Home-baked goodness

Locals are going cuckoo for Coco’s gluten-free baked goods

Jen Coles preps zucchini bread in her home kitchen.

Jen Coles preps zucchini bread in her home kitchen.

PHOTO by christine g.k. lapado-breglia

From the moment I entered the front door of Jen Coles’ east Chico home the other day until I left about an hour later, my sense of smell was tantalized by the aroma of sweet mouthwatering baked goods—banana bread, cherry-almond biscotti, and lemon bars, to be exact—that were cooling after cooking in the twin ovens of her kitchen.

I was there to interview Coles about her cottage-food business—CoCo Gluten-Free Baking Co.—which she officially started in January of last year, thanks to the passage at the beginning of 2013 of Assembly Bill 1616, the California Homemade Food Act. As we talked, Coles was at work preparing the batter for a loaf of zucchini bread (CoCo’s zucchini bread, for the record, is super delicious!).

As many locals know, CoCo’s healthy, yummy, gluten-free wares—sweet breads (zucchini, banana, carrot, pumpkin), sandwich breads, dinner rolls, herbed pizza crusts, cakes, cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, cookies, bars, biscotti and more—are available at Bidwell Perk and the Naked Lounge Tea & Coffeehouse, as well as at Chico Naturopathic Medicine and online via the CoCo website and on the bakery’s Facebook page (see column note).

“I get most of my daily business on Facebook; my cinnamon rolls are really popular,” offered Coles, whose squawking-parrot smartphone ringtone periodically announced yet another order for the delectables she was baking that day. “I post that I am having a sale, and it’s crazy—it’s good crazy!” Indeed, a customer was popping by shortly after my visit to pick up an order of lemon bars.

“I’ve been gluten-free for about 15 years,” said Coles, who is a 39-year-old mother of two children, ages 7 and 9.

CoCo’s popular cinnamon roll.

photo courtesy of coco

Her explanation: “When I lived in Chicago, I found out I was allergic to wheat. A year later, my friend was diagnosed with celiac disease. So then we just changed our lifestyles, you know?

“And back then, there wasn’t anything good [that was gluten-free] you could get at the store.” So she started baking her own gluten-free items.

These days, Coles bakes “five days a week, sometimes six,” for her business, which offers some vegan items as well (and almost all of her products can be ordered dairy-free).

All the dairy products, eggs and sugars she uses are organic. “I’m not into GMOs,” she stressed. As for flour, Coles bakes with almond, brown rice, coconut and tapioca flours, which are all free of gluten.

She noted that she is happy to do special orders for her customers: “Customers call and say, ‘I’m allergic to this and this and this.’ It’s always fun to get a new recipe [to meet someone’s special dietary needs]. I don’t eat dairy, so I understand what that’s like!”

Coles is gearing up to move her business into a commercial kitchen in April. “When I move into the [commercial] kitchen, I will have access to an industrial mixer and a bigger oven,” she said, which will allow her to expand her production to meet the growing demand for her baked goods.

At the time of my visit, Coles was getting ready to make a video for her upcoming Kickstarter campaign in support of her business expansion, which includes having the capacity to go mobile. “I’m raising money to buy a food trailer,” she said. “I would like to do the farmers’ market. It’ll just be easier to pull up somewhere to do events, like the other food trucks do. …

“My husband always jokes that I am going for global domination,” Coles said, smiling. “But I think I’ll just settle for Chico and the surrounding area.”