“Gluten-free treats were just not something I used to even bother eating,” says Felix Goodwin, a Melbourne chef and diagnosed coeliac.
Cherie Lyden, a fellow coeliac and founder of Wholegreen bakery and cafe in Sydney, agrees.”You would open up biscuits or bread and they would even smell weird,” she says. “They didn’t smell like real food.”
Goodwin and Lyden are among the small-batch bakers determined to improve gluten-free choices, from bread to croissants and chiffon cake.
Chefs Elena Nguyen and Felix Goodwin have been baking gluten-free for two years and are about to open a bakery in Melbourne. Photo: Luis Ascui
Comparisons with styrofoam or bricks are common for gluten-free baked goods, but not for the indulgent doughnuts or chocolate eclairs these bakeries sell.
“So much of the product over the years has been so lacklustre and so deprived of flavour,” says Nonie Dwyer of gluten-free Sydney bakery, Nonie’s. She was diagnosed with coeliac disease 26 years ago.
Coeliac disease, an immune response to gluten that damages the small intestine, affects approximately 1.4 per cent of Australians. But studies show between 10 and 25 per cent of the population follow low- or no-gluten diets.
Nonie’s Food owner Nonie Dwyer is astounded by the quality of gluten-free goods now. Photo: Wolter Peeters
“It’s quite a wide spectrum of people who support us,” says Dwyer. “Coeliac being the most extreme, to sensitivity or intolerance [of gluten] through to those just eating that way for general health reasons.”
According to market advisory firm Mordor Intelligence, the market for gluten-free products in Australia is forecast to grow, on average, 7.8 per cent per year through to 2025. And with growth comes choice.
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“Gluten-free [people] have to suffer frozen items, defrosted items, and that’s not fair,” says Liran Adika of Glazed Bakery in Melbourne’s south.
He emphasises the word fresh when describing the bagels, sausage rolls and plum cakes his team serve.
“I believe that flavour beats everything,” says the chef, who has worked at top restaurants including Vue de Monde in the Melbourne CBD.
For Goodwin, the gluten-free aspect of his sourdough, caneles and cookies is also secondary to taste. “You can’t tell that it’s gluten-free. That’s really not a focus.”
Vanilla and rum caneles are a specialty of Felix Goodwin and Elena Nguyen. Photo: Supplied
He started a specialist delivery-only bakery in Melbourne in 2020 with his partner Elena Nguyen, also a chef, as they pivoted away from an “all-diets-welcome” wedding cake business. This year they’ll open a shopfront for Kudo Bakery in the CBD.
Together, they are a powerhouse team. Nguyen has no dietary restrictions and acts as quality control, while Goodwin knows what items gluten-avoiding people crave. “She’ll say if it’s good or not,” he jokes.
They highlight ingredients like pandan, kumquat and finger lime in their sophisticated treats.
Wholegreen bakery and cafe in Sydney loves being able to tell coeliacs they can have anything on the shelf. Photo: Louise Hawson
Doughnuts were the first item that Sina Klug developed for her gluten-free and vegan bakery Nutie in Sydney. Before she opened her first shop in Balmain, she baked for a cafe where customers would constantly ask if she could make doughnuts that were coeliac-friendly.
Klug now bakes an almond-meal batter into fluffy rounds and glazes them in flavours such as black forest and Ferrero Rocher.
It took her six months to develop the recipe with her partner Jacques Dumont. They set up their kitchen like “a chemistry lab” and used spreadsheets as they trialled various alternative flour blends.
Some of the range of vegan and gluten-free treats at Nutie. Photo: Janie Barrett
“You have to do a lot of experiments for every single product to get the texture right. It will be different for every product or dough you make,” she says.
Lyden agrees: “There’s a real science to gluten-free [baking].”
She was diagnosed as coeliac in 2014, along with her daughter. As a former nutritionist, she wanted less processed gluten-free food than what was available.
Lamingtons are a best-seller at Pandy Bakeshop in Melbourne. Photo: Supplied
“You buy your Bread & Butter Project [bread], your Iggy’s or Sonoma, and that’s as natural as it comes. It doesn’t have stabilisers or preservatives.”
Lyden opened her first bakery in Waverley that year and later spent six months developing her bread recipe, listening to customer requests for a loaf that was egg-free, dairy-free and also gluten-free.
Glazed owner Adika, a classically trained pastry chef, had to unlearn everything he knew when creating dairy- and gluten-free puff pastry, his greatest feat in the kitchen to date.
Frangipane tarts from Wholegreen are one of dozens of options at the bakery. Photo: Louise Hawson
“I found it very exciting actually, the challenge. Every day is like I’m walking into a lab doing science,” he says.
Self-taught baker Sophie O’Connor of Pandy Bakeshop in Melbourne went through five to 10 attempts at her best-selling lamingtons before she was happy. Their supreme fluffiness is the result of an emulsifier which helps boost the fat content.
Next up, she wants to tackle a vegan and gluten-free chiffon cake, which usually relies on many egg whites for its light texture.
Green tea dome at Yugen Tea Bar, gluten-free and loaded with flavours of matcha and pineapple. Photo: Supplied
Her business originally started as a vegan bakery but soon also became a gluten-free destination. “As I got my foot in the market I realised there was a lot of crossover.”
People’s reasons for avoiding gluten are varied, but every bakery in this story reported customers who simply prefer gluten-free goods.
Dwyer’s breads, from a linseed and pepita loaf to fig and almond, are popular with people who say they feel more satisfied after eating.
Nutie’s glazed doughnuts fill a hole in the market. Photo: Supplied
Nutie doughnuts get extra kudos from those who prefer that they’re baked not fried. Klug also says their choc-chip cookies, made with chickpea flour, have a naturally nutty and beautiful flavour. “You can use a lot more wholesome ingredients.”
Similarly, Goodwin and Nguyen’s inclusion of teff and buckwheat in their sourdough gives it an extra flavour dimension.
But Lisa Donaldson, an accredited practising dietician, says there are drawbacks to a gluten-free diet if it’s not a medical necessity.
A peanut butter and chocolate mud cake that’s vegan and gluten-free at Pandy Bakeshop. Photo: Supplied
“Many gluten free products are highly refined and overly processed. This can lead to lack of essential nutrients, such as fibre and B vitamins including folate.”
Dr Evangeline Mantzioris, director of the University of South Australia’s nutrition program, agrees. “There are no real benefits of avoiding gluten if you are not gluten-intolerant or have coeliac disease. In fact there is a possibility there may be some disadvantages.
“One published study in 2018 has shown that people in the US who consumed lower levels of gluten had a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.”
Donaldson acknowledges that a varied diet allows for intake of more nutrients, and the range of flours used in gluten-free products is wide.
“There are some exciting gluten-free flours now being made from quinoa, chickpeas, buckwheat, lupin, coconut and even green bananas. Many of these flours are quite refined, but if it’s a loaf of bread … you can nutritionally enhance [it] with nourishing toppings.”
For those who do need to avoid gluten for the rest of their lives, niche bakeries are a welcome change.
Lyden loves seeing parents visit Wholegreen with coeliac children. “They come in and they say to their child, ‘You can have anything in this shop’. It’s such a nice feeling.”
People travel from Canberra, the Central Coast and the Blue Mountains for Nutie’s 100 per cent coeliac-friendly range. “You see their eyes light up like a kid in a toy store,” says Klug.
But the best response, she says, is when people try and return their treats because they think they have gluten in them.
Meanwhile, Felix Goodwin and Elena Nguyen are transporting adults back to their childhoods with their treats. A recent customer was able to eat pandan cake for the first time in 10 years.
“When we can bring back someone’s memory, or just give someone back a food that they haven’t been able to try in years, that’s the best kind of feedback,” says Goodwin.
Melbourne’s top gluten-free bakeries
2/1-3 Carre Street, Elsternwick, 03 9533 0315; glazedglutenfree.com.au
The Good Food Bakery
Shop 4, 209 Mornington-Tyabb Road, Mornington, 03 5925 9322; thegoodfoodbakery.com.au
Mister Nice Guy’s
151 Union Road, Ascot Vale, no phone; misterniceguy.com.au
Yugen Tea Bar
605 Chapel Street, South Yarra, 03 8080 8080; yugenteabar.com.au
Kudo Artisan Baker
8 Little Collins Street, Melbourne; kudobakery.com.au
Online only. Taking orders again from late April; pandybakeshop.com
Sydney’s top gluten-free bakeries
215-221 Victoria Road, Rydalmere, 02 9684 1114; imperialglutenfreebakery.com.au
12 Rochester Street, Botany; Northside Produce Market; Carriageworks Farmers Market; noniesfood.com
44 Holt Street, Surry Hills; 13 Beattie Street, Balmain, no phone; nutie.com.au
Sebastien Sans Gluten
131 Marion Street, Leichhardt, 02 9564 0539; sansgluten.com.au
24 Arden Street, Waverley; 257 Clarence Street, Sydney, 02 8197 0002; wholegreenbakery.com.au