On Jessica Lehman's first day in pastry school, two years ago, the instructor announced, "Gluten will rule your baking world." Ironic for Lehman, because her previous job was at Gluuteny -- Pittsburgh's first gluten-free bakery.
This past summer, Lehman returned to Gluuteny, as manager. Area entrepreneur Mojca Pipus had launched the Squirrel Hill shop in 2007, just as awareness was rising of both gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, and celiac -- the autoimmune disease triggered by eating it.
Back then, says Lehman, many Gluuteny customers had coped with gluten intolerance solo, making do without conventional bread, pastries and pasta. Today, more people have been diagnosed with celiac, and gluten-free food is everywhere, from Eat 'N Park menus and Giant Eagle shelves to the beer list at PNC Park. But Gluuteny's small storefront, its window framing goodies like a tray of huge brownies, still draws customers regionally for bread and sweets.
Gluuteny recently expanded its line of packaged baking mixes, for everything from vegan pizza crust to pound cake and whoopie pies.
As always, the trick is mimicking gluten's binding properties, to keep baked goods chewy and pliable rather than dry and crumbly. Bakers use things like rice flour, potato starch and tapioca flour, and with binders like xanthan gum and eggs.
Lehman says they're still learning. "Our recipes are good, but coming up with a new recipe is a challenge."
1923 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill. 412-521-4890 or www.gluuteny.com