Modern Baking talks with Sweet Life Patisserie's Catherine Reinhart about transitioning to non-GMO ingredients in her bakery.
Catherine Reinhart, co-owner of Sweet Life Patisserie in Eugene, Ore., recently spoke with Modern Baking about the process of transitioning to completely scratch-made desserts in an effort to use only recumbent growth hormone-free dairy, organically and locally grown produce and 100 percent non-genetically modified ingredients (in reality, that number is 99 percent, Reinhart confesses). Here are some highlights of the interview.
Modern Baking: What was your approach to switching to non-GMO sourced ingredients?
Catherine Reinhart: Non-GMO certified companies are hard to find; there aren’t that many out there. What we’ve done instead is go with companies who try to avoid GMOs at all costs, like Bob’s Red Mill. The top 5 GMOs are corn, soy, sugar beets, canola and cotton, with the last one not being important for a bakery. We went with 99 percent non-GMO because there is always the GMO that snuck in. Another trick is we decided to go nonrecumbent growth hormone with all our dairy products. With milk, that’s easy. But you have to go completely scratch with baking because you have no control over ingredients with anything that’s packaged. Unless its an organic mix, it’s probably made with beet sugar, for example. We still buy laminated doughs, but we make sure they’re all butter, and we asked company the to go rgbh-free. We have to make own graham cracker crumbs, own petit fours, other things we haven’t done from scratch in the past.
MB: Tell us about the process of vetting your products for GMO ingredients.
Reinhart: Organic is the easiest way to go GMO-free, but it’s also the most expensive. So we wanted a balance—we didn’t want to go 100 percent organic. We first looked at all of our ingredients and then started talking to our suppliers. I would tell them, ‘These are the things I get from you, can you make sure they’re non-GMO or rBgh-free?’ They were great and on board. I think I was sort of the guinea pig for them.
Some things we had to go organic on because there was no non-organic, non-GMO magic potion. Things like cornstarch and powdered sugar we had to go organic. There were a couple things we had to get more expensive ingredients. We had to move to all cane sugar, which is more expensive but worth it. The thing we really miss is the modified food starch, which is lovely in fruit fillings.
MB: How did you overcome those roadblocks?
Reinhart: A lot was experimentation. We had to find a substitute for clear gel and modified cornstarch, so we came up with our own way of doing a fruit compote—a combination of organic cornstarch and tapioca starch works really well for a long glossy finish. See the formula below.
GMO is tricky because we can’t really say, we’re 100 percent GMO-free, but we are trying. People in our community appreciate that. But there were lots of tricky, sneaky things, like sprinkles, which are made with hydrogenated soy oil. We go with colored cane sugar now. It was hard tracking down substitutes. Or the food colors we use for our cakes have soy oil in them. We’ve found powdered food colors, but no huge variety, so we will use GMOs if we’re using food coloring or doing an edible image for the customer.
MB: How long did the whole process take?
Reinhart: It took a good 8 months of being committed to sourcing and tracking down and calling companies back. It was a fun project, but you have to really care about it. And then you go through that point of, ‘Is this worth it?’ What’s really wonderful are those times when you think you can’t make it and you do and it’s better than before. That happened with our key lime pie. You never find a key lime pie recipe without sweetened condensed milk, which you can’t get organic. I found a French cookbook on amazon.com with a recipe that didn’t contain sweetened condensed milk. I scanned the page, blew it up, translated it from grams to ounces, from French to English, but it tasted amazing. It’s better than before. It was like the sun finally broke through the clouds.
MB: How does offering non-GMO sourced ingredients factor into your bakery’s overall image and mission? And what have you learned about yourself?
Reinhart: Overall, for our image, it was in line with what we were doing anyway—trying to use good products, be sustainable and offer reasonably priced product. We tried to balance those things. For us, we’ve really achieved using more organic ingredients because I went through everything and found where we could save. Increased organic, increased local—one of our goals—started making everything from scratch, natural as possible. Honed what we were already doing and made it clearer. We mapped it out for customers, saying where the ingredients are from. People in this town do care.
For myself, I learned patience and perseverance for sure—chipping away at it every day. I would have my list, what I could find and couldn’t and what that meant. We had to discontinue some vegan desserts, which had artificial, GMOs, hydrogenated oils, etc. Customers were sad, but we put things in place that were better. More than I believe in non-GMO, I believe in small farming and not monoculture crops. I think our ultimate goal was to see how much more we can do locally and smaller and support small companies. You have to dig down deep and figure out what you believe in and what it’s worth, if you have the time because it’s a big commitment. You get to the end and go, “OK, we’re not even really non-GMO.”
MB: If you had to give some advice to bakeries looking to get involved with this kind of project, where should they start?
Reinhart: I would say your suppliers are critical. I feel blessed where we live that suppliers have done a lot of the work already. If they don’t have a local organic hazelnut I know there’s none to be had. Talk to your suppliers. Many are making a real effort to be greener and more sustainable. This is where it’s going, and it’s great to have them do some of the work for you.
You also have to have a lot of time. I have great employees and I was able to sit here and hash it out. We have customers and employees who care about it. It will be interesting to see if the California law (Proposition 37) goes through, people will have to face up to it. It will bring the issue more and more to the forefront.
MB: Now that this is done, you’ll have to tackle a new project.
Reinhart: My husband and I just bought a farm. The next one I’m going to do is use all organic flowers on our decorated cakes for a whole year.
Contributed by Sweet Life Patisserie
30 lbs. frozen raspberries
4 lbs. water
6 lbs. 9 ozs. sugar
10.8 ozs. tapioca flour
13.3 ozs. cornstarch
TOTAL APPR. WT.: 42 lbs. 1.1 ozs.
Warm berries in oven on sheet pans until thawed. Put into a steam kettle with sugar and half the amount of water.
Mix remaining cold water with the starches. Add to berries when boiling. Mix until clear and thick.