The first breeze of summer sparks something unique in each of us.
The primal awakening, however, the closing of our eyes, the deep inhalation as the nearly-forgotten wind caresses us once more, remains universal. Summer tends to incite a hunger in us, it inspires a search for something deeply desired.
When that breeze hit me this year, I realized almost immediately that I needed something. And though I was not sure what at the time, I knew that it was something satisfying, something stunning. Something tempting, something tantalizing. Something my heart understood before my head could even discern its motives. I realized only after the road began unfurling behind my little red sedan like a great gray river that I knew, that day, where my impromptu one-tank trip was taking me. A place I wanted it to take me more than anywhere else in the world.
Not to the beach, glowing with sun and seduction, not to the bar and grill, pulsing with song and spirits, not to any other hub of symbolic summer romance. The sweetness I craved I knew would be fulfilled in only one place. At Jam Gluten-Free Bakeshop.
At the NEOCN Vendor’s Fair in April, I had experienced the pleasures of this establishment for the first time, though its reputation had preceded it. I had spent weeks admiring (Well, alright. Ogling.) the tantalizing photographs on Jam’s Facebook page, images of such a shifting array of exemplary baked goods that by the time I actually had the pleasure of meeting the proprietors of this lovely shop, the first (and only) words out of my mouth were a heartily sighed, “Oh, Jam…”
Let me introduce you to my summer crush.
Nestled along the scenic roads of Sandusky, Ohio, Jam Gluten-Free Bakeshop sits like a bright puzzle piece masquerading as part of the landscape, though its signage hints at the brilliance at work within.
The sugar-dusted brainchild of multi-award winning Superior Master Chef Eric, Jam is a dedicated gluten-free bakery that arose not out of necessity, but out of artistry, and a desire (echoed in Jam’s mission statement) “to provide those afflicted with Celiac Disease or living a gluten-free lifestyle the BEST tasting confections, treats, and breads on the market.”
Let me testify, under penalty of being strung up by my onyx-painted toenails, that the man is succeeding.
Chef Eric, after studying and cooking all over the world, approaches the complex task of creating nostalgically-delectable treats as a science, a delicate process in which proteins and oils play off of and enhance one another, a technique in which gluten-free baking becomes a master craft. Mixing his own flours from a selection of wholesome and varied options (including Bob’s Red Mill’s Sorghum and Teff flours, two of my favorites on this planet as an avid gluten-free baker, myself), the Chef utilizes specific mixes for individual products, giving them each the flavor, mouthfeel, and crumb one might recall from the culinary zeniths of their gluten days. The Chef adheres to the 40/60 rule of flour mixing (a ratio of starches to whole flours), utilizing a rice base for cake flours, for example, and a legume base for rolls and cookies. The formulas are complex, but the end products are positively stunning.
The ample pantry at Jam is stocked not only with high-quality flours, but I eagerly noted other organic and vegan ingredients with which I bake in my own kitchen. A fine industrial oven occupies one corner of a substantial cooking space, and a generous finishing area allows for bountiful platters of cookies, turnovers, cupcakes, donuts, and essentially any imaginable baked good to be decorated, dusted, primped and presented to perfection.
Even Jam’s packaging is admirable. Aside from the handsome logo, the comprehensive ingredients list is incredibly helpful to those with assorted dietary concerns, and I discovered, to my delight, that Chef Eric also creates gluten-free goods that are free of additional common food allergens. An aspiring vegan, I appreciated the dairy-free, egg-free options available. However, what I truly appreciated was the full flavor, tender bite, and delicious taste of these treats. One would really never be able to tell that there was anything missing from these sweet delights.
There are no overly-tough attempts at cream puffs here, no dry and crumbly cupcakes, no dense, sticky muffins collapsing in on themselves like gummy neutron stars. As a sweets fiend, I had the pleasure of absconding with a considerable variety of Chef Eric’s goods in a large plastic bag bundled into both arms, one nearly bursting its knotted top.
Not one of these confections failed to impress.
What I had the pleasure of enjoying included (all featured in photographs):
Of the gluten-free, egg-free, soy-free persuasion: a flaky, tender apple-cinnamon foldover, and a moist, luscious cinnamon roll with cream cheese frosting.
Of the (impressively) gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free variety: a rich classic chocolate brownie indiscernible as containing any omissions, and a blissfully decadent piece of chocolate brownie peanut butter pie.
As cake is the manna of the gods to me, I sampled several gluten-free mini-cupcakes: adorable and delicious cream-filled (visually reminiscent of certain gluten-containing, proprietary lunchbox cakes, but with a lovely, silky texture and genuine, creamy sweetness), birthday cake (almond cakes are wonderful in my eyes–and mouth–and this chocolate-frosted version was exceptional), peanut butter (a rich chocolate cake with an addictive peanut butter frosting that was truly swoon-worthy), and a vanilla with colorful sprinkles inside, one evoking memories of childhood birthdays, though these beauties could easily be served at my upcoming 34th, alongside glimmering glasses of Moscato.
And then, I discovered what for me was a perfect food.
I knew I would adore them, as I had relished everything else at Jam. The bakeshop is renowned for its Swiss Rolls, and I had tasted the classic buttercream variety (picture the pre-packaged glutenous brand we all know, if they were not made of yoga mat and plastic chocolate, and were instead served moist and rich on a silver tray in a French bakery), and the vodka-infused buttercream type (glorious…), but I was intrigued by the white-chocolate-coated strawberry versions peeping out at me from the store’s tidy shelves.
I have to say that when I bit into one, my eyes rolled closed, and I could nearly feel the warm breeze waft over me again. It was a taste of summer, a wedding of spongecake and sweet preserves and delicate white chocolate. This was love in a cake, for me. My heart melted before any sugary goodness even had a chance.
You’re the one, Strawberry Swiss Roll. I wish to walk beside you for the rest of my days.
Or at least until I finish this last little bite. It is a divine thing indeed that two are included in one package…
If you are ever in Sandusky, pay Chef Eric a visit at Jam (3714 Columbus Avenue, Suite B, sharing a parking lot with Harney’s Market), Wednesday through Friday from 8 am to 6 pm, or Saturday through Sunday from 8 am to 4 pm. Check out Jam’s Facebook page for their seasonal hours and impressive menus (which also include delicious breads, rolls, and pizza crusts, among other savory items for those not endowed with a mouth full of sweet-teeth, as I am). Browse the FAQs for additional ordering information and availability, and for any inquiries as to special orders (please give the Chef 3 days to a few weeks to accommodate these; items hand-crafted to order would be well worth the wait).
Even if, like myself, you are nowhere near Sandusky, yet you are craving something sweet and lovely, consider making a trip to Ohio’s gluten-free-friendly coast.
You won’t regret it, and it might just make your summer one you’ll never forget.
Photographs copyright Alexis, aka GF Lex, 2015.