Look what came in the mail last week :-)
A few weeks ago, the wonderful people at Shabtai Bakery approached us with the request to review their gluten free products. After checking out their website and seeing their delicious desserts, we agreed to do an independent review. Who doesn’t love dessert? What excited us about this bakery, however, is the fact that they provide not only gluten and dairy free baked goods, but all of their products are peanut, casein, lactose, corn, soy and preservative free as well. Everything is also prepared in a certified gluten free and kosher facility.
The bakery is named after Shabtai, the owner of the company, who learned the art of baking from his father, and has been honing his craft for over 30 years. His mission is to provide the finest quality baked goods that are free of most allergens, yet provide a familiar culinary experience, one that many in the gluten free community have given up on ever experiencing again.
We, in particular, are looking to test any gluten free products on members of the regular gluten eating world as well, just to invite a more objective comparison against regular fare. Those of you that are familiar with our own preference for whole gluten free grain alternatives and low or no sugar, should take note, that in a general product review, we try to stay completely neutral, instead of becoming dogmatic about one or two ingredients. Instead, we are looking at whether a company’s product provides truthful disclosure, overall value to the gluten free community, and above all, meeting the requirements of being prepared in a dedicated and certified gluten free facility.
In researching the Shabtai Bakery, we found them to meet all of the above requirements, even though their products use more starches and sugars than meets our personal preference. But since not all of you reading this ;-) have the same concerns, we felt doubly encouraged to accept this review.
Since Shabtai was very generous in providing us with five different boxes of products, we felt it necessary to invite a larger group of individuals to help in our review. As mentioned, we wanted to invite celiac and gluten-free individuals as well as non-allergen concerned people to take part in this review. Therefore, we held a gluten-free product tasting at Stockton Hair Artists in Albuquerque, NM. Thomas Stockton, our personal hairdresser, invited several friends and other stylists, some of which are gluten intolerant, or have other food allergies, to participate in our taste test.
For the review, Shabtai provided us with one apricot roll, on box each of ring tings, black and white cookies, florentine lace cookies and chocolate chip cookies.
Once they opened the boxes, everyone immediately commented on how good everything looked. The Florentine Lace and the Black and White cookies disappeared immediately, taking top spot as everyone’s favorite, closely followed by the enticing looking apricot roll. Many people felt that the chocolate chip cookies, while very tasty, were a little dry and crumbly and tasted a little unfamiliar to this group. Some thought it was due to the interesting addition of cinnamon, which is not usually found in regular chocolate chip cookies.
The ring tings, which are a variety of a rich snack cake (something like a regular Hostess cake, or so we are told), were loved, but considered a little too rich and sweet by some testers. One, in particular, envisioned the ring tings to be a better frozen dessert with ice cream, which, by the way, is one of the recommendations by Shabtai himself.
When asked how these desserts compared with regular fare, almost all felt that they were indistinguishable. Almost all desired to purchase them again, except for one, who backed up his comment by saying that he would just eat way too many.
Prior to the general review at Stockton’s, we sampled each of these desserts ourselves. The apricot roll, florentine lace cookies and the black and white cookies were something that I (Inge) was familiar with when I lived in Europe. The apricot roll was similar to a jelly, or fruit filled biscuit roll, often seen in European bakeries. The florentine cookies, used to be a tasty treat in the past (prior to the diagnosis of gluten intolerance), and the black and white cookies I first encountered in a small bakery in San Francisco, quite some time ago.
I loved the taste, flavor and crunchy texture of the Florentine Lace cookies the best. They were also not overly sweet and quite satisfying. I could envision them to go well with a scoop of So Delicious ice cream.
The Black and White Cookies, were almost on par with the Florentines, and I especially loved the subtle hint of marzipan. Their delicate texture and flavor were only enhanced by the chocolate and white frosting. These would definitely be a sought after item on anyone’s dessert table.
The Apricot Roll was beautifully presented and, like all the other desserts, made quite an impression. It was a tad sweet, but this is coming from someone who really doesn’t consume a lot of sugar. You may feel differently and should definitely try it yourself.
I was unfamiliar with the Ring Tings, having never tried anything like it before. Their texture was soft, sweet, very “chocolatey” and decadent, filled with a vanilla filling. I could see, that trying them frozen, might lend a different taste experience. Something to try in the future.
The chocolate chip cookies, upon first sight, reminded me of Mother’s Cookies, the regular gluten containing variety, found in many stores. Not having seen, or tasted any commercial choices in a very long time, I was curious to give these a try, especially in light of the fact, that they did not contain any whole grain gluten free flours. Instead, they are made with potato starch and almond flour. I appreciated and liked their flavor, but thought they could be a little more moist. Overall very acceptable, but these were not my personal favorite.
For my part I (Gillian), was also familiar with the Florentine Lace Cookies and the Apricot Roll, having tried something like it in the past. While I have heard of these type of Black and White cookies being very popular in New York, I never had the opportunity to try them myself. The Ring Tings were also something which I had never sampled, or even heard of before, so I was truly unsure of what to expect.
Out of the samples I tried, my personal favorite were the Black and White cookies, closely followed by the Florentine Lace. I love most desserts that have a flavor of marzipan (the recipe for marzipan sticks in our book being a personal favorite), so for me, the Black and White cookies were almost perfect. One half covered in white icing, the other in dark chocolate, perfectly complimented the subtle marzipan flavor and the slightly chewy texture. These would certainly be a dessert which I would seek out in the future for special occasions or parties.
The Florentine Lace cookies were definitely my other favorite, being crunchy, but not too sweet. The slight spicy flavor of cinnamon balanced the flavor of the walnuts, which are the base for this cookie, as well as providing a nice contrast to the rich dark chocolate which covered one half.
Now the Apricot Roll is something that I have tried in the past, albeit in a slightly different form with less sugar being used. In this version I felt that while the texture was just about perfect, the flavor was nice, but slightly overwhelmed by the amount of sugar used. However, this is coming from someone who does not particularly care for overly sweet desserts. I felt that this would have been much nicer if the wonderful flavor of the apricots, which happen to be one of my favorite fruits, were allowed to shine through more.
The chocolate chip cookies were okay, though unlike any chocolate chip cookies I have ever made, or tasted before. Made with cinnamon, they had a unique flavor. They were not overly sweet, which I appreciated, but I did feel that they were way too dry and crumbly for my personal taste.
The Ring Tings ended up on the bottom of my personal list, only because I felt that they were way too sweet. I love almost anything and everything made with chocolate, at least dark chocolate. However, for me that was completely over shadowed by the heavy icing and super sweet vanilla filling. The texture was alright, sort of making me think of a slightly dry marshmallow, but I had a tough time even discerning the flavor. Maybe you would feel differently?? From what I understand, these cakes can be frozen, which might also tone down the effects of the sugar.
Overall, we are giving this bakery a thumbs up, for their outstanding contribution to the gluten and allergen-free community, and their success in offering products that even non-gluten free people will rave about. Shabtai has succeeded in offering familiar desserts sans gluten.