I remember moving to Accra in 2012, and feeling completely lost. Not only did I not know anybody besides my husband, I also had no idea how difficult it would be to find certain ingredients and products as they were not always available at the one supermarket I frequented. Fast forward five years later, and it’s still not easy to find everything in one store, but at least it’s easier to find alternative products including agave syrup, quinoa and rice paper rolls just to name a few. Supermarkets like Maxmart, Marina Mall and Palace also have dedicated sections or aisles for gluten-free products now.
I’ve noticed a real phenomenon of anything gluten-free in the last ten years. My first experience with the term, gluten-free, was in high school. A classmate had told me that her sister was diagnosed with coeliac’s disease and had very violent reactions to anything she ate that contained wheat. She would be ill for days and not be able to go to school. In recent years, more people have been diagnosed with a gluten intolerance as knowledge about the condition has grown, and the demand for gluten-free options in restaurants and baked goods has increased.
Launched in April 2016, The Gluten Free Bakers also known as Victoria Rettenmund Aschkar and her mum, started their business from popular demand and also because they “want to help people, and make their lives better”. Victoria and her husband are both gluten intolerant and while experimenting with recipes and baking for her family, she would often share her baked treats with friends and family. They were so impressed with their skills and encouraged Victoria to start her business.
A mumpreneur (see my previous post on the definition of this word) and self-taught baker, Victoria was determined to “make something that’s enjoyable to eat” as often gluten-free products were different or didn’t taste as nice as their gluten counterparts! They constantly conduct rigorous recipe trialling and testing with friends and family before they offer a product on their menu. I loved how much passion Victoria has in her business and her baking. She explained that if she doesn’t get positive feedback from all her taste testers, she goes back to the drawing board, refines her recipe, and tries again.
The majority of their ingredients are sourced in Ghana. They also use locally produced millet, white rice, brown, tapioca and corn flours. Honey and coconut oil is also used and sourced from local producers. Nuts and pulses, however, are sourced from Lebanon.
I was lucky to receive free samples of their plain loaf with ground flaxseeds, red velvet cupcakes and vanilla cupcakes for this blog post. I invited my friend, Kelly, who is gluten intolerant to come help me with this review as she has had a lot of experience eating gluten-free products. She has definitely had her fair share of bad and inedible gluten-free products!
The Gluten Free Bakers have really put a lot of thought into their entire brand, and you get the sense of the quality and love starting from when you received your delivery! The packaging is beautiful, simple and chic. Three out of the four cupcakes arrived a little smushed but that was inevitable with the long trip it took with the motorbike delivery guy.
Kelly and I started our taste test with the bread. I have to be honest and say that this was my first experience with gluten-free bread so I really didn’t know what to expect. My initial thought was that it was quite dry, but as I chewed into it some more the texture changed and it was really moist. Most importantly, it tasted really good and I helped myself to a second slice! Kelly added that it was an extremely good bread and that she had bought a gluten-free loaf from another baker before which had to be thrown away. But this one is a keeper!
The ground flaxseeds in it help bind the bread together and is also a healthy addition. The loaf looked a little squashed and in a mushroom type shape, which we thought could’ve been due to the delivery driver again. However, Victoria explained that gluten-free bread dough is extremely temperamental and sticky! So once it’s in the loaf pan and left to rise, it’s out of her hands in terms of what shape it takes on. I’ve made bread before and it definitely is a bit tricky when working with yeast, so I can only imagine how much trickier it is to bake without gluten! It’s the gluten in bread that gives its structure and hold.
We tucked into the cupcakes and found the vanilla cupcakes had a lovely flavour, but was quite dry and crumbled easily. Victoria explained that they were baked two days before she sent them to me so that would explain why they were a bit dry, and I had also stored them in the fridge overnight, so we were eating them at least three days after they were baked. The red velvet cupcakes however were deliciously moist and were my favourite of the lot. They were baked the day before they were sent to me so made all the difference.
Gluten-free products tend to dry out quickly if stored in the fridge so they’re best consumed on the day baked, or as soon as possible. Bread however freezes well, so you can always pre-slice, freeze, and defrost when needed.
The Gluten Free Bakers have a rotating weekly menu, and items are limited as they bake just enough and to order to minimise leftovers. Victoria’s favourite savoury item on their menu is their cranberry and pecan bread, and her favourite sweets are their carrot cake and chocolate quinoa cupcake.