When it comes to nourishment, Abby Cota wholeheartedly believes the mantra: “Enjoy the food you eat and feel good after you eat it.” And, if you didn’t know, her online business’s cakes, breads, muffins and more, which are gluten-free and dairy-free, you’d never guess it by the taste.
After Cota was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2010, she founded Clover Meadow Bakery to bring gluten-free options into her life and to the lives of others. Celiac is an autoimmune disease that causes malabsorption, intestinal damage and other health-related complications as a reaction to eating gluten found in wheat, barley and rye.
For Cota, that meant treats like cookies, rolls, sweet breads and cakes typically made with flour were off limits. And, she is not alone: according to celiacdisease.org, the disease affects one percent of the United States, or about three million people. “I find that there is always someone wherever you go who is living with a food allergy, or knows someone who does,” Cota says.
Cota first looked for gluten-free options on grocery store shelves, hoping to incorporate bread into her life again. “After trying everything offered at various retail establishments, I decided there had to be a better option,” she says.
And thus Clover Meadow Bakery began providing families an endless array of delicious pumpkin breads, caramel sticky buns, oatmeal raisin cookies, fudgy chocolate chip muffins, artisan pizza crusts, French bread, vegan cinnamon swirl bread and old fashioned granola.
These are just a sampling of the many baked goods Cota can whip up upon request. Her menu, found on her Facebook page, lists every goodie imaginable: pretty much anything you’d be able to find on a bakery shelf. “I offer artisan breads, a variety of baked goods such as cinnamon rolls, muffins, cookies, pretty cakes and a variety of baking mixes. Everything can be made vegan (egg free),” she says.
Cota has always had an affinity for creating delicious eats in the kitchen. “I grew up baking. My mom baked all the time. [She] always made banana bread and I missed banana bread. So that’s how this all started.” Cota began by offering a mix for banana bread pancakes and a chocolate cake mix. “From there I asked people what else they wanted,” Cota says.
While diving into her efforts to make allergy-friendly food, she quickly found that others also had the same problem she did, with allergies to dairy, soy, peanuts and tree nuts and other things. “A few of my friends came to me wondering if I could help them with their kids’ food allergy needs,” Cota says.
She started making cake and bread mixes the following weekend and packaged them in decorative bags for her friends to pick up. “They loved it,” Cota says. “I knew I had a business. I researched what was needed and started the business the following weekend, and it has been going ever since.”
Since Clover Meadow Bakery started in 2011, Cota has participated in farmers markets in Maple Grove, Buffalo and Shoreview. She’s also enjoyed teaming up with local businesses, most frequently Biggs and Co. of Buffalo, Minn., to offer customers homemade cinnamon rolls and coffee while they shop.
“Some of the best memories have been when a family comes up to the booth at a farmers market or event and the little kids who have had food allergies forever finally get to have their first sample. It is heartwarming to see people try the product and walk right back up after two bites and say, ‘I’ll take a four-pack of those muffins.’ I truly enjoy being able to help people enjoy what they eat without food fear,” Cota says.
Even without a brick-and-mortar location, Clover Meadow Bakery’s following is going strong. Customers can easily place orders by phone, email, or Facebook messenger. “Maple Grove residents can just call and each week I’ll do a bake day and we’ll schedule a pick up [in the area] so it’s convenient for them,” she says.
“I source high quality ingredients and make sure they are safe and allergy friendly for the products offered. I use a variety of local merchants who offer allergy friendly ingredients such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Bob’s Red Mill, Enjoy Life, So Delicious, Earth Balance and many other reputable brands,” Cota says.
Throughout the process of founding and running her business, Cota has been amazed at the support she’s received from loyal customers. “They place their orders and pick them up and say, ‘We just love your bread; we love your stuff,”’ she says.
The entrepreneur acknowledges that Clover Meadow Bakery wouldn’t be the successful business it is today without the help of her mom, family, friends and everyone who has supported her along the way.
Today Cota herself is the bakery, but, she says, “One day I look forward to hiring a team of wonderful aspiring foodies who love to help others and offer amazing food for families.”
Tips from your local chef about how to avoid food allergens:
1. Read labels very carefully.
2. Google hidden sources of gluten and all the names they use on product labels.
3.Education is your first defense in avoiding eating something that might make you ill. I always say, “When in doubt, go without.”
Gluten-free Cinnamon Spice Muffins
This recipe is free of gluten, dairy and soy.
Yield: about 12 regular muffins or 6 jumbo muffins
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 - 20 minutes
- 1 Clover Meadow Bakery Vanilla Cake Mix
- 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 2 Tbsp. canola or sunflower oil
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1-1/2 tsp. pumpkin spice
1. Pre-heat oven to 350° F (if using gas oven, 345°F)
2. Line muffin cups with paper liners
3. Pour cake mix into bowl
4. Add pumpkin spice and stir until combined
5. Add applesauce, eggs, oil and vanilla to dry mix
6. Stir until well combined, about 2 minutes with electric mixer
7. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full
8. Bake 12-15 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean (edges will turn golden brown)
9. Let cool and enjoy.