Edible Cape Cod: White Lion Baking Company
Paleo Treats for the Modern-Day Caveman Story by Elise Hugus. Photos by Daniel Cojanu.
Liz Miles is surrounded by boxes. Big ones. Little ones. Styrofoam ones for express-mailing pies, cakes and cookies on ice packs.
As one of the most comprehensive paleo bakeries in the country, the Mashpee-based White Lion Baking Company does brisk business in online sales. If the bakery’s Facebook fans are any indication, White Lion’s gluten- and sugar-free muffins, cookies, crackers and baking mixes are in hot demand from San Diego to Afghanistan. Customers may suffer from celiac disease, arthritis, or diabetes, follow a vegan or low-carb diet, or simply be hungry for a healthy snack.
But those of us on the Cape only have to travel as far as Route 151 in Mashpee to get a freshly-baked paleo pumpkin scone or cinnamon swirl, paired with a fresh cup of Wellfleet-roasted Beanstock Coffee.
Though gluten-free options are now available in supermarkets and most restaurants, White Lion Baking Company takes the health trend a step further, eliminating all cultivated grains, refined sugars and highly processed oils from its delectable snacks. Instead of flour, White Lion uses blanched almond or coconut flour; sugar is replaced with honey or dates; and unscented coconut oil or grass-fed cow butter takes the place of the hydrogenated fats that run rampant in store-bought goods.
The so-called “paleo” diet is based on the basic foods that were available when humans were little more than hunter-gatherers—albeit with some modern conveniences. (In case you’re curious, the name “White Lion” is an amalgamation of “pale” and “leo”.) Eliminating all processed foods, grains, legumes and sugar leaves us with meats, dairy and fish, vegetables and fruit, and nuts and seeds, which Miles says is the closest we can get to the natural human diet.
The gluten-free certified bakery’s spacious kitchen is filled with sacks of flaxseed meal, mountains of Himalayan sea salt, and tubs of raw, organic honey—not exactly caveman food, but the stuff that delicious cookies, crackers and cakes are made of.
“To me, paleo is not about what the caveman ate. It’s about not eating from the box. It’s about paying attention to your body,” Miles says. “People don’t want to see sugar as the main ingredient in their food anymore.”
Miles is living proof of the benefits of eating closer to the land. Switching to the high-protein, low-carb and no-sugar paleo diet—combined with several workouts per week—helped Miles lose (and keep off) the pounds that she’d been trying to shed since the birth of her son.
Weight loss is just the beginning. Miles recounts the story of a customer, a mother of two, who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 30. Simply eliminating gluten didn’t keep her from eating lots of refined sugar and flour, says Miles. But after switching to the paleo diet, the woman’s rheumatism pain disappeared within five days—followed by 70 pounds over the next five months.
Similarly miraculous recoveries have been reported in people with diabetes, high cholesterol, and various inflammations—and White Lion stocks the book to prove it, The New York Times bestseller It Starts With Food, by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, founders of the influential Whole9 nutrition program.
Such revolutionary health claims have to be eaten to be believed. True to her word, a Paleo Power Muffin—a light-tasting but densely-packed morsel of Zante currants and dates, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds, and optional chocolate—powered this writer through breakfast and well into the afternoon. Biting into a Magic Bar, a moist and chewy orchestra of chocolate, honey, coconut and walnuts, made the perfect late-afternoon snack, providing just enough sweetness, but also plenty of good fats and nutrition to keep the cravings at bay.
Admittedly, White Lion’s portions are smaller than most of us are used to—which keeps both the calories and the price point down (almond flour is ten times more expensive than all-purpose wheat flour). As Miles points out, White Lion’s products provide an alternative to the snacks that make dinner parties and cocktail hours enjoyable—a supplement, rather than a replacement, for balanced meals.
“Like with any diet, you don’t want to live on crackers and cookies. We give people the opportunity to eat their favorite foods, but without getting sick,” she says.
And customers are grateful for it. While waiting for her tarts to be wrapped up on a recent evening, Taryl McKee, a part-time Falmouth resident, said she felt lucky to discover White Lion at the Falmouth Farmers’ Market.
“So many gluten-free products are made with sugar and corn. These are better for you, plus they’re delicious,” she said.
As anyone who has tried to bake a gluten-free cake knows, you can’t just substitute wheat flour and sugar for their non-refined equivalents. Miles, formerly a full-time private chef who trained at the Culinary Institute of America, had a steep learning curve when she first turned to paleo baking. Humidity made the almond flour sticky. Her trusty oven became temperamental. Adapting some recipes to also be dairy-free brought on a whole new set of headaches.
“It was absolutely like learning a new language. There’s no more creaming the butter and sugar together,” Miles says, describing the frustrations she shared with her baker, Tara Sullivan. “The process was completely foreign to me. There’s not a lot of wiggle room.”
Since buying the business from its Brookline-based founders in April 2012, Miles has overcome those initial hurdles. Though she still frets over the naturally darker color of an almond flour crust and wonders how much packaging it’ll take to overnight a tart to Connecticut for the holidays, she is confident in her ever-expanding repertoire of goodies.
In addition to her cookie and cracker staples, Miles bakes seasonal treats such as an apple cranberry crisp, gingerbread cake and peppermint-white chocolate brownies. For holiday treats, wedding or celebration cakes, the bakery takes custom orders (Miles recommends placing the order at least a day in advance) and always accepts special requests from vegan or nut-free customers.
Some of White Lion’s cakes and cupcakes are adorned with frosting, which is the one area where Miles makes an exception to the sugar-free rule. But instead of using factory-farmed and genetically-modified sugar from beets, the bakery uses evaporated cane juice in its frostings.
When Miles moved into the commercial facility in April, she didn’t plan on opening up for retail. But due to the demand from her local customers who became hooked on her paleo treats at the Falmouth and Barnstable County Fairgrounds Farmers’ Markets, Coffee Obsession in Woods Hole and Falmouth, and the Daily Brew in Cataumet, she set up the space to accommodate foot traffic.
Build it, and they will come. Soon after opening her doors, Miles realized she would also need to build a wall for an office so that she would be able to get billing and ordering done during the day. Her passion for food brims over while talking to customers who stop in to pick up a dessert or rolls for a dinner party, or pop by for a snack after their CrossFit session next door (the gym just happens to be run by Miles’ sister, Sara Lee—no relation to the frozen dessert maker).
“People typically come in for a couple muffins,” she says. “And then they come back for a dozen.”
There’s no seating—yet—but the bakery offers a 10% discount once a month to locals who pick up their orders. Miles plans to stock all the ingredients necessary to bake her mixes at home, including local eggs and raw buckwheat honey from a family-run farm in Michigan.
Just six months after moving into the Mashpee location, she has begun supplying Whole Foods in Hingham, with other Whole Foods locations expected to follow suit.
“My intuition said this should spread across the country,” she says. “There’s nothing like what we offer now on the grocery store shelves. America needs to learn how to eat.”
White Lion Baking Company 439 Nathan Ellis Highway Suite 1, Mashpee 774-228-2946 / www.whitelionbakingco.com Hours: Monday-Thursday 9-3, Friday 9-5, and Saturday 11-3. Closed Sundays.