporated cane juice, chocolate liqueur, non-dairy cocoa butter), palm fruit oil, agave nectar, salt
Annie May McGill has followed her baking muse from that early interest in making a birthday cake for her allergic nephew to making all kinds sweet treats for all kinds of people with all kinds of allergies. Her constant quest to develop new allergen-free items even leads to creations such as spiced beer cupcakes, which she fills with a homemade caramel that includes a dose of beer from the nearby Apocalypse Brew Works, an enterprise that must be like-minded because it offers a gluten-free beer among its craft-brewed selection.
“It’s fun coming up with new things,” Annie May says. “All of our desserts are made fresh, from scratch. We never use wheat, gluten, peanuts, tree nuts, or soy in our recipes. We also segregate other allergen ingredients and use different baking areas, different utensils, and different cooking devices to avoid cross-contamination in our vegan and allergen-free items.”
3110 Frankfort Avenue
Louisville, KY 40206
store hours: Tue-Friday 10 a.m.- 6 p.m., Sat 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
For more about Louisville: Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau www.gotolouisville.com
For more about Kentucky: Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism www.kentuckytourism.com