If you follow me over at 52 Sweets, you’ve read about my recent misadventures dining at Disney World as a gluten-free vegetarian. It was one of the most challenging trips I’ve taken since going gluten-free. Thankfully, there was an abundance of gluten-free doughnuts available at Babycakes NYC‘s new outpost at Downtown Disney.
The original Babycakes cookbook was one of the two books I bought the day I was diagnosed with this gluten thing I’ve got going on. The pages are wrinkled, splattered with ingredients, it has been well loved. Yet I had never visited one of their vegan, gluten-free bakeries. Then Mandy brought a donut to me from the original Babycakes NYC location back in October. The donut and other goodies she shared with me were amazing and you wouldn’t have known they came from a gluten-free, vegan bakery. I knew I HAD to visit one of their bakeries! Around the holidays, I signed up with a group of friends for the Disney Princess Half Marathon and shortly after it was announced that Babycakes had opened a bakery at Downtown Disney. Perfect timing!
My first visit to the bakery (oh yes, there were several…) was on a warm, windy morning, a real treat since it was cold and snowing back at home. It was a little hard to find Babycakes, as there is no sign on the outside of the building. I knew it was in the former McDonald’s space and was shared with a Fresh A-Peel. We spotted a sign for Fresh-A-Peel and headed in for a peek. There it was, tucked into the corner, a beautiful little bakery counter full of delicious treats. The gal behind the counter was frosting cupcakes and smiling. How great is that?!? Four of us had breakfast, which included all six varieties of donuts in their bakery case and a couple of cupcakes.
After perusing everything in the bakery cases, I chatted with the gal behind the counter for a few minutes. She was absolutely delightful! It was obvious she really enjoys her job. We shared a giggle about people assuming flavor has been removed from baked goodies that are gluten-free and vegan. It is one of my favorite things in the world to share a treat with someone, listen to their oohs and aaahs and then tell them it is gluten-free. What a joy it must be to work in a bakery where you get to see that often, where folks like me can indulge in a delicious treat and share it with their entire family who may not live with the same dietary restrictions.
Babycakes has a viewing window into their dedicated kitchen, so I went to take a peek. Well, more like an extended look. I could have watched these gals baking all day! I’ve been to several bakeries with open kitchens and the staff rarely look like they are enjoying their jobs. That is definitely not the case here. These gals were all smiles, as was I. My face was starting to hurt from smiling so much. This was heaven for me!
It was time to pull myself away and go enjoy our purchases. My friends, meat and gluten-eating folks, had the cupcakes. I got an unrequested review of the cupcakes, slightly crumbly, not overly sweet and a bit salty. My question to them was if they tasted any different than “regular” cupcakes. Nope, not at all and better than many bakeries. Off to a good start!
We split the donuts into lots of pieces so we could all samples the flavors. My friends didn’t sample nearly enough donuts, because I know I put away at least 3 full donuts on my own. The pink vanilla sugar frosted donut was by far my favorite, but I also enjoyed the chocolate crunch, the toasted coconut…they were all divine!
So what is it that makes these donuts so divine? First, let me tell you what they are not. They are not packed with gluten, they contain no animal products, no artificial color, no refined sugar. And they are not fried. How can all of that make for a good donut? I have no idea how it is possible! The donuts are moist, slightly crumbly and packed with flavor. There’s none of that nasty fried donut aftertaste, no heaviness in your tummy after eating these.
On the evening before the half marathon, a large group of us dropped into Babycakes for some pre-race treats. Here I was again, with more non-vegan, gluten-eating friends. I have to admit this makes me anxious, I’m always worried they won’t like gluten-free treats. No need to worry here! On this visit, I tried the chocolate chip cookie sandwich. That’s not something I normally would buy. I make good cookies at home and am also not a fan of cookies with frosting. Until now. Now, I dream about the Babycakes cookie sandwich. I’d like one right now, please. The cookie is crispy, the frosting is sweet without being overpowering. It was the perfect little snack. The best part was that all of my gluten-eating friends enjoyed the treats. I adore them for being willing to try gluten-free, vegan food, another moment at Babycakes filled with big smiles!
During that visit, my husband picked up a box from Babycakes that he had pre-ordered. He wouldn’t tell me what was inside, it was a surprise for after the half marathon. Love that fella! It was hard going to sleep that night knowing a big pink box of Babycakes goodness was nearby…but I managed to wait until race day to peek.
After running 13.1 miles, my husband met me at the finish line with that wonderful pink box. Inside were donuts and cranberry apple bread. Since Disney Sports had no gluten-free food available at the finish line other than fruit, I had packed a bagel. Babycakes donuts were so much better than the bagel I had carried in a ziploc bag from Kansas City! This was definitely the best post-race food I have ever eaten. I had a donut and then nibbled at the cranberry apple bread, which, like the chocolate chip cookie sandwich, is not something I typically would purchase. But like that cookie sandwich, I would like some right now please. It was incredibly moist, yet not falling apart like so many gluten-free breads.
My husband told me after the race that when he called Babycakes to order the box of donuts, they had expressed concern about him buying the donuts the day before. They worried that they would be stale the next day, not the fresh product they are known for providing. These folks are seriously amazing! What bakery would bother to tell you their donuts might not be as good the next day? Now that I have had their donuts fresh and day old, I must say there was very little difference. They were still very moist and I could tell little difference. The concern about product freshness is so appreciated though!
On the final day of our trip, I made a last-minute trip to Babycakes to get a box of goodies to bring home. Well, that was the plan anyway. I bought cookie sandwiches and donuts, but made it as far as the airport before devouring the cookie sandwiches. I did manage to make it home with the donuts, which I left in the box from the bakery, wrapped in plastic wrap and placed in the freezer. I left the box in the freezer for two weeks and then thawed the donuts on the kitchen counter. While they weren’t quite as good as the ones fresh from the bakery case, they were still among the best gluten-free donuts I have ever eaten, ten times better than any of the frozen gluten-free donuts on the market. Hello, Babycakes? Could you pack those yummy donuts of yours in freezer boxes and sell them to the supermarket? I’d love that!
Often when I bake and share with friends, I am met with the “Oh, these are gluten free” comment, like what I have baked is somehow not going to taste as good, that the flavor or texture is going to be compromised. Babycakes has proven that there is no compromise in making gluten-free, vegan sweets. Donut fans, go visit Babycakes in New York City, Los Angeles or at Downtown Disney. Try their donuts. Compare them side-by-side with “regular” cake donuts. I’m certain which donut will come out on top.