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Ana's Bakery specializes in treats – minus the wheat

I have good news for those of you who are gluten-free by choice or circumstance.

As of Feb. 1 Ana's Bakery in Valrico began taking pre-orders for breads, cakes, cookies, pies, brownies and muffins for pick-up at her shop, 4377 Lynx Paw Trail, just a few doors down from The Brunchery. The sweet smell of chocolate chip cookies filled the air as I stopped by to meet owner Ana Blanton last week. Just over an hour after agreeing to chat with me for this column she was pulling a fresh batch of cookies out of the oven for me to sample.

In my experience, gluten-free cookies can have strange flavors and textures that never seem quite right, but Ana's chocolate chip cookies passed with flying colors.

The part-time math teacher at the Hillsborough Community College Brandon campus was diagnosed with celiac disease six years ago. It's a disorder defined by an immune reaction to gluten, a protein found in bread, pasta, pizza crust, cookies, crackers and many other foods containing wheat, barley or rye. Gluten, which often serves as a binder, is even present in many ice creams, sauces and salad dressings.

At the time Ana was diagnosed, gluten-free bread never tasted the same to her as “normal” wheat loaves. It seemed her dietary option was to avoid her beloved bread but she wasn't ready to accept doing that.

So she went on her own search for bread substitutes, and when she couldn't find the high quality she wanted, she started developing her own bread recipes.

The work paid off.

Ana cracked the gluten-free code for a white sandwich bread that doesn't crumble and is sturdy enough to use for French toast. With some excellent results, she replaced wheat flour with rice and tapioca flour. A lifelong avoidance of all foods that contain gluten was hard enough for Ana, but then her daughter, Victoria, now 3, was also diagnosed with celiac disease.

It was the little things in life that most of us take for granted that became the toughest, Ana said, like knowing her daughter can no longer have cake at her friends' birthday celebrations or sugar cookies at Christmas.

So she began experimenting, making gluten-free sweets for her child. Now Ana's chocolate cake with cookies and cream buttercream frosting and chocolate-based peanut butter pie are among her most popular items.

Her freshly baked products are also available in several Valrico restaurants, including The Brunchery and The Landing.

For now her storefront serves as a kitchen and counter space for wholesale orders and pre-orders. But it's a jumping-off point for her to eventually open a conventional gluten-free bakery, where customers can just stop in and purchase fresh goods.

Ana prefers a 24-hour notice but she can do same-day orders, and she'll ship them to just about anywhere. For her complete bakery offerings and prices, go to www.anasglutenfreebakery.com or call (352) 214-4971.

Lynn Kessel is a freelance food columnist. For more of her recipes, visit southshore.tbo.com and enter the search words Lynn Kessel.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

½ cup sugar

¼ cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

¼ cup milk

1 ¼ cup rice flour

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray baking sheet with a non-stick agent.

In a mixing bowl, stir together sugar, brown sugar, egg, vanilla and milk. In a different bowl, combine rice flour, salt and baking soda and whisk together. Add flour mixture to the sugar and egg mixture and stir with a spatula just until combined. Do not over mix.

Gently fold in the chocolate chips until evenly distributed into the cookie batter.

Drop spoonfuls of the cookie dough onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling. Makes approximately 12 medium cookies.

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