Marmalade Sky is a local artisanal bakery in Fairfield, IA specializing in gluten-free baked treats including brownies, pecan pie bars, macaroon bars, and a range of individual mini cakes such as Seville Orange Almond, German Chocolate, Blueberry Lemon, and Coconut Chocolate.
Malak Nour, founder and baker, talks with us about her bakery.
Malak, how did you first get involved in baking?
Well, I grew up in Paris, steeped in the French traditions of bread baking, pastry making, and season-based cooking. And since I first moved to the U.S. in 1982, I’ve worked on melding the rigor of technique of the French patisserie with what I think of as the “unaffected goodness” of traditional American baked goods. Inspired by my four kids, I started a kind of “quest” to perfect the art of baking the brownies, muffins, cakes, and cookies they loved.
What made you start down the gluten free path?
Ten years ago, when my son was diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity, I found myself embarking on a whole new baking adventure. He would eat a slice of pizza at a school picnic and end up suffering abdominal pains, skin rashes, muscle aches, headaches, and mood swings for a couple of days.
I was really motivated to change his diet quickly. Some foods were easy to switch to for the whole family. I found some great rice pastas and almond lasagna noodles, I made my own granola so I could make sure no wheat slipped in that way. I found all sorts of gluten-free products that helped make the transition relatively painless.
The stumbling block was what to use in my baking instead of white, all-purpose flour. I tried dozens of off-the-shelf gluten-free mixes and they all came up short. Nothing tasted as it should, cookies crumbled when I picked them up, cakes were dense, flavors were off. I didn’t want to tell my kiddo he couldn’t eat the treats I made, nor did I want to stop baking for him and the rest of my kids (and their gang of friends stopping by after school).
I had a mission: to find a way to bake everyone’s favorite treats without sacrificing anything to taste or texture. I did some very extensive experimentation: fiddling with proportions, trying different ingredients, learning about gums and thickeners…back and forth I went. If the taste was right, it fell apart. If the texture was right, it tasted like cardboard. After much trial and error and countless oven cycles, I finally came up with a flour that I could use in all my recipes with no compromise.
I knew I had it right when the kids didn’t know they were eating gluten free brownies, blueberry muffins, or chocolate cake. I’d tell them it was gluten free and they’d be like, “are you kidding me?”
Often gluten free baked goods can be kind of disappointing when you bite into them. But almost everyone, when they first taste your baked goods, echos a similar sentiment to your kids. How do you get such amazing texture and flavor, gluten free?
The short answer is obsession. I’m totally obsessed with creating gluten free baked goods that have the same flavor, the same mouth-feel, the same overall experience of bliss that you experience with the very best (non-gluten-free) baked goods. Now that my kids are grown, my passion is elevating and establishing gluten free baking as an artisanal delicacy in its own right.
There are plenty of mass-produced gluten free products on the shelves of every grocery store these days, but there seemed to me to be a lack of truly artisanal, fresh gluten free baking out there. So with Marmalade Sky, that’s the void we want to fill. It’s really all about the ingredients. My recipes are all intentionally very simple to highlight the flavor and respect the integrity of each element. In addition to using my own gluten free flour mix, I also totally indulge my passion for baking with only the very best ingredients I can source, with no compromises.
Our organic, free-range eggs and organic dairy products are sourced from local producers whenever possible. Organic butter, cream, milk and buttermilk deliver rich, creamy taste. Organic blueberries and fresh citrus are bursting with flavor. Our spices and extracts come from Savory Spice in Denver, CO where they grind their spices fresh in small batches and select natural extracts for superior flavor and quality: pure vanilla extract from Madagascar, Cassia Cinnamon from Saigon, organic ground ginger. We use premium chocolate and cocoa powder for deep, rich chocolate flavors. And we also bake everything on-demand in small batches with frequent deliveries to ensure everything on the shelf is always at its best.
That’s Marmalade Sky.