I'm Clare, from Fudge&James!
I'm a 37 year old mum of 2, diagnosed coeliac and the owner of Fudge & James. We are a boutique gluten free bakery making a range of premium cookies and biscotti and here is my story of discovering I had coeliac disease and how I started a gluten free baking business.
Up until just after the birth of my oldest child, now 3 and a half, I had always been a total 'bread head', a gluten eater of epic proportions. My favourite foods were all predominantly gluten based. Cake, donuts, pizza, pastries, pasta… you get the idea. I was an enthusiastic home baker, having a 3 year old sourdough starter in my fridge that got used regularly and always bringing cakes and brownies in to work for my colleagues, I always dreamed of one day running my own bakery but it never seemed the right time to leave my well paid corporate job and take the plunge.
So while I was on maternity leave after having my son, going a little stir crazy and craving something to occupy my mind aside from nappies and reflux, I thought why not just start a little side hustle and start baking and selling something at the local markets.
I decided on biscotti, mainly because I love it and there weren't many available in New Zealand at the time. Biscotti, being a very dry biscuit, also has a very long shelf life so I knew this was something I could make and sell nationwide online as well as at markets and not worry about wasting unsold products.
So I set about deciding on my flavours and making my first few batches of biscotti (with regular wheat flour at this stage) and get a spot in a local artisan market. I turned up with my baby in his front pack, about 60 packs of biscotti, not a clue what I was doing and a smile and got to work.
That day I sold almost all of my packs and people loved them. The product wasn't perfect yet but I was hooked. I couldn't wait to develop my product to perfection and work on new flavours and proper branding. My head was buzzing with ideas.
Not long after this first market however, I started to notice I was getting lots of dizzy spells and a weird tingling sensation in my back and shoulders. At first, putting it down to being a new mum and sleep deprived, I just ignored it until one day, walking home from a playdate only 5 minutes from my house, I suddenly started to feel very hot and nauseous. Thankfully I made it through my front door and managed to get my baby into his baby bouncer before I blacked out completely and came round a few minutes later extremely dizzy and confused.
This happened a couple more times with seemingly no trigger and, thinking the worst I went to my GP who ordered a series of blood tests. The tests came back showing I was very low in Iron and also in vitamin B12. Thankfully for me I have an awesome GP who said she was also ordering another test to see if there was a reason for the malabsorption of nutrients.
A few days later I got a call from her while I was in the middle of mixing up another batch of biscotti.
"Clare, I got your blood tests back, have you heard of coeliac disease?" she said.
I remember stopping in my tracks and saying "yes- but I can't be coeliac- I'm a baker!!"
But sadly I am. The blood test showed coeliac antibodies at a very high level and a few weeks later an endoscopy confirmed it. Not only had I definitely got coeliac disease, but I had been living with it for a very long time.
From the day of my endoscopy, I went entirely gluten free which was a huge change for me but within a few weeks I noticed such a huge difference in my overall health that I really haven't looked back. Having suffered with IBS for most of my life I had got used to having a bloated uncomfortable stomach and feeling a bit nauseous after eating. I had also been struggling with terrible fatigue, often falling asleep in my car on lunch breaks and struggling to stay awake during meetings but had always put that down to the demands of my job and the fact that I did a lot of exercise. Now, with a 6 month old baby going through sleep regression, I found I had more energy than I had in years. I no longer got headaches, I had more energy for exercise and I even started being able to think clearer.
I couldn't believe the difference in me, and neither could my husband. Everything was going well, but I still had to decide what to do about my fledgling business. I couldn't see myself continuing to bake, with flour that could make me very sick if I even ate a trace of it, but I had never baked anything gluten free in my life and gluten free baking seemed really complicated and different.
In the end I decided I had enjoyed the market and baking and selling my products so much that I had to try and convert them to gluten free and after LOTS of failed attempts and trying combinations of every type of gluten free flour I could find, I am happy to say I have created a flour blend that works superbly well in my biscotti and cookies and the end product, while not exactly the same as the old one, is truly delicious in its own right.
We now make a selection of 6 varieties of gluten free biscotti and cookies and I no longer bake them all in my home kitchen. We now use a fantastic gluten free bakery who make our products as well as several other gluten free products. Everything is still hand made so we retain that artisan look and taste.
It was important to me, as a foodie and as someone who had enjoyed baking so much before my diagnosis, that my products didn't just taste "good for gluten free" I wanted the texture in particular to be as satisfying as a gluten based biscuit. I think we have nailed it. So many gluten eaters love our products as well and they often tell me they would never have guessed they are gluten free. That is exactly what we were aiming for so I'm very happy that everyone can enjoy our products.
We are looking forward to expanding our business and developing new products and flavours so watch this space. You can follow us here :
And for anyone wondering if they might have coeliac disease, go and see your GP and ask for a blood test. It might seem like a hard thing to give up and it isn't easy at first, but you may find a new lease of wellness and energy you didn't know was possible.