A Passion for Baking

Christine Hamre (inset photo) and Lindsay Piekutowski are satisfying customers’ sweet tooth (sweet teeth?) with cookies, bars, cakes and other goodies straight from their home ovens. The two women operate Gingersnap Bakery and Sifted and Sweet Baking Company, both in Moorhead.

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Not every oven produces the fragrant scent of cinnamon, chocolate and spice that perfumes two Moorhead entrepreneurs’ home kitchens. But thanks to their growing businesses, anyone can taste the fresh-baked goodness … thanks to the magic of social media and the ingenuity of two creative cooks.

Christine Hamre and Lindsay Piekutowski have turned their talents into thriving new home-based businesses catering to every sweet tooth’s requirements.

Lindsay’s Sifted and Sweet Baking Company was built on a foundation of molasses cookies – the delicious treats she learned how to bake with her mother was she was 4. She has added many tastes of home to her menu, from chocolate chip and sugar cookies to breads, cocoa bombs and her growing business in custom cakes.

Christine specializes in vegan baked goods – bars, cookies, cakes and cinnamon rolls – that, she says, taste every bit as good as their namesake treats made with dairy, eggs and other ingredients that vegans eschew. Her menu also includes hard-to-find, fresh-baked versions that are gluten-free.

Sifted and Sweet Baking Co.

“Honestly, I never thought I’d be doing this,” says Lindsay Piekutowski. “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. This baking was just something I did for fun. It almost feels like I fell into this fun second career.”

Now the Moorhead woman lives two very different lives. By day, she teaches English language arts at West Fargo High School, the career she always wanted. By night, though, she’s queen of her kitchen – a home-based entrepreneur whose self-taught skills are earning Sifted and Sweet Baking Company a growing reputation around Fargo-Moorhead.

Her unexpected entry into the world of cottage industries was spurred, she says, by love of her favorite TV program, “The Great British Baking Show.” “But I was always saying to myself, ‘I know how to do this. I know how to do that,’” she remembers.

Finally she was inspired to give her passion a try. While her signature product is the molasses cookies she learned to bake at Mom’s side at age 4, she credits cooking shows, YouTube, online baking groups on Facebook and her own curiosity with rounding out her knowledge of how to commercialize her kitchen skill.

Sifted and Sweet Baking is best-known for what Lindsay calls “homemade, feel-good cookies” like chocolate chips and sugar cookies. Her menu – available only by custom order – now reaches much farther afield. Along with her popular “cocoa bombs,” cinnamon swirl breads, pretzel buns and candy, she offers a long list of cookies and bars. Valentine’s Day specials include macarons, cupcake bouquets, truffles and heart-shaped cookies with unexpected messages.

She also creates custom cakes for special occasions. “They’re different from most you can order,” she explains. “I use all buttercream because the flavor of fondant isn’t that great.” She hopes to expand her cake-baking this year as the wedding season approaches.

Lindsay has built her business through an unconventional marketing channel. From the beginning, she has sold her irresistible cookies at vendor and craft shows. Staged by groups like El Zagel Shrine and organizer J2K, these events bring together sellers of Scentsy, Mary Kay and other personal products. “It’s a good spot for people like me who are new and need to get their name out there to build a following,” she says.

Facebook also connects her with many looking for home-made goodies from someone else’s home. Her full menu is published on her website, siftedandsweet.com. Orders can be placed directly through that site or by messaging her.

A home-based baking business presents both legal and personal challenges. Lindsay’s husband Chad helped her research Minnesota’s stringent regulations for cottage food producers. Among the restrictions are a ban on shipping products prepared in home kitchens. Cheesecake and pumpkin pie are off limits due to the need for refrigeration, as is banana bread and others with ingredients that require strict temperature control. And some rules just seem odd: “I wanted to make ‘fireworks cookies’ for the Fourth of July, mounting them on sticks like sparklers,” she confides. “Couldn’t do it – if I added a stick, I would have had to charge sales tax.”

“Someday I hope to have a commercial kitchen,” she muses. In the meantime, operating in her home offers a few issues of its own. Chad and her 14-year-old stepson have grown used to tantalizing aromas that come with the admonition, “Hands off – that’s for an order.” She notes, “He’d eat them all if he could.” On the other hand, she adds, “If he helps me out with doing dishes, I pay him with a cookie or two.”

For more information: www.siftedandsweet.com or facebook.com/siftedandsweet

Gingersnap Bakery

Building her baking business at home was both a natural choice and a necessity for Christine Hamre. And naming it Gingersnap Bakery was an even more personal choice.

“My grandmother, Gladys Wilke, was known far and wide for those cookies,” she explains. After her death two years ago at the age of 100, Christine’s choice of a name brought not only loving memories, but became a tribute to her skill as a baker.

Gingersnap Bakery has another claim to fame: All of its specialties, from those gingersnaps and other cookies, brownies, bars, cupcakes and cinnamon rolls, are prepared with vegans in mind, None of Christine’s recipes use dairy products, eggs or honey. At customers’ request, she also offers to make her delectable baked goods gluten-free. “All except the cinnamon rolls,” she notes. “I’m still working on that.”

She explains, “It’s not that hard to make most recipes vegan-friendly. I don’t even need to use a fat replacement product for my cookies. There are so many good vegan butters. Shortening, of course, is naturally vegan.

“Cookies don’t have to have egg. Instead, I usually use ground flax meal with a little water. You can use applesauce, too. I don’t use commercial egg replacer, though it’s available. It’s just a matter of figuring out what the egg was supposed to do.”

Home-based businesses fit well into Christine’s life. With a daughter who has significant special needs, that approach has fit well with her family. For the past five years, she has sold custom-made weighted blankets on Etsy under the name “WeightForIt Blankets.” The special coverlets, which weigh up to 20 pounds, can help calm children with autism and other sensory disorders, as well as adults coping with PTSD, sleep problems and anxiety.

Gingersnap Bakery was born in October 2020. “We were stuck at home with the pandemic. I needed to keep myself occupied. I’ve always loved baking … so why not try it?” she says. Too, she recognized that a market was waiting. The Facebook group F-M Vegans has more than 1,000 members and, she says, “people are always looking for baked goods. They get really excited about fresh vegan baking.” Her market includes non-vegans as well, including the considerable number of people who cannot tolerate dairy products or are allergic to eggs.

While her husband and 16-year-old stepson aren’t vegans, Christine has followed that eating approach on and off for more of her life. “I was a vegetarian for a number of years in high school, and then I wasn’t, even though I never was much of a meat-eater anyway,” she explains. “Three years ago I learned a lot more about the meat, dairy and egg industries, and I went vegan as a matter of conscience.

“I hadn’t felt good for a long time,” she adds. “I thought I was chronically ill. That wasn’t why I changed how I ate – but when I gave up dairy, I felt amazingly better. That was a huge bonus.”

The Gingersnap Bakery menu is shared on Facebook. It includes a long list of home favorite cookies, from chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin to iced sugar cookies, double chocolate brownies and peanut butter chocolate chunk blondies. She makes cinnamon rolls, caramels, fudge, and cupcakes frosted with a spectrum of colors and candy sprinkles. While virtually all her ingredients come from local market, that last one is her biggest challenge: candy sprinkles. The shellac that makes the common commercial product shiny is non-vegan, made with beeswax and an ingredient from insects.

The state’s cottage food rules lay out guidelines for her home kitchen. Moisture content is critical, limiting what she can do with bananas, sweet potato or pumpkin. Fruit garnishes are off limits. “It’s all about the moisture content,” she explains.

The most bothersome rule, she notes, is the limitation on sales – up to $18,000 per year. “That’s not $18,000 in profit. It’s total sales,” she points out. The Minnesota Cottage Food Producers Association is working to lift the limit.

Christine is proud of a little secret that she says might surprise those not accustomed to the vegan lifestyle: Her baking is quite delicious … and indistinguishable from the same recipes made in the traditional way. Her husband, also named Chris, has proven it. “He really likes what I bake. When he takes it to work (at NDSU), his coworkers have no idea.”

She adds with the confidence of a kitchen wizard: “You don’t need dairy and eggs for good baking. When it’s done right, you really can’t tell the difference.”

For more information: facebook.com/gingersnapveganbakery

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