Baker Sam creates treats in Portrush for the developing gluten-free market

Portrush baker Sam Swart has developed a unique edible dough for the growing number of home cooks in Northern Ireland that’s gluten-free, fully plant-based and ideal for vegans and those with other food intolerances.

Monday, 15th March 2021, 1:00 pm
Sam Swart is creating innovative gluten-free treats in Portrush under the Causeway Cookie brand

Portrush baker Sam Swart has developed a unique edible dough for the growing number of home cooks in Northern Ireland that’s gluten-free, fully plant-based and ideal for vegans and those with other food intolerances.

Sam, originally from Durban in South Africa, has owned the successful Causeway Cookie bakery specialising in decorated cookies in the seaside town since 2016.

Sam bakes, ices and decorates cookies by hand. The recipe she has developed is gluten, wheat and preservative free, but doesn’t compromise on taste.

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“When I started making decorated cookies, I was acutely aware of the lack of a dedicated gluten-free producer in Northern Ireland. I also knew that such a specialised market would be quite small, and so developing a recipe that would be loved by everyone whilst filling the gap in the gluten-free market was important,” explains Sam.

“Engaging with my customers at the various Naturally North Coast & Glens artisan markets, over the past few years, I had become aware of the need for other allergens such as egg and dairy to be addressed. These contacts also showed that more people are now keen on baking at home and ready to try different recipes,” she says.

“It was this that led to the project with Innovate Us and Foodovation at the North West Regional College (NWRC) in Derry. I didn’t start out with the idea of an edible dough, but after tasting the cookie dough, it was a no-brainer. I just had to push ahead with developing my own product,” she adds.

The benefits of edible dough, she continues, include not having to be baked and can be eaten ‘raw’ as a snack.

“What makes mine different from others on the market is that it is completely gluten-free. Most edible dough currently on sale is vegan but not free from gluten and some are not suitable for home baking. The dough we have produced at Foodovation is fully plant-based and gluten-free; but most of all this is the exact dough recipe that I use to make and decorate my own cookies for sale.”

The dough has an eight-week refrigerated shelf-life and is suitable for home freezing for up to three months. The edible dough is currently available in three gourmet flavours – Velvety Vanilla, which is made with real vanilla paste; Rich Chocolate, made from dark cocoa; and Irish Black Butter, a sweet/savoury sauce developed by Irish Black Butter, another artisan food business in Portrush.

Sam decided to focus on edible dough cookies due to the coronavirus pandemic pausing demand for her unique cookie cakes as centre pieces for large celebrations and gatherings.

“I had to respond to the challenges to keep my artisan bakery going and so I decided to expand my retail range of cookies for smaller ‘bubbles’,” she explains.

NWRC Food Technology consultant, Karen Marran, provided upskilling in product development including recipe enhancement, ingredient sourcing for integrity and local provenance, development of the product into new concepts and packaging sourcing to match the ethical credentials of the product. This was supported by an Invest NI Innovation Voucher which provides a grant of £5,000 to help a company harness the expertise and knowledge of a university or further education college.

Sam continues: “I cannot recommend the Innovate Us programme and NWRC Foodovation Centre highly enough. The support and invaluable expertise I received from Karen Marran was and is immeasurable. The project was to develop my existing gluten-free cookie recipe into a fully plant-based gluten-free cookie recipe. The seemingly daunting task flowed smoothly and resulted in not one but three viable end products - edible dough; cookies and crumb in three different flavour variations. The most exciting of these new products is the edible dough, which will be available for sale soon.”

Sam, an architectural designer who set up home in Portrush with husband Tim, a landscape photographer, in 2007 in a career move that subsequently included posts with local companies, now sells her cookies through her Facebook page and also at various local artisan markets around the Causeway Coast and Glens area. She’s a regular at Naturally North Coast & Glens events and a member of Taste Causeway collaboration of smaller traders. The couple also operate a successful B&B that has also been hit by successive lockdowns.

“We both love living and working in NI,” she says. “We don’t miss the dry and often oppressive heat of South Africa because the climate here is so fresh and invigorating. And Tim has plenty of spectacular landscapes throughout Ireland to photograph. The cookie business is now going really well. I have also created bespoke cookies for various local shops and businesses, with logos and relevant artwork; as well as custom orders for private individuals for various celebrations.”

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