Creating delicious alternatives

Jan. 31—Better Than Flours offers gluten-free goods

By Amanda Larch

For The Ironton Tribune — Tri-State Living

Holly Ross has just a smidge of flour on her cheek as she's rolling out a pie crust, here and there stopping to dust some more flour on the stainless-steel countertop.

With the heavenly smell of fresh chocolate chip cookies wafting through the kitchen, and more dough waiting to be baked, Ross is prepping for another busy weekend.

Ross' bakery, Better Than Flours, provides gluten-free desserts and baked good options, and taste and quality have always been her key ingredients.

A lifelong cook who had to go gluten-free about a decade ago due to health reasons, Ross was determined to find alternatives to her favorite dishes that contained gluten.

"It was very difficult at the time," Ross recalls. "Everything was dry in texture, it was terrible, so I started experimenting at home. I was like, 'I've got to learn how to make my own stuff.'"

After successfully creating gluten-free recipes, Ross's friends and family encouraged her to begin selling her foods; she obtained a home license to start selling a few things out of her house.

Then, she started participating in local farmer's markets, building a customer base. After three years, Ross' business began to outgrow the house, and she opened her storefront in Ashland more than a year ago.

Better Than Flours is open to the public on weekends and open for special order pickups the rest of the week. Being open for walk-ins allows potential and returning customers to try all the items Ross offers, as well as suggest new items, before placing orders.

Still a work in progress, one of Ross' goals since starting her gluten-free baking business was to get her items in grocery stores and restaurants.

Like preparing a special dough or gluten-free baked good, running the bakery and achieving her dreams takes patience.

"We have a commercial food processing license so that we can sell to stores, restaurants and anybody who wants to sell our product," Ross says. "The goal now is to get people in here to work so I can get out, knock on doors, take samples and that kind of thing. Because if I can get stuff in where they can try it, it will make a difference."

So far, some of the bakery's best sellers are biscuits and chocolate chip cookies; Ross says it's hard to find gluten-free versions of these items that also taste good, and they're a hit with customers and her family alike.

"When you're gluten free, finding a good biscuit is pretty near impossible, and we have lots of people who are not gluten free that come and buy the cookies because they say they're better than cookies with gluten," she says.

Other items include fruit pies, muffins, rolls, tortillas, turnovers, sticky buns and more. A full list, as well as contact information, is available online at https://betterthanflours.com/.

Ross does accept special requests, as she says she's usually able to figure out how to make a gluten-free version of traditional treats or baked goods. Her baking requires a lot of trial and error, especially with converting recipes to include gluten-free friendly flours and other ingredients.

Though she tries to stick with what's on the menu, Ross can make exceptions, delivering her customers nothing but the best.

"Most things I can do; I'll figure it out," Ross says. "Sometimes, customers will come in and say, 'I really miss having this,' and I try making that, because a lot of the stuff I have, really, are things I missed when I had to go gluten-free."

Though she's able to imitate many of her favorite recipes, baking gluten-free varies due to its different ingredients.

"It's not the same as regular baking at all," Ross says. "Your flour makes a huge difference, and there are different flours for different things, where with regular baking you just use the same flour all the time but not for gluten-free."

Though also more time consuming — especially, for example, when it comes to baking loaves of bread and the dough's rise time — Ross says gluten-free baking is a rewarding process for her, especially when she gets to help others by supplying delicious baked goods they may not have had for a long time, or may not have ever been able to try before.

"I have so many people who have been gluten-free for so long and have never had an opportunity to try a lot of things that we take for granted," she says. "And I get newbies all the time and we do a lesson on gluten-free eating whenever they come in. A lot of people are just so grateful to be able to have things they can eat."

Ross recalls one day when she had two customers talk about how having delicious gluten-free food options made them feel like they were part of everything again.

"It kind of broke my heart, because you just don't even think about that when you've been doing this so long," she says.

The community support for Better Than Flours has meant much to Ross, and she says one of her favorite aspects of her business has been being able to educate people about being gluten-free, as well as interacting with her customers.

"A lot of my customers have become like friends and family," Ross says. "It's been nice to have that interaction with customers where, if I'm not swamped, I have time to actually chat with them a little bit."

To potentially find new employees, Ross says she would love to connect with local schools that have culinary programs to co-op their students to teach them about baking. Ross taught school for more than 30 years, so "teaching is kind of my thing," she says.

Though she retired from teaching, Ross says she's now busier than ever before.

"I always tell people I failed retirement, but I'm one of those people who has to stay busy, I can't just do nothing," she says. "I like to stay busy so this took care of that."