Grand prize winners, Jimmy and Maureen Moloney, of Chicago, who baked Smookies, a gluten free graham cracker inspired cookie for Jimmy's gluten free friend at school. (Photos by Kelly White)

Grand prize winners, Jimmy and Maureen Moloney, of Chicago, who baked Smookies, a gluten free graham cracker inspired cookie for Jimmy's gluten free friend at school. (Photos by Kelly White)

Smookies win Pass Health Foods gluten-free baking competition

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regional 11 14 baking contest6 2023

Pass Health Foods, 7228 W. College Dr., Palos Heights, hosted a Gluten Free Baking Contest on November 11.

By Kelly White

A local health food store provided a twist on a friendly baking competition this past weekend.

Pass Health Foods, 7228 W. College Dr., Palos Heights, hosted a gluten-free baking contest on November 11.

“We chose to have the contest gluten free because we have a large amount of gluten-free customers, both people who have been diagnosed with Celiac, an autoimmune disease where people can’t eat wheat or gluten, as well as a number of people with gluten intolerance, who have found that they feel better when they avoid eating wheat or gluten or feel like they have digestive issues when they eat gluten,” Carolyn Johnson, co-owner of Pass Health Foods, said.

regional 11 14 baking contest1 2023

Co-owners of Pass Health Foods, Carolyn Johnson and Liz Ryan, were responsible for organizing the store’s Gluten-Free Baking Contest on November 11.

Johnson co-owns the establishment along with Liz Ryan. Johnson’s aunts, Joanne Callahan and Theresa Van Loon, opened the store in 1995.

The entire community was invited to participate in the contest by entering a dish along with a recipe. The only rule being that the item must be entirely gluten free and that the recipe must come with a full ingredient listing.

“We like having events just as a fun thing for our customers,” Johnson said. “Also, November is Celiac Disease Awareness Month, which is why we always do our do our gluten free contest in November.  It’s also nice for people to try things and get recipes to make for the holidays, since you can’t always picture how something will taste just by reading the recipe.  After the judging, everything is available for people to sample.”

There was no pre-entry to participate in the contest. All entries had to be on disposable plates or platters and could be dropped off at Pass Health Foods on the morning of the contest. There were no particular categories, although everything presented consisted of a different type of baked item that was entirely gluten free. Just as in the past, the contest featured plenty of cakes, breads, muffins, and pies.

“I like seeing our customers getting excited about the contest,” Johnson said. “We have a mom with a younger daughter who came into the store saying they were working on something together and how excited they were about doing it. I also like that a baking contest has almost like a small town feel to it, that it’s something that doesn’t really seem to happen anymore, so it’s neat for that reason.  Looking ahead to next year, we’re planning on doing a vegan baking contest, maybe in the spring, since we have a large group of dairy free and vegan customers.”

Judging for the friendly competition took place at noon.

Entries were primarily judged on taste, looks counted as well, but since baking without gluten can be difficult, taste was the main factor, Johnson said.

The grand prize winner received a $50 gift card to Pass Health Foods and will have their recipe published in the store’s newsletter.

Other winners received canvas bags full of gluten-free foods with a value of $50 to $100 per bag.

Palos Heights Mayor Bob Straz, who has been a popular judge returned to voice his vote again this year.

“This gets people from the community out in a friendly competition,” Straz said. “Who knew gluten free could actually taste good?”.

Johnson’s daughter, River Johnson, 13, served as the Kid’s Award Judge. Honorable mentions were selected by Pass Health Foods associates and special guest judge, Emerson Schweikert of Palos Heights.

regional 11 14 baking contest2 2023

Judges for Pass Health Foods Gluten-Free Baking Contest, Palos Heights Mayor Bob Straz; Emerson Schweikert, 7, of Palos Heights; and River Johnson, 13, of Mokena.

“I want to be a chef when I grow up,” Emerson, 7, said. “This was so much fun to taste all the desserts, guess the ingredients and pick my favorite.”

Taking home the grand prize was Maureen Moloney and her son, Jimmy, who made “Smookies,” a graham cracker inspired cookie. The cookies were inspired by Jimmy’s gluten-free friend at school.

“I entered the contest because we love Pass Health Foods and they always have unique items,” Maureen Molony, of Chicago, said. “I think gluten free shouldn’t have a stigma of tasting bad or not being fun.  Just because something is missing gluten it doesn’t mean it’s missing that flavor. I have family who are gluten free, so I always try to make something everyone can eat so no one is excluded.”

The Moloney’s win was followed by 10-year-old Olivia Damico’s Oak Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies with Peanut Butter Morsels.

“When I grow up, I want to open up my own bakery,” Damico, of Alsip, said. “This was a great experience for me to be able to make my special cookies for everyone to try.”

Third-place prize went to Christ Makris with his Gluten-Free Carrot Cake. The Staff Pick was Gluten-Free Focaccia Bread by Debbie Cutrone. The Kid’s Choice Award was Jena Oyervides with her Healthy Carrot Zucchini Bars and the Honorable Mention went to the Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies by Julie Pietrzak.

The winning recipe

Smookies

A gram cracker-inspired cookie with a zest of holiday magic by Maureen Moloney

Ingredients:

½ cup of butter

1 cup of brown sugar (or sugar substitute)

1 large egg (applesauce can be used too)

1 ½ cup cram crackers crumbs* and about 4 tablespoons for dusting

½ teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons of vanilla***

¾ cup Almond Flour – extra fine

¼ salt

1 cup mini chocolate chips**

½ cup chopped marshmallows****

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350.

In bowl, cream together, butter and sugar until creamy.

Beat in vanilla and egg.

In medium bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, flour, baking soda and salt. Slowly add butter mixture until it’s combined.

Stir in choc chips and marshmallows.

Using a cookie scoop, form into balls.

Roll ball in cookie crumb crust.

Place balls on parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 8-12 minutes.

Cookies will look slightly underdone, but will set once they are cool.

Eat and enjoy!

Cooking Notes

*I used Pamela’s Gluten-Free Cinnamon Gram Style Crackers – just place in blender to crush into crumbs. If you are not a fan of cinnamon, honey is a nice flavor too 🙂

**I used Enjoy Life Mini Chocolate Chips – mini chip, big flavor

***I used Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract

****Most marshmallows are gluten free, but produced in factories that may be exposed to gluten contamination. I have used dehydrated marshmallows (which work great) but I haven’t found ones that are certified. I used Dandies, which are certified gluten free so you know they are safe.

I cut up the marshmallows into little squares with scissors and let them harden so they bake better.

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