Six Bridges Book Festival: Angela Garbacz

Perfectly Golden Delights Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Vegan, and Traditional Bakers

To be praised as “one of the most innovative women in food and drink” by Food & Wine magazine would be high praise for any chef. But for Angela Garbacz, such critical acclaim was all the sweeter after she fulfilled her lifelong dream by opening her own bakery in her hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Now, her first cookbook, Perfectly Golden, makes her innovative recipes available to other bakers. And everyone is welcome at this baking table, because Garbacz’s bakery specializes in dairy-free, gluten-free, and vegan baking.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and thus it was Garbacz’s discovery of her own dairy allergy in 2013 that initially motivated her to reinvent her baking techniques. Baking had been her chief passion all her life. If she wanted to keep enjoying cakes, pastries, and cookies, her only alternative was to innovate.  She started a blog called Goldenrod Pastries to chronicle her new adventures in baking, while still holding down her full-time job in marketing.

As word spread, people began to ask to buy her treats—people who had dairy allergies or needed cakes without gluten, or vegans who chose to avoid eggs. Garbacz spent nights and weekends baking constantly to fulfill the demand. And only a year after starting her blog, Garbacz was able to see her vision become reality, as Goldenrod Pastries opened and became a thriving brick-and-mortar bakery.

The mouthwatering photos in Perfectly Golden testify to the success of her methods. From Cinnamon Rolls to Zucchini Chocolate Cake, the creamy, crumby textures and velvety pastry evident in the photos of the process make it clear that these are desserts that keep you coming back for more. As Garbacz states, her goal is not just to produce pastries that are “good for gluten-free,” but instead create treats that can hold their own with the best of traditional baking. The recipes in her book often have several suggested variations to allow people to customize as necessary or bake with traditional ingredients.

Including everyone in the cooking and dining experience

Garbacz is dedicated to including as many people as possible in the act of baking and eating together, so no one has to feel marginalized.

“So many people feel left out of the food conversation if they have dietary restrictions,” Garbacz said. “It’s not fun to be the person who can’t have something at a restaurant. Food should bring people together, not make them feel left out. And that’s why I am interested in all the ways we can make food inclusive.”

Angela Garbacz inspires in other ways that go beyond food. Though she wanted to bake and cook from as early as she can remember, she did not always have the confidence to pursue that goal.

“Baking was always what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know other people who did it who could be an example for me,” Garbacz explained. “When I was growing up, my best friend loved to cook too, and we did a lot of cooking together, but she was also an artist and a cheerleader. So, she had other places where she fit in, but I never quite knew how I fit in. When I attended an arts school, for example, there was a final showcase and I didn’t really know what to do. The other students were singing or dancing, and I didn’t know what I could offer. Finally, a teacher suggested to me that I do a baking demo for the showcase, and that’s what I did.”

A discovery that it’s never too late for self-reinvention

In 2014, Garbacz attended a blogging workshop that changed her life when a teacher reminded all the attendees that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself and be who you want to be.

“What happened at that workshop is that someone finally granted me permission to feel free to do what I really wanted to do,” Garbacz said.

Garbacz’s personal journey to empowerment has led her to encourage other women to find their own paths to happiness and self-determination.

“When I’m writing, I always think of who I’m talking to,” Garbacz said. “Some readers may just be there for the Cinnamon Rolls or other recipes. But there are also young women who have been following Goldenrod Pastries and have a deeper need to be part of something. And it has been great to hear from those young people that we have had an impact that goes beyond baking. That’s not to say that what we’re doing is perfect or that my leadership style is perfect—I always try to improve. But what young girls want to know is that there’s a place for them out there in the world where they will fit in. And if I show them that by posting about a cookie covered in confetti, that’s still a big deal.”

Garbacz is so passionate about helping other women that in 2018, she founded Empower Through Flour, an all-female initiative to inspire the next generation of young women to step up, act, lead, and celebrate the successes and achievements of women, including their own.

Encouraging women to empower and celebrate women

In 2020, Garbacz joined forces with co-founder Caroline Schiff, executive pastry chef, to increase the reach of the campaign. Garbacz sees the collaboration between two women pastry chefs as an example of a team-oriented mentality that is much needed among women.

“I think it’s important for people to know that there’s room for more than one woman at the top, and the sooner we realize that, the better,” Garbacz said.

“When we started this campaign for National Women’s History Month, I reached out to several women I admired. In the past, I would have been reluctant to approach them, because I had looked up to them or even idolized them from afar. For example, I really admired Caroline Schiff and her work, and I just didn’t know if I was on the same level. And it was such a good example to me to learn that sometimes, when you idolize people, you may not realize that they’re also aware of what you’re doing. When women operate with the scarcity mindset, they don’t realize that two women can be doing similar things and create together. There’s room for two women!”

Garbacz sees collaboration among women as a central part of her focus at Goldenrod Pastries. “I hope all that trickles down to my staff too. The more women get past that scarcity mindset, the more creativity and support will flow and the more we can achieve together.”

See a professional baking demo and hear more about this chef’s inspirational journey at the virtual Six Bridges Book Festival from October 8-18, 2020.

 Angela Garbacz is the owner of Goldenrod Pastries. She has been featured in Forbes, Tasting Table, Food Republic, Martha Stewart Living, New York Magazine, Radio Cherry Bombe, and other outlets. She lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Feature by Rosslyn Elliott