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Millis cafe’s breads, cupcakes made with gluten-free care

Kathryn Ernst, owner of Twist Bakery Cafe in Millis, makes gluten-free and peanut-free goods, including empanadas (above), sandwich breads, cakes, and brownies.

Rose Lincoln for The Boston Globe

Kathryn Ernst, owner of Twist Bakery Cafe in Millis, makes gluten-free and peanut-free goods, including empanadas (pictured), sandwich breads, cakes, and brownies.

MILLIS — The “twist” in the name Twist Bakery Cafe is that all the baked goods and lunch items — empanadas, sandwiches, roll-ups, salads with a variety of dressings, cupcakes, moist macaroons and muffins, tart lemon squares, cakes, and brownies — are gluten- and peanut-free and many are made without dairy.

Owner Kathryn Ernst, 50, would have loved a spot like this when she was younger and discovered she had an allergy to gluten, the proteins that give bread and baked goods their texture. Even with so many food companies and restaurants adjusting their menus for gluten-free diners (see related story, Page 18), there was still a demand for baked goods.

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Ernst hired bakers and cooks and opened a year ago in a shopping plaza next to a Roche Bros. “People don’t have access to a lot of freshly made gluten-free foods in these suburbs,” says Ernst, who knew by the time she turned 20 that she had to give up almost everything she loved. Strawberries caused hives, and raw carrots and celery made her hoarse. When she later developed belly and joint pain, her doctor told her to eliminate foods with gluten.

Rose Lincoln for The Boston Globe

Kathryn Ernst, owner of Twist Bakery Cafe in Millis.

It took a year of trial and error, creating a gluten-free flour blend that includes rice flour and tapioca starch, before Ernst could open the business. “I was a woman on a mission,” she says. She had tried commercial gluten-free flour mixes but didn’t like the results: baked goods with an unappealing flavor, and bland, dense packaged breads and desserts. “I wasn’t happy with what was out there,” she says.

When she baked breads, muffins, and cookies with her own mix, they mimicked the taste and texture of regular ones. In her confections, her mix replaces wheat flour, palm shortening and coconut oil are added instead of butter, and coconut milk is substituted for regular milk. A blackboard chart identifies ingredients in every item to alert customers to known food allergens such as eggs, nuts, coconut, or chocolate chips, which contain soy lecithin.

“It’s a safe place to eat,” says Anne Gulick of Franklin, who comes for cupcakes for her two children, who can’t tolerate gluten. “You won’t get cross contamination,” says the mom. (Many bakeries and restaurants now have gluten-free offerings, but customers worry that their food could be prepared on the same surface or with utensils used for other foods.)

At lunchtime the place, which is bright and cheery, with lime green walls, bustles. Customers line up for pulled pork and deli sandwiches on soft, moist rolls, called Twisty Rolls, a specialty here. Buffalo chicken or tuna top large salads and vegetable empanadas are golden brown and crispy. Because gluten is often a hidden ingredient in dressings and sauces, Ernst makes everything from scratch, even ketchup and hoisin sauce.

Customers without allergies are also regulars. “The place isn’t pigeonholed as just gluten-free. I love that people without food allergies come here and eat,” says Nancy Sitta of Millis, a steady customer with gluten-sensitivity. For her, Twist is a gem. “It’s a relief when you can order anything you want on a menu.”

Twist Bakery Cafe

30 Milliston Road, Millis, 508-376-1163, www.twist-bakery.com

Ann Trieger Kurland can be reached at atrieger@comcast.net.
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