Baking up a gluten-free storm

Amy Fenster Brown


Launching a business as a baker specializing in gluten-free products was not what Amy Fenster Brown had in mind for a second career, but it turns out that tastes just right. In January, she launched Brown Sugar Baking. She sells her highly acclaimed treats at The Sippery at Plaza Frontenac and takes special orders on her website,

Fenster Brown, 40, is on the board of the St. Louis section of the National Council of Jewish Women and serves on the Mom’s Action Committee at the Jewish Community Center. She spent 14 years working in local television news at Channels 30, 4 and 5 and garnered nine Emmy nominations.

Five years ago, after the birth of her first baby, Fenster Brown began baking elaborate desserts. In order for her to be able to enjoy those desserts, they needed to be gluten free, because 10 years ago, she was diagnosed with celiac disease, a genetic condition that disrupts the absorption of nutrients from some foods in the small intestine. People who have celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.

Unfazed, Fenster Brown fired up the mixer, bought a pastry bag and started piping. She has never looked back. On a recent baking day, she made time to talk about her medical condition, her new business and her deep love for Pop Tarts.


How were you diagnosed with celiac disease?

Fourteen years ago, I was having lots of tummy trouble – violent disruptive tummy trouble and excessively painful tummy trouble. For four years, I was misdiagnosed. When I started doing medical news at Channel 4, I would repeatedly call our medical correspondent and ask questions. At some point, he sent me to his office partner. A simple blood test diagnosed it.

Did you start eating gluten-free food?

For the first three weeks, I ate only peanut butter and rice cakes. It turns out there are a lot of gluten-free foods – meat, vegetables, fruits – but I learned that when it came to bread and pasta, the choices were slim.

Today, gluten-free foods are more readily available, right?

Yes. In the past five years, grocery shelves have been filling up with quality gluten- free choices, and gluten-free dishes are on some restaurant menus now, too. The first time I had gluten-free pasta con broccoli at The Pasta House, I cried. I could have kissed Kim Tucci’s feet. Later, I did tell him I love him.

You can’t go to Pasta House every night. What else did you eat?

My mom, Marge Fenster, researched the topic and tried new recipes because that’s who she is. She loves me. Then she was diagnosed with celiac disease, too. My sister and my kids get tested every five years, and they are all fine. My dad, Ron, is fine too.

Why did you start making your own gluten-free desserts?

First, I got sick of not having cake and brownies and cookies. Then something happened when I gave birth five years ago. When I was a kid, my mom always made elaborate birthday cakes, cakes shaped like hamburgers or Snow White or telephones. Suddenly I wanted my kids to have these same experiences. Overnight I became everything I used to mock, and headed out to shop for sprinkles.

Word got out about your bakery-style gourmet desserts, didn’t it?

It did. I baked regular treats for family and friends, and made gluten-free versions of desserts for myself using rice flour, tapioca flour, even bean flour. They taste delicious – you don’t miss the wheat. Over time, more and more people were asking for gluten-free desserts, and I realized I could help fill this need.

Where do you bake?

I bake in the commercial kitchen at The Sippery in Plaza Frontenac. I am careful to keep all my equipment and ingredients far away from any equipment used to make products with wheat. I sell my desserts there and take special orders on my website. I specialize in cupcakes, cakes, shortbread cookies, peanut butter cookies and sweet and salty bars.

What’s next for you?

I just made gluten-free challah for the first time, and last year, I pulled off gluten-free matzo ball soup. I might consider perfecting the challah and even moving into gluten-free hamentaschen.

Are there any foods you miss, foods not available in a gluten-free version?

Pop tarts. Pop tarts in every flavor – I miss them so much. And could you call Kim Tucci and ask him to make gluten-free toasted ravioli?

HealthWatch – Amy Fenster Brown

WORK: Owns Brown Sugar Baking

HOME: Chesterfield

FAMILY: Husband, Jeff, is a forecast analyst who Fenster Brown describes as “a picky eater but a math genius” and two sons: Davis, 5 and Leo, 3.

HOBBIES: Spending time with family, baking, writing, reading, walking outdoors