I am a sucker for healthier-for-you desserts that actually taste good. They aren’t easy to find. So, when I do find them, my inclination is to share the discovery with others who may be on the same quest.
I was recently introduced to Sweet Laurel, a Los Angeles-based Paleo baking company founded by friends Laurel Gallucci and Claire Thomas, and was blown away by the taste (and lack of aftertaste) of their cakes and cookies and the normalcy of the texture—something that usually gets wonky with ‘healthier for you’ ingredient alternatives.
“Claire and I both grew up in Santa Monica, California. We became friends in our college years over our mutual love for baking, old movies, and gardening. We joke that we are basically 80 year-old ladies stuck in our 30s,” says Gallucci, who has been making baked good since she was old enough to safely use the oven. But after being diagnosed with an aggressive autoimmune condition she was put on a restrictive diet.
“My doctor advised me to cut out gluten, dairy, and refined sugar. It did not take long for me to start missing cake, brownies and all the baked goods that I used to make for fun. Working with the ingredients I could eat, I designed baked goods that were moist, full of flavor but also grain-free, refined sugar-free, and dairy-free.” One day Gallucci brought Thomas over a freshly made chocolate caramel cake created with only five ingredients. “We started Sweet Laurel right then and there. Claire saw the potential of the product and had a vision for the brand we see today, and the rest is history.”
Fast-forward to today and the ladies have a bustling e-commerce and wholesale business, a flagship store in Los Angeles, two cookbooks (Sweet Laurel and Sweet Laurel Savory), a strong, loyal following (with several celebrity fans), and are in the process of creating a variety of consumer packaged goods that can be shipped nationwide.
When I ask Thomas, who is both co-founder and creative director of the brand (and who also happens to be a director, writer, and a television personality) how Sweet Laurel came to market she tells me that the brand started online on Instagram in 2015.
“We did classes and workshops. After the experience, people wanted to buy our baked goods. People could order from us if they were in Los Angeles and we would hand deliver them. We made everything out of my tiny apartment. Year one was a cottage lot and certified by the health department. We grew out of that in a year and the second year we expanded into wholesale and leased or first commercial kitchen. In 2018, we opened our brick and mortar store.”
The duo’s first classes were offered for free and were attended by Jenni Kayne and Lauren Conrad for example. Gallucci tells me, “From there we gained popularity through word of mouth and genuine interest. When it came to our marketing, it had to be beautiful and iconic. We had asked a friend in PR and she suggested we keep it like a secret garden where people feel like they’ve discovered a treasure.” Thomas adds, “Our foundation is our naked cakes, with luscious frosting, fresh jam, or gooey caramel dripping down the sides, topped with a few organic roses, blossoming herbs, or whatever we could find at the farmer’s market. The Sweet Look—simple, feminine, and a bit romantic—sets us apart.”
Sweet Laurel caters to people who have dietary restrictions. But the brand is also a destination for those who want to indulge in desserts in a healthier way without sacrificing on flavor or suffering from a sugar coma—like myself.
“All of our baked goods and products are grain free, refined sugar free and dairy free, another way of describing them is Paleo. We use a 5 core ingredient principle: almond flour, coconut oil, 100% maple syrup, Himalayan pink salt and organic eggs,” states Gallucci. In 2018, the pair launched their ketogenic line, which has been met with great success. “In fact, our best selling cake the last two years has been our Vegan Keto Chocolate Cake which ships nationally. Our keto options switch out our maple syrup for zero-calorie, low-glycemic monk fruit sweetener, and up the fiber, making them macronutrient unicorns, as I like to say. We literally carry a brownie that is under 200 calories, has 12 grams of protein, and 4 net carbs. It’s like guilt free snack or dessert, your choice.”
“Sweet Laurel is a whole foods baking company, meaning, no filler, no weird stuff,” adds Thomas. “This is indulgent, healthful food with a body positive perspective. It’s about loving the food you eat instead of punishing yourself for craving it. Most of the items are made with less than five ingredients, and none of them are the wacky gums and stabilizers you’ll find in most gluten-free or dairy-free products. We love few things more than a perfect slice of cake, so we only put the fewest, best ingredients in our baked goods.”
The pair currently sells their infamous layer cakes nationwide directly on their website. “We also ship products, like our cookie dough, cake mix, and vanilla extract,” Gallucci tells me. “We have seen a huge up-tick in sales throughout the pandemic and are investing time and energy into product development in response to sales trends. We are excited to start launching new baking mixes and cookie dough flavors, as well as shipping items like our cookies and brownies nationally. Long term, we are looking to expand into the CPG space, and launch our products nationally in grocery stores. We want to reach as many people as possible, whether we are shipping door to door or on the shelves of the grocery store.”
While the brand has focused primarily on sweet baked goods, with the recent launch of the pair’s latest book, Sweet Laurel Savory, the duo has big plans to offer more savory products to the masses. “We are currently planning to release items like pizza dough and bread mixes that would ship nationally and be part of our CPG launch. I would love Sweet Laurel available in every marketplace whether it is COSTCO or Target—we want to be a household name and be top of mind when people think about grain-free baked goods,” shares Gallucci. “2020 enforced adaptability. As a result we shifted our shopping process. The grocery store is the one place that people still go to. Getting into as many stores is a huge priority,” adds Thomas.
To get a little flavor for the brand at home below are four recipes—two that are savory and two that are sweet—directly from both Sweet Laurel books.
Double Dark Chocolate Cookies (Makes 3-dozen cookies)
These double-chocolate cookies are our downfall. A still-warm batch with melted chocolate chips and a glass of cold almond milk is pure heaven. We love the dark, bittersweet flavors of the cacao, giving these cookies a rich, deep flavor. Good luck waiting for them to cool before devouring half a pan!
1 cup date paste, store-bought or homemade
1⁄2 cup coconut oil, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
21⁄2 cups almond flour
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
1⁄4 cup plus 1 tablespoon
100% unsweetened cacao powder
1⁄2 cup arrowroot powder
1 cup vegan chocolate chips, store-bought or homemade
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a food processor, pulse the date paste, coconut oil, and vanilla together. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cacao powder, and arrowroot powder. A little at a time, add the dry ingredients to the date paste mixture, pulsing until a dough forms.
3. Transfer the dough to a sheet of parchment. Knead the chocolate chips into the dough and gradually form it into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
4. Place tablespoon-size scoops of dough on the baking sheet and gently press down to flatten to about 1⁄4 inch thick. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes, until the edges are set; then transfer the cookies to a rack to cool completely. Store in a sealed container at room temperature for up to 5 days, or in the freezer indefinitely.
Lemon Poppyseed Bundt (Makes one 9-inch bundt cake)
It’s a Bundt! That’s Laurel’s favorite line from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and this is one of Claire’s favorite recipes in the book, so get ready for something delicious. If you have friends or family who side-eye grain-free baked goods, this is the recipe to make for them—we doubt they’ll miss anything. Lemon-scented with nutty notes of poppyseed, this cake is the perfect complement to a cup of coffee and friends on a Sunday afternoon.
Grass-fed ghee or coconut oil, for greasing the pan
Arrowroot powder, for dusting the pan
4 cups almond flour
1⁄2 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs
3⁄4 cup full-fat coconut milk
1 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1⁄4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
Coconut Butter Glaze
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously grease a 9-inch Bundt pan with ghee and coat with arrowroot powder, shaking to discard any excess.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and baking soda. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, coconut milk, maple syrup, lemon zest, and lemon juice until combined. A little at a time, add the dry ingredients to the wet, stirring well until a batter forms; then stir in the poppy seeds.
3. Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about an hour. Invert the bundt onto a plate to release the cake. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake, then cut and serve.
NOTE: When we say “grease generously,” we mean it. Almond flour is immensely sticky, and the nooks and crannies that make Bundt pans so beautiful also provide the perfect opportunity for ruining your cake. We’ve tried several different preventative methods and found that ghee truly does work best. Trust us—we’ve earned our doctorates in reconstructive Bundt surgery. Alternatively, try using a silicone Bundt mold for the easiest release.
Coconut Butter Glaze (Makes ½ cup)
1⁄4 cup coconut butter
2 teaspoons maple syrup or raw honey
1⁄2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1⁄4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1⁄4 cup full-fat coconut milk or almond milk
Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring for 10 minutes, or until blended together. If you want thinner icing, add more coconut milk. For a thicker glaze, add more coconut butter. Allow the glaze to cool completely before drizzling over the cake.
Perfect Sandwich Bread (Makes on 8 X 4 loaf)
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (100o to 110oF)
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 cups almond flour
1 cup arrowroot powder
1 cup cassava flour
4 teaspoons baking powder, homemade or storebought
1 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
¼ cup cider vinegar
6 large eggs, separated
2 flax eggs
1. Line an 8 × 4-inch loaf pan with parchment paper, letting the paper hang over the sides for easy removal.
2. In a small bowl, combine the yeast, warm water, and maple syrup. Let sit in a warm area—in direct sunlight, for instance (about 80ºF is ideal)—until foaming and bubbling, 5 to 10 minutes.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the almond flour, arrowroot, cassava flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the yeast mixture, vinegar, egg yolks, and flax eggs until fully incorporated. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel. Let the mixture sit in a warm area for about 1 hour, until slightly puffed.
4. Preheat the oven to 325ºF.
5. In a medium bowl, using a handheld mixer, beat the egg whites on high until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Fold the egg whites into the dough and pour the dough into the prepared pan. Bake for 60 to 75 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan completely, about 1 hour, before slicing and serving.
6. Wrap the bread in plastic wrap and store on the counter for 3 to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Santa Monica Fish Tacos (Makes 4 tacos)
1 head green cabbage, thinly sliced
2 shallots, chopped
1 serrano pepper, chopped
⅓ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons avocado oil, plus more for grilling
11/4 teaspoons Himalayan pink salt
1 pound halibut or white sea bass, cut into 4 pieces
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1 recipe Rainbow Tortillas or store-bought grain-free tortillas, warmed
1 lime, cut into wedges
½ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup coconut yogurt, homemade or store-bought
¼ cup Turmeric Salsa Amarillo store-bought salsa
1. In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, shallots, serrano, and cilantro. Add 1/4 cup of the avocado oil and 1 teaspoon of the salt and toss to coat.
2. Grease the grates with the remaining 2 tablespoons avocado oil (alternatively, in a medium grill pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat) and heat the grill to medium. Season the fish with paprika, the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, and the garlic. When the oil is shimmering, add the fish to the grill and cook for 5 minutes per side, or until cooked through when there are grill marks on the fish.
3. Immediately assemble the tacos: Place the fish on the tortillas and top each with the spicy slaw and a squeeze of lime juice, some cilantro, coconut yogurt, and salsa, if desired.