By Sherry Mazzocchi
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Denise Cumming believes in the power of baking.
Her family loved the confections that floated daily out of the kitchen, but when her daughter Olivia was diagnosed with Celiac disease, she could no longer eat gluten – making traditional cookies, cakes and confections a delight of the past.
So Cumming relearned how to bake without using wheat. After years of perfecting her craft, this stay-at-home mom opened a gluten-free bakery.
Pip’s Place (after her daughter’s nickname Pippi) is an elegant cakery on the corner of 1st Ave. and 89th St.
On the shops opening day last week, customers walked in, inhaled deeply and smiled.
“It smells so good in here,” one customer remarked.
And it tastes good, too.
Everything, including the fruity granola, is gluten-free, baked fresh right in the shop. Gleaming glass cases showcase chocolate chip cookies, raisin scones and gingersnaps. Fudgy brownies and sticky pecan buns also beckon.
Customers were snapping up muffins, and the shortbread, topped with a swath of caramel and sprinkles of rice crispies rolled in chocolate, were going fast. The banana chocolate chip loaf combined with a cup of Pip’s Blend coffee, roasted in Brooklyn, made a great combination.
Nearly everything is based on recipes handed down from Cumming’s mother and grandmother. She changed the flour mix, while retaining the home-baked flavor.
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While some gluten-free products have been known to taste like doorstops, this isn’t the case at Pip’s – Cummings devised combinations of rice and potato flours, sorghum and teff (a non-gluten grain) to create light and airy delicacies.
“It took five years to get to this,” she said.
But clearly it’s worth it. One customer said her son, who also has Celiac disease, never had a birthday cake. Now he can choose between cup cakes, fairy cakes or even a deep chocolate layer cake with mocha buttercream frosting.
Cummings said some people avoid gluten to lose weight and stay healthy, but it is very restrictive. It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle.
“But I’m a big believer in afternoon coffee and cake,” she said. “I think everyone should have access to good tasting things.”
In the short time she’s been open, customers are requesting dairy-free and vegan options, too. Cummings said she’ll incorporate those offerings.
“I really hope that we can offer a personalized service,” she said.
Being an entrepreneur is new for her. When her youngest child left for college last summer, she knew the time was right for change.
She wanted work she was passionate about. “And I’m passionate about baking,” she said. “I bake when I’m happy and I bake when I’m sad.”
Her family is supportive of her transformation from baker to businesswoman. While she’s running the day-to-day operations and contemplating a cookbook, her husband of 24 years attends the financial side of the business.
She might even recruit her children to work in the cake shop during the summer. “I made name tags for them,” she said.