Josh Borenstein was a foodie with celiac disease, starting a new job in Paris, unable to touch a bite of all that gorgeous French pastry. Then his wife, Orly Gottesman of Englewood, came to the rescue. She learned how to marry French baking techniques to gluten-free ingredients, first as an apprentice in a Parisian pastry shop and later as a student in the Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts Institute in Sydney, Australia. It was just what the doctor ordered for Josh. And the beginning of a new career for her as Orly the Baker.
Gottesman’s newest venture is a line of specially developed OU-certified gluten-free, dairy-free, and nut-free flours that lets home bakers achieve professional quality and taste. Locally, Blends by Orly are now on the shelves of Glatt Express and Cedar Market in Teaneck. They are also available at Seasons, West Side Market, and Food Liberation Health Market in Manhattan; Sarah’s Tent in Deal; Delicious Orchards in Ocean Township; and online at Amazon and www.blendsbyorly.com. And the list keeps growing.
Gottesman was just out of college, and a new bride, when she and her husband moved to Paris. “I didn’t speak French and I didn’t have a work visa,” Gottesman recalled. “I started taking baking classes as an artistic outlet.” She met the owner of a patisserie who wanted to learn English and taught her to bake. She was hooked. She applied and was accepted to the Cordon Bleu in Paris, but the school would not allow her to miss classes for Jewish holidays. Shortly thereafter, the couple moved to Sydney and she applied to the Cordon Bleu Patisserie Program there. They were much more accommodating about her schedule. Although unfamiliar with gluten-free baking, the chefs were happy to work with her.
In her second term at the school, she did an independent study with the Cordon Bleu’s head pastry chef on gluten-free pastry. “They gave me use of their test kitchen and each week I would develop a gluten-free version of the recipe we prepared in class,” Gottesman said. “I taught myself about how the flours worked together in different products. You can’t use the same flour blend for cream puffs, cakes, and Danish. In baked goods with gluten, the gluten helps the yeast rise and contributes elasticity and texture. That’s why most gluten-free bread is denser than its soft and airy non-gluten-free counterpart. I spent months developing the blends, using different flours and combinations, to compensate for the action of the gluten.” Gottesman compiled a manual on gluten-free baking that was published and added into the curriculum.
To get feedback on her creations, Gottesman held tasting parties in Sydney and Englewood. “I put notecards next to each product and asked people to let me know what they liked and what they didn’t like,” she said.
The couple’s next move was to Arizona, where Josh grew up and his family owns a chain of restaurants called Chompie’s. Gottesman persuaded the family to let her take over a separate section of the bakery to introduce gluten-free baked goods. “I took all their most popular breads and pastries and made them gluten free–challah, black and white cookies, ruggelach,” she said. This real-world experience taught her how a commercial kitchen worked. She made dozens and dozens of cookies and ruggelach at a time, and learned how to work with other cooks.
Gottesman knew gluten free, but not the food manufacturing business. She thus turned to SCORE, a resource of the Small Business Administration that puts together retired business people with novices who need advice on how to proceed with a new idea. Edgar Gothold, who has had businesses all over the world, gave her suggestions on how to get started and continues to consult with her today.
While Gottesman loves to bake, she didn’t want her own bakery, where she would be tied down and unable to travel with her husband. After researching the market, she began creating Blends by Orly.
The blends are named after the different cities Gottesman has traveled to and worked in. Used as a one-to-one replacement for flour, the blends are combinations of gluten-free grains including sorghum, millet, quinoa, coconut, and brown rice, in different proportions, plus xanthan gum to promote elasticity. Each blend is formulated according to the type of product it will be used for: London Blend for cookies, scones, and biscuits; Tuscany Blend for pizza crusts, artisan white breads, and breadsticks; Sydney Blend for brownies, muffins, and pies; Manhattan Blend for challah, bagels, and pastries; and Paris Blend for cakes and cupcakes. The Paris blend, for example, has coconut flour to give cakes a sweet, rich taste.
The gluten-free market is growing. Mintel, a market research company, estimates that during 2013, the gluten-free market totaled $10.5 billion dollars and will reach more than $15 billion in annual sales in 2016. Mintel reports that 24% of Americans say that someone in their household currently eats gluten-free versions of traditional baked goods.
People who have been diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that results in damage to the small intestine when gluten is consumed, make up only 1% of the market for gluten-free goods, said Gottesman. A growing number of people feel healthier on a gluten-free diet, like tennis champ Novak Djokovic who credits a gluten-free diet for improving his performance on the court. Gluten-free is becoming more available as manufacturers and retailers respond to the trend.
Grocers who have ordered Blends by Orly are very enthusiastic about the concept. “We get requests every day for gluten-free, cookies, candies, breads…” said Dani Secemski, Head of Operations at Glatt Express in Teaneck. “There is no other product on the market like Blends by Orly. You can use these gluten-free flours in your own recipes; the others don’t have specific blends for specific products.”
Moshe Mark, General Manager and Buyer at Cedar Market in Queens and Teaneck, also said gluten-free products are limited and that’s why Blends by Orly is a unique line. “This is a way to make it (gluten-free) taste better, an option to enjoy food the way it’s supposed to be enjoyed.”
Gottesman showed me how she makes Snickerdoodle cupcakes with cream cheese cinnamon frosting using her Paris Blend, and gave me a few to give out for a taste test. Ahuva Mantell, who teaches art at the Frisch Yeshiva High School, and has been gluten free for two years, agreed to try a cupcake. One bite and her eyes lit up. “It’s delicious. This feels light and fluffy, like a cupcake should be. If I was at a birthday party and they were giving out these cupcakes, I wouldn’t feel I was different from anybody else.”
L’via Weisinger, a specialist in baking and decorating cakes (among other things), compared the cupcake favorably to the traditional products she makes. “It’s really good; does not taste gluten free. It’s not dense…it’s light…it’s airy. I wouldn’t know this is gluten-free if you didn’t tell me.” But the real verdict came from her 6-year-old daughter Batya, who convinced Mommy to share. “Tastes just like yours,” she said.
“My main objective is to help people who can’t eat gluten feel normal,” Gottesman said. “My mom used to bake special brownies for Josh using a mix. He got so sick of those brownies he stopped eating dessert after a while.” She hopes bakers will discover that products made with Blends by Orly are so good, everyone will love them.
By Bracha Schwartz