For years, Candice Conway baked as a hobby. Then it became a necessity, after she was diagnosed two years ago, at age 54, as prediabetic and couldn’t find tasty, sugar-free desserts. Now she’s gone pro with Dessertcrazy, a bakery, cafe, and minimarket at 1925 Fairmount Ave. in Francisville that opened this week, selling baked goods, protein shakes, and other products suitable for those seeking to limit sugar and gluten from their diets. There is not a speck of conventional wheat flour nor hint of sugar on the premises.
The sweetening of these treats is the tricky part, and that is where Conway’s earlier career comes into play. She worked for decades as a scientist, first at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and later at Merck Pharmaceuticals.
Conway is going for a neighborhood vibe with Dessertcrazy, with cafe seating and live music once a month in the afternoons. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
Conway took a breather before the opening to chat.
I have always been torn between two loves, science and baking. I have degrees in biology and chemistry, and did my graduate work, and all of that good stuff. I also love baking. When I left [Merck], I was a clinical scientist. I was running huge Phase III clinical trials for them, which kind of translates really well for running a small business.
I’d always done it as a hobby. When my son was a baby, I couldn’t bring myself to go back to work and leave him at a day-care. I just couldn’t do it. We were out in Berks County at the time. I had my kitchen licensed as a bakery, and I just made up pastry trays. I just walked into restaurants and said, “Hey, this is what I can do. Here’s my license.” I got three restaurants. It was enough so that I was able to stay home with my son until he was a toddler, and old enough that I felt it would be good for him to day-care.
I said no way. I started researching what I could do to try and slow it down, because I knew that you could control it, somewhat, with diet. I stumbled across keto [the low-carb, high-fat diet]. At first, I sat home and cried, because it’s like I’m going to have to do this diet, but it’s the end of my world. I’ve lived half of my life as a baker. I’m not going to be able to bake anymore. I’m never going to be able to have anything that tastes good again. I said, well, there are some recipes out there for keto. They must be awful. Let me try them. The first six batches of brownies I tried, I threw away, because they were inedible. And each one, I cried afterward, because it was like I’m never going to have a brownie again.
I just kind of buckled down and said, You know what? I’m going to figure out how to bake keto. And I started really researching, and actually pulling some of my chemistry, and my biology, into it. I started researching which sweeteners worked for what.
I actually have five types of sweeteners in this bakery:
Allulose is an indigestible sugar. Your body doesn’t see it, and you don’t digest it, and it has a zero glycemic index. So you actually don’t get any kind of blood sugar spike from it, and the calories don’t count.
There’s tagatose, which has a few carbs in it, but almost none. So it’s a 3 in the glycemic index.
I also use erythritol. Most people who are doing keto baking use only erythritol. It doesn’t work for a lot of things. It has a property that it recrystallizes. So it’ll go into solution, but then it recrystallizes. But erythritol is great in cookies, because when it recrystallizes in the structure of the cookies, it actually gives you more crunchiness in your cookies. So that’s a good one.
I also use debittered Stevia, and pure monk-fruit extract.
Obviously extremely expensive, and that’s why my stuff is so expensive. And I’m OK with that. I think people will pay for it because it’s worth it. The quality of the food is bakery quality. A normal bakery is paying 10 cents a pound for flour. I’m paying $5.33 a pound for almond flour. [She also uses coconut flour.] And of course lots of butter and coconut oil.
I live in Fairmount, so I’m a local. Of course, to me, it seemed so obvious that we needed something like this. And so I was looking around and the person who told me that this place was going up for grabs was the person who used to own Mugshots, which was here two businesses ago. Now we’ve had a couple of coffee shops in a row fail here. I needed to do something very different. So we are doing the savory fat bombs, but we’re also going to do some keto lunch boxes. And it’s going to be something simple. We don’t have a restaurant hood. So we are not allowed to be making things like grilled chicken, stuff like that. But I can still make cold salads for lunch. So we’re going to have like Italian tuna salad. And it’s going to be in a little box. It’s going to have the salad on a little bed of lettuce. And then it’s going to have something like a little container of olives with it. It’s going to have a keto roll with it. And it’s going to have a couple of cookies. So it’s a whole lunch for somebody who wants to order a keto lunch.
If you think about how expensive the pecans are, and then you look, and that’s three quarters of a pound of nuts that we actually process. It’s nuts and seeds. And almond flour, and an egg, and spices, and all that kind of stuff, that we basically ground up, and then spread, and baked also. It’s a job. Nothing that we make is simple to make. It’s all got its quirks, and it’s all a little different.
Like our buttercream is Swiss meringue buttercream, which is the hardest buttercream to make but amazingly good. Normal buttercream, you basically whip butter, and you add powdered sugar. We don’t have that option. To solve that problem, I was looking at different icings, and my favorite had always been Swiss meringue buttercream. What you have to do is you get egg whites, and then you just put the sweeteners in the egg white, and then you bring it to exactly 150 degrees, stirring it all the time. Then you take that, and you pour it in your mixer, and you whip it, until it’s this beautiful, frothy mixture. Then stir it slowly, adding your butter to it. It is much harder to make than normal buttercream, but the result is beautiful, because it means that the allulose and tagatose dissolve perfectly in it.
There are more misperceptions about keto than there are realities. Ninety percent of the stuff on Facebook about keto is not true. And, unfortunately, that’s the way it is. If I send people to get keto information, there’s a website called KetoConnect that I send them to. And also, Reddit has an excellent keto board. So I would much prefer people go to Reddit, because when people start posting stuff that’s not real, they get shot down real fast, whereas on Facebook, it just perpetuates, and expands, and there’s so many misconceptions about keto out there.