Most brownies take about an hour to make. For Jennifer Lee, the recipe took about two years before it reached perfection.
It’s not easy baking brownies without eggs.
“It’s a lot of trial and error,” Lee said. “My egg replacer would turn them into bubbling tar. It was disgusting.”
The brownies and everything else served at Jennifer Lee’s Gourmet Bakery at the Worcester Public Market is made without eggs, without milk, without gluten or nuts. The bakery is one of the few in the country that makes everything without using ingredients that rank within the top 10 food allergies in the country.
“There’s such a need. Nobody is catering to all of these,” Lee said. “Usually you find places that are just gluten-free or vegan. I have kids that have top 10 allergies that come in, they’ve never had a donut in their life. They’ve never stepped into a bakery without being terrified.”
Top 10 allergen-free means no gluten, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, coconut, sesame, soy, fish, and shellfish.
Without some of those essential ingredients, baking is often more trial and error than an exact science. Two years after she began concocting brownie recipes one finally replicated the original fluffy fudge treats.
It took just as long to replicate her mom’s banana bread.
“It broke my heart because I love mom’s banana bread,” Lee said. “But now it’s our best selling muffin and bread.”
Lee, who also operates a bakery in Boston, doesn’t have food allergies, but, for a short time in her life, doctors said she did.
As a 17-year-old she opened a bakery. With banks hesitant to provide a teenager with a loan, she worked as a manager at JP Licks in Boston.
In 2014, she fell walking out of the freezer, suffered a seizure and broke her back. While recovering from the fall, she broke out in hives.
“They told me it was a gluten allergy and to give it up,” Lee said. “For an entire month, I gave it up. I felt so alone. And I felt like no one understood, that no one could cater to me. I felt like an outcast.”
After further tests, doctors discovered the opiates they prescribed her, not gluten, caused the hives.
“It opened my eyes to food allergies and how the restaurant industry just kind of looks the other way for food allergies and doesn’t want that liability in their place,” Lee said. “[Restaurants] can’t cater to customers because they’re so contaminated.”
The following year, Lee changed the name of her bakery from Sugar Coated Heaven to Jennifer Lee’s Gourmet Bakery. With the name change came baking items without gluten, dairy, eggs and nuts, which eventually evolved to top 10 allergen free.
“It was hard. It was a whole year of gross stuff, hard as bricks,” Lee said. “It was not tasty. It was definitely a learning curve for allergen-friendly.”
In 2016, the bakery began to perfect its taste and participated in a popup in Boston. It soon became a popular permanent fixture at the Boston Public Market.
The move west to Worcester was the first in a three-part expansion that Lee hopes eventually will include southern New Hampshire and the south shore.
“I have such a niche market that I don’t want to be close together like a Dunkin’ Donuts,” Lee said. “People will travel for me. People have traveled from almost every state, except Alaska, to see me already. People plan their whole vacations to see me.”
To keep both the Boston and Worcester bakeries stocked, Lee has managed to function on about three to four hours of sleep a night.
From 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., Lee bakes in Worcester before driving to Boston to drop some of the items off. She spends about an hour in Boston decorating cakes before driving back to Worcester where she works until 6 p.m or 7 p.m.
Both the Worcester and Boston shops are closed on Monday, which Lee uses as a day to recuperate.
“I love my customers. They mean a lot to me. They help me get through the day,” Lee said. “When I get pictures of little kids smashing their birthday cake in their face, and they’re super excited, I’m like it’s worth it.”
Some of Lee’s younger customers, she said, eventually grow out of their food allergies, yet still, only eat cupcakes or brownies from her bakery. They now travel to Boston or Worcester, not because they have to but they want to.
It’s a trend that’s only grown since she opened Jennifer Lee’s Gourmet Bakery.
“My dad is a very meat and potato guy,” Lee said. “If he will eat something, I know it’s good.”
Source: Thanks https://www.masslive.com/worcester/2020/02/jennifer-lees-gourmet-bakery-brings-non-allergen-brownies-cupcakes-cookies-to-worcester-public-market.html