Bunny Business

A “gluten-free” label usually sends a secondary message to eaters who aren’t watching their wheat: This isn’t for you.

But not at the Little Rabbit Baking Company. Despite the hand-lettered “GF” on every label at the young Hamden bakery, the savories and sweets are crowd-pleasers. But there’s no one they’re likely to please more than locals with celiac and other gluten intolerances.

Baker and owner Gabriel Morris is one of them. “I know what it’s like to not be able to go somewhere and find something [gluten-free],” Morris says. “I wanted to create a place where people could find something that worked for them.” Trained as a pastry chef at New York City’s French Culinary Institute followed by an internship in Béziers in the south of France, Morris is no stranger to baking. She’s no stranger to many New Haveners, either. She’s the architect of the baked goods menu at Blue State Coffee, where she ran the pastry kitchen for five years. Making the leap into her own business, however, took a little bit more time and courage, and a little bit of serendipity.

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When Morris returned from France, she had a hard time finding pastry work, so she ended up back in an office job. A stint baking for Cafe Romeo led to Blue State. Eventually, she took to the kitchen with her husband, Luke Serwinski, in his meal preparation business, The Strong Kitchen. Then the space next to his Spring Glen industrial kitchen became available. “It gave me the push because I’ve always wanted to work for myself,” Morris says. In March, she opened up shop.

The “little rabbit” for whom the bakery is named is a hard-loved green beanbag bunny named Rabby. Morris has had him since she was five years old: “He lives in a small carrot felt sleeping bag that my mom made him when I was a kid that’s falling apart, his head won’t stand up, he doesn’t have eyes.” He’s so special to her, his image is tattooed on her forearm. Now his likeness peeks over an imagined shelf, one long ear cocked, in the bakery’s logo.

Inside, Little Rabbit is small and spare, with one display case of the day’s offerings, which might include muffins, scones, tea bread, cookies, brownies, bars, cupcakes and bagels. Loaves of bread are coming soon, and Morris also takes custom orders for cakes and pies. I stopped in one day for a thick, moist slice of blueberry banana bread and a delicious cinnamony scone. Another day, I tried a zucchini muffin with just a hint of sweetness on top, and a ginger carrot muffin that was balanced and pleasantly light. One customer who stopped in while I was there said what she likes best about Little Rabbit’s baked goods is the fact that they’re tasty without being too sweet.

“There’s a science to baking,” says Morris, who also enjoys cooking but loves baking best. “You can’t just throw things together. It comes out a very specific way based on what you’ve done… There’s a straightforward process for all of it… Plus, I love dessert!” One of her favorite sweet combinations is “a giant chocolate chunk cookie with a glass bottle of chocolate milk,” preferably from The Dessert Place in her hometown, Atlanta. And, she adds, she loves making desserts for other people and “having people be happy because they’ve eaten something that’s delicious.”

Morris blends her own flour—white rice, brown rice, tapioca starch, potato starch—to get the consistency of her gluten-free items right. “I make sure there’s no cross-contamination, so if you have celiac, people are safe to come in,” she says. If there are nuts in a recipe, they’re always noted. Morris had to figure out the right ratios of sugar as well in order to make her recipes work. “I did a lot of testing… I just tried and tried until I got things exactly the way I wanted them.”

Despite her 4:30 a.m. start time, Morris is still energized at noon. Business is hopping, and she’s just hired her first employee. On the bakery’s Facebook page, one customer admits to having “bought one of everything available today and hav[ing] zero regrets…” Another, the parent of a child with celiac, dubs the bakery “a home run.”

It’s sweet praise for Morris, and rare praise for gluten-less goodies.

Little Rabbit Baking Co.
1648 Whitney Ave, Hamden (map)
Tues-Sat 7am-3pm
(203) 626-1140
www.littlerabbitbaking.com

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg’s associate editor. She’s also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter at KathyLeonardCzepiel.com. Her favorite New Haven scene is a packed summer concert on the Green with dinner from the food trucks, and she loves that there’s always something new to discover here.

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