Grinchy green avocado cupcakes drizzled with chocolate, cinnamon, and nuts. Dense, moist black bean brownies coated with caramel and sprinkled with coarse salt. Chewy double ginger cookies zinging with sweet spices.
Filling the shelves of Lisa & Mo, a young baking company, the plethora of baked goods aren't just tantalizing - they're also 100 percent gluten-free.
With more than 3 million Americans suffering from celiac disease -- a condition where the body cannot absorb food due to a reaction to gluten -- Lisa Anderman, a ceramic artist-turned-baker, saw a need to create delicious gluten-free desserts.
On a sunny January day, Anderman and business partner Molly Miller-Davidson invited me into their shared commercial kitchen in Pasadena to talk about how their company came about. They chatted as their third partner Tony Minutelli rolled cookie dough in sliced almonds in preparation for a batch of their signature Almond Enjoy cookies.
Anderman has always loved reading cookbooks, tinkering with different recipes and bringing crowd-pleasing desserts to dinner parties. But two years ago, when a neighbor got diagnosed with celiac disease, Anderman decided to make her neighbor a gluten-free version of her famous carrot cake by substituting almond meal for wheat flour.
She tested the product on someone with the pickiest palate she knows: her youngest son Louis. It passed.
For the next few months, Anderson read all the research she could find on gluten, and it "was like a light being turned on," she said. She found that celiac disease is one of the most prevalent chronic disease in America, affecting more than 3 million Americans, not counting those with minor gluten intolerance. "That's when I realized -- my gosh, there's a need here!"
And she hasn't a baked cake or pastry with regular flour since. Instead, Anderman said she got "hooked" into gluten-free baking as new baking ideas kept flowing -- some even invading her dreams.
Two years after her first gluten-free carrot cake, Anderman now co-owns Lisa & Mo with longtime friend and neighbor, Miller-Davidson, who took charge of the business side. As demands grew, mutual friend Minutelli came on board last April to help speed up the production.
What sets Lisa & Mo apart from the growing number of restaurants and food companies that provide gluten-free options is their dedication to create gluten-free desserts that taste just as good -- if not better -- than regular baked goods.
Miller-Davidson says that people's initial reaction to hearing about her gluten-free baking company is to crinkle their noses because they imagine cookies that taste like cardboard.
"What Lisa & Mo did was really improve the texture as well as the taste of gluten-free products," said Miller-Davidson. "There's so few company who does this and do it well."
This means that unlike more nutrition-focused products, their baked goods wouldn't be considered diet foods: "The calorie count...I don't even want to think about it," Anderman said. "It gets up there."
They do replace replace gluten and added fat with organic fruits, vegetables, and nuts in most of their products, but it's just the icing on the cake, she said. It's a healthier product, not a substitute for real fruits and vegetables.
Lisa & Mo is still in its early stages of small-scale production and delivery services; it has yet to secure a storefront. But word has already spread through food events and social media about their decadent gluten-free frosted cupcakes, moist brownie cups, and gooey s'mores.
Although it'll take a while before the fledgling company breaks even, Lisa & Mo is already reaping profits in other ways.
One of their favorite stories is of a customer with celiac disease who said, "You just gave me the taste of my childhood."
"There's nothing more exciting than seeing the faces of the people who try our products," Miller-Davidson said.