The dining services department at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Conn., no longer has to rely solely on supplier-provided, gluten-free baked goods for gluten-intolerant customers. University bakers can now create their own treats in the first gluten-free bakery on a college campus in the country.
The bakery officially opened April 2 and is mass-producing brownies, rice crispy treats and cookies—the most popular baked goods on campus— for campus dining halls.
Rob Landolphi, culinary operations manager at UConn, says the department retrofitted a test kitchen to serve as the bakery. The 600-square-foot space was chosen because it is across campus from the central production kitchen, which significantly reduces the chance of cross-contamination.
“It’s a 100 percent gluten-free bakery,” says Landolphi. “There’s no other kitchen within a mile of it. “
He says the move was made to accommodate a growing number of requests for gluten-free items in a way that would provide higher quality products than store-bought items. More than 400 students are now requesting gluten-free foods, and the department has been selling an average of 2,000 gluten-free brownies and 1,000 gluten-free chocolate chip cookies per week—all supplied by an outside vendor. Dining services staff felt that they could produce a larger variety of higher-quality items without increasing costs, Landolphi says.
Landolphi, who has written three gluten-free cookbooks, is teaching gluten-free baking techniques to a staff chef, who in turn will teach fellow staff how to use such ingredients as rice flour, sorghum and tapioca starch to produce high-quality baked goods.
Landolphi’s team tested items with students before the bakery went live. He said he sought out students who don’t normally eat gluten-free foods, because they could better judge whether an item tasted similar to one made with wheat flour.
“When someone who is not gluten-free tastes your brownie and says, ‘That’s awesome,’ [that product’s] a go,” says Landolphi.
As more staff are trained, Landolphi says, he plans to gradually increase the number of offerings. Staff also are working to create higher-end products, such as chocolate lava cake, for special events.
“If we find something that is becoming popular,” he says, “we want to be able to offer it.”