When I was contacted by Harvard Sweet Boutique about trying their baked goods, I was interested in learning more about their products, so I checked out their website and realized that these are gift-able packages, on the order of Harry and David. In recent years there has been a marked increase in the number of places producing gluten-free goodies, but I haven’t found many that produce gluten-free gift baskets.
Sue George, the founder of Harvard Sweet Boutique, started baking gluten-free items in response to requests from consumers at local farmer’s markets. Sue started with products from their regular line and modified them to fit the needs of gluten-free customers.
Their gluten-free products are made in the same facility as their normal, gluten baked goods. It turns out that the production line has dedicated days for gluten-free production. The equipment is cleaned between each production type to reduce cross-contamination. Additionally, they take the extra precaution of having dedicated gluten-free mixers, as well as gluten-free ovens. I like the dedicated days for product manufacturing because it reduces the risk that someone will accidently grab the regular flour when doing a gluten-free order.
While these precautions may be sufficient for most gluten-free consumers, some folks may be sensitive enough that this may still present an issue, so just be mindful of what generally works for you. Harvard Sweets are available at certain retailers around Harvard, MA (Idylwilde Farms and Johnny Appleseed Visitors Center), as well as a new store in Hudson, MA, so if you are local, you may want to pop by and pick up a few smaller items to test out.
I got the opportunity to sample almost all of the gluten-free treats and was really impressed by all of them. The Harvard Sweet Boutique website highlights their commitment to quality ingredients and I think it is evident in the products I sampled. Right now, Harvard Sweet produces gluten-free brownies in four varieties as well as two types of cookies (toffee and chocolate chip peanut butter). I did ask if the toffee featured on their website is gluten-free and it is.
In my opinion, Harvard Sweet Boutique has been really smart about deciding which gluten-free products to work with first. They have gone with recipes that do not rely heavily on flour in the first place and are perhaps more forgiving of gluten-free-ness than other baked goods like cakes or certain kinds of cookies.
Brownie: Their standard brownie is one of my favorite items. This brownie, which serves as the base for their other brownies, is rich and fudgy. These brownies are less cake-like and more like a really soft fudge. I like that the batter itself is made with semi-sweet chocolate and contains bittersweet chocolate chips, which keeps it from being overwhelmingly sweet. The two different types of chocolate also add a nice depth to the brownie because each bite tastes a little different depending on how much of each chocolate you get. Reading the ingredients list, there is actually very little flour in this in the first place, which makes it easier to substitute rice flours and starches instead of regular flour.
When I gave some to Husband, he actually asked if this was gluten-free because he could not tell the difference.
Sea Salt and Caramel Brownie: The base brownie is the same as the regular brownie, but topped with a layer of caramel and then a thin layer of chocolate sprinkled with sea salt. The caramel was very sweet and buttery, so I wanted a little more salt on top to balance out the sweetness, but Husband disagreed and said that the ratio of sea salt to the rest of the brownie was spot on.
Raspberry Brownie: The base brownie is topped with a layer of raspberry frosting and then a thin layer of chocolate. The raspberry flavor is subtle, but works well with the dark chocolate brownie. This is probably my favorite because I like that the raspberry lightened and balanced out the chocolate of the brownie.
Mint Brownie: The base brownie is topped with a layer of mint frosting and then a thin layer of chocolate. The balance of mint and chocolate could be described as a really satisfying version of an After Eight mint. The chocolate is certainly better quality than an After Eight!
Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookie: Husband also had a hard time telling if the cookies were gluten-free. It is arguably more difficult to pull off a good gluten-free cookie than a brownie because of the ratio of flour to other ingredients. The peanut butter acts as a good binder for the gluten-free flours, so the cookies are not overly crumbly, which is great for shipping because they won’t arrive in pieces. The taste and texture are appealing. The cookie was peanut buttery and the chocolate chips and coating add interest to the peanut butter cookie.
The brownies are a good size, they are not huge: so you can finish one after a decent meal. The peanut butter cookie is pretty big, so I shared that with Husband. I am impressed by how well all the brownies and cookies held up in shipping, none of them were broken when they arrived. The packaging was really pretty. The box was so nice: I used it when making some baked goods to bring to a family friend’s house.
I was really impressed by Harvard Sweet Boutique and I hope you will be too. They have several other rave reviews for their regular lines on Rachel Ray, the Boston Globe and Daily Candy.
You can find their products at: https://www.harvardsweetboutique.com/