Cottage baker provides endless options for diet restrictions.
A baker since she was a child, Donna Mehta remembers being inspired by the techniques of her grandmother and mother. She began to develop her passion for the craft when she was attending high school in Turkey, where she took the same home economics course twice. She says it was in this class that she truly learned the ins-and-outs of home baking. “My teacher really instilled in me that you only bake from scratch,” she says.
Taking to baking, she continued to experiment with it throughout the following years and was in the process of working her way through the entirety of The Joy of Cooking cookbook. However, it wasn’t until her young daughter developed celiac disease in 2013 that she tried her hand at allergy-friendly treats—a challenge she was not ready to face at the start. “When my daughter was diagnosed, I didn’t realize how many things had gluten in them. It is kind of crazy,” she says.
Mehta says the diagnosis immediately changed the kitchen protocols in her home. She quickly removed the contaminated utensils and appliances from cupboards, drawers and countertops. “The remnants of gluten can linger in just about everything,” she says. “The molecules are so tiny and can get into things … you could have cross-contamination without even knowing it.”
But allergy-proofing the kitchen was just Mehta’s first step. Next, she needed to learn the science behind allergen-free baking.
The year 2020 found Mehta in the kitchen, but she wasn’t creating crusted sourdough like so many other people that year. Instead, she began her own culinary experiment by acquiring every gluten-free box cake mix she could get her hands on.
From there, Mehta says her family conducted taste tests. After seeing what the consistency and taste were supposed to be like, she set off to try baking her own gluten-free cakes from scratch. The first one, vanilla, fell flat. But, to her surprise, the second go at it, chocolate, struck gold with her and her family.
After that sweet success, Mehta began baking as much as possible, not only to be mindful of her daughter’s dietary restriction but also to feed into her passion for creation. She was baking consistently for her family and neighbors and started running out of people to bake for. So, she joined an online gluten-free baking group to start selling her creations to the greater community.
It was in this group that she learned about how to obtain her Minnesota Cottage Food Producer license to launch her business, Donna’s Gluten-Free Cakes. The stringent requirements for the license actually put her more at ease, and Mehta says she is grateful for the state’s attention to detail to ensure the safety of her customers. “When you go to a commercial bakery, it is not guaranteed that there is no cross-contamination,” she says.
Spreading the Love
Although she has experience cooking and baking a variety of gluten-free items in her home, Mehta’s business focus is strictly cakes. “The great thing about cake is it is a year-round thing fit for any occasion,” she says. “The variety is what makes it fun.”
And fun is exactly what Donna’s Gluten-Free Cakes brings to the Link family. After finding out that their daughter has celiac disease, Cheryl Link says her family went into lockdown and didn’t order anything from anywhere in fear of the cross-contamination.
Discovering Donna’s Gluten-Free Cakes online, Link says she was quick to order. A construction-themed cake for her son’s birthday was delivered shortly thereafter. “We ordered a gluten-free and dairy-free cake for him, so that my daughter could also eat it,” Link says. “[Mehta] has just been really great and kind of a blessing for my family. My daughter doesn’t feel left out anymore.”
One thing that Mehta says is important to note about many people with celiac disease is that it’s also common for those individuals to have other dietary allergies such as nuts or dairy. That is why she has made an effort to provide a variety of gluten-free, nut-free and vegan options for her clients’ vast needs and preferences. “One customer ordered vegan, and this is the first time her whole family was able to eat the same cake,” Mehta says about one of her ongoing clients. “That almost made me tear up; it feels so good that I am able to provide that for somebody.”
Donna’s Gluten-Free Offerings
Mehta’s creations are open-ended for all her customers. With no further restrictions to their already restricted diet, she wants to be a bakery where the possibilities are endless for them and their taste buds.
Customers can build their own flavor combination starting with the base choice of seven different cake flavors. From there, they choose the type and flavor of frosting (buttercream or cream cheese frosting), the filling and the size. If choosing the right flavor is overwhelming, she also provides a variety of suggested combos, such as lemon blueberry and cookies and cream, as well as premade, quick order options.
“The first thing I do is make sure it tastes good, but my biggest passion is making it look beautiful,” she says.
Enjoying birthday cakes most, Mehta says these types of cake can offer the most variety in terms of design approach. She has made anything from a Wreck-It Ralph cake, a Barbie cake and even a cactus-inspired concept for her kids.
“The experimentation actually comes from my customers [and their kids],” she says. “It is always a challenge to make it my own but also have it resemble what they want.”