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3 questions with Barbara D'Ambrosio, baker 

For individuals with food allergies, having a unified family dinner can be quite a difficult task. That's why Charlotte's own "thoughtful baker," Barbara D'Ambrosio, wants to help families have something to eat without having to label every shelf per person. Four years ago, she started her own baking business, The Thoughtful Baker, LLC, making gluten-free and other allergen-sensitive treats to be enjoyed by those with or without food allergies. "You can take advantage of all the recipe opportunities available," D'Ambrosio says. "It doesn't take a lot to change something and come up with a new recipe. The creative possibilities are endless."

Creative Loafing: What inspired you to bake specifically for individuals with food allergies?

D'Ambrosio: The whole thing started as a favor to a neighbor whose son couldn't have gluten items. He had sensitivities to other foods, including eggs, dairy, peanuts and soy. I had tried some of the commercial gluten-free products, and they were unsatisfactory. So I spent a lot of time researching, and it became a challenge to me to see what I could find and to see if I could make a better product. I spent a lot of time until I started getting simple things to work out well, and the business just went off from there. The thing I loved the most was the research and development. I love to develop something new.

What is that extra spark you add to your baked goods that make them different from typical tasteless, dull gluten-free items?

When I started coming up with the recipes, I started with picking up gluten-free cookbooks. I have no food allergies, so I tasted it with a traditional palette and I was very disappointed with how it tasted. I've always been a baker on my own, so I just went back to basics. I played with different mixes of gluten-free flours and altered traditional recipes so I could see what I could come up with. Also, I've always cooked from a health standpoint, so I tried to develop products that weren't loaded with eggs and butter. Instead, I used applesauce and fruit and vegetable purées. I tried to make them in a way so I could see my own family eating them, so I substituted healthier ingredients and developed healthier products that still maintained gluten-free criteria.

Is baking gluten-free items harder than baking regular treats?

Yes, absolutely! I use the best vanilla you can buy and make my own lemon extract and orange extract because I can get a much richer and truer flavor than the commercial extracts. I also use fresh spices, so it gets really rich flavor. I try to use the best ingredients I can buy. When you're doing all those things on your own, it takes a lot longer to make a product, but it's reflected on the product and it tastes good.

D'Ambrosio teaches a gluten-free cooking class every fourth Monday of the month at Earth Fare Ballantyne. For more information, go to www.thethoughtfulbaker.com.

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