Sweet, Sweet Laurel

Hold the Sugar (& the Gluten, & Grains, & Dairy…)

In a perfect world, delicious cakes and pastries would be good for you. The batter would be full of vitamins, protein, and antioxidants; the sweeteners and frosting would be superfoods; and most of all, our children wouldn’t zoom to other solar systems after indulging. We discovered this dessert Shangri-La in a jewel box café in Los Angeles.

Enter through a pale pink cloud of English roses and swirling scents of vanilla, chocolate, and cinnamon, to find layer cakes exploding with flowers, pillowy muffins, cookies, and tiny fairy cupcakes with frothy chocolate ganache and ruby-colored berries. The lovely fairy queen herself, Laurel Gallucci, emerges smiling, talking to customers, and cooing to babies.

Laurel is the mad genius (and mom with another on the way) who created this gluten-, dairy-, and refined sugar-free organic utopia with her equally gifted business partner, Claire Thomas. Laurel’s life as a baker began while healing from Hashimotos, and following a strict diet of anti-inflammatory foods. She had to eliminate ingredients like gluten, grains, refined sugar, and dairy (read: dessert). Unable to find any baked goods she could eat, she created a gorgeous, delicious, and healthy world of her own and named it, appropriately, Sweet Laurel. Lucky for us she chose to share it—along with her nut-free Fairy Cupcakes recipe. Read on!

Hi Laurel. We are in awe of the magic you’ve created with Sweet Laurel. It tastes like something traditional, even old world.
That’s what my business partner [Claire] loves about Sweet Laurel. She doesn’t have any food sensitivities–she can eat anything. But she loves how classically delicious it is. Also, some of what we do is within the traditional French style of working with almond flour.

Everything you make is gluten, dairy, and refined sugar free, but you don’t use those gummy or dry flour mixes.
Yes, gluten free didn’t mean I could eat it. That was something I was really fed up with because gluten free food had so much crap in it. Sweet Laurel uses only the most healthy, whole ingredients. My diet helped me so much that I went into remission with my autoimmune disease. I’ve now been in remission for almost 3 years. I want to share that.

Did you do all the research for your recipes, yourself?
Yes, because I’m a nerd. I’m a total nerd. I was really inspired by Michael Pollan who encourages everyone to eat things with 5 ingredients or less. Whole food; not from a can. Also, one of my favorite cookbooks at the time was The Silver Spoon Italian cookbook. I liked it because everything in that book I could make at home easily. (This was before going paleo.) You can make a lemon cake with 5 ingredients and it’s going to taste great. It doesn’t have to be fussy. And I took that methodology into Sweet Laurel. I wanted everything to be simple and super straightforward. That 5-ingredient-or-less policy was my mantra, and the reason the Sweet Laurel Cookbook is so attainable.

You have saved our kids from a life deprived of delicious treats. They’re our go-to classroom treats and everyone ooohs and aaahs.
That’s why I created the Fairy Cakes! I was a schoolteacher before I got so sick from my autoimmune disease that I had to quit. But I know schools, and the Fairy Cakes are nut free and refined sugar free, for all the school kids.  I’m so glad you’re using them for that. (Get the Fairy Cake recipe here!)

What is it about your food history that led you to be interested in this type of cooking?
Growing up, we had nothing processed in the house. We were raised eating very healthy before it was mainstream. My mom was an old school hippie. She didn’t even give us juice. My father is a cardiologist and very into healing through food. He always taught me how important what you eat is to your health. So that food-health correlation has always been in the back of my head and I think went into Sweet Laurel.

You have an adorable, almost-3-year-old son. Is he also on an anti-inflammatory, paleo diet?
Nico’s food journey has been interesting because I breastfed him exclusively for almost 10 months. I tried to introduce solids at 6 months, but he wasn’t into it. He started eating at around 10 months. I weaned him at a year. The first food I offered him was homemade coconut yogurt, and he loved it. My nutritionist is against starting kids on cereal. She says they need fat and protein. So she encouraged me to start him on good fats. I also made eggs with runny yolks and he wasn’t into that. My nutritionist said to wait 2 months and try again. When I gave it to him again, he ate eggs for breakfast for a year straight. And then he ate lots of whole foods, fruits and vegetables, fats, and organic proteins.

So no grains or dairy?
I kept him grain free until he was a year, and then I started to introduce other grains like a little bit of rice, a little bit of oatmeal, but very much in moderation. I started him on goat and sheep dairy first, but not milk, just cheese. My nutritionist advised me to keep him gluten free until 2. He definitely had gluten here and there before that, and he didn’t react to it. After he turned 2, when I let him have more gluten I noticed he would get these bumps on the back of his arms. So I’ve been trying to keep him gluten free. But very occasionally, if we’re at a party, I’ll let him have whatever he wants. To me, that feels right, right now. But there have been a lot of parties where I’ll bring food for him and for me.

What are Nico’s favorite Sweet Laurel treats?
I think the Snickerdoodle Cookies, but he also really likes the Banana Bread, which is my favorite. It has our house made Chocolate Chips, made from 2 ingredients. There was a time in my life when I had a mini loaf of Banana Bread every day.

Does Nico like desserts that aren’t from Sweet Laurel?
He actually won’t touch other baked goods. He only wants Sweet Laurel. He’s had family members ply him with Costco cake but he’s like, ‘I don’t want it, that’s not real food.’ He doesn’t really go for anything too sweet.

Do people think you’ve brainwashed him?
Yeah, they say, ‘He gets Sweet Laurel all day, so…’  That’s a very interesting thing to me that he wouldn’t go for a regular donut or cupcake. He really likes our stuff, which is great. I have to eat Sweet Laurel every day–taste testing is part of my job description and its are always around–so we try to keep even that in moderation. But he probably has at least a bite of something every day.

How is it at school? Do they all bring in Sweet Laurel now?
This was one of my first dilemmas as a mom. The whole preschool thing was difficult for me because the group snacks they provided were outside of Nico’s normal dietary regime. I shared with the preschool director how we eat as a family, and how my whole business is centered around healing through food. I offered to provide Nico with his own snack daily or, I suggested, we could work together to create a healthier version of the snack schedule. My husband and I were afraid that providing him with his own snack would make him feel like an outcast, and long term that would not serve him well at all. Thankfully, the director and I came up with a solution and she is now buying organic protein and dairy, and healthier gluten free options. While the snack situation is still not perfect, I know keeping him completely away from SAD (Standard American Diet) food will put him in a bubble. Balancing what I can do helps.

You are also something of a clean living expert, and happen to be pregnant right now. Are you even more careful when pregnant?
That’s something I realized when I was pregnant with my first. You don’t have to change the way you’re eating and living if you’re clean in the first place. The goal for me is to not have anything in my house you couldn’t use when you’re pregnant. Cleaning supplies and beauty supplies don’t change when I’m pregnant.

What are a few of your favorite products:
For makeup, I love Beautycounter. For skincare: True Botanicals or Beautycounter.
For a household cleaner I use TKO– it’s an orange essence concentrate you can spray on surfaces, clean toilets, and it’s super nontoxic. And I use a DIY nontoxic, bleach substitute. I’m very sensitive to smells. It’s basically hydrogen peroxide, lemon, and baking soda.

I love that you freely share your recipes and give classes on how to make the things you sell.
I was a teacher before I had to quit because of my autoimmune disease. So the cornerstone of Sweet Laurel is education–sharing the recipes, and openly teaching them in public, in private, through the cookbook, the blog, everywhere. Education is the heart and soul of the business. We’re really focused on having a collaborative attitude about it. I just want to see as many people as possible benefitting from the delicious, clean food that we’re creating. I’m blessed to experience all of this and share it with people.