It’s nearly impossible to miss the bright and cheerful purple tent belonging to “Off the Wheat Sweets and Eats-Baked by Blaine” at the Union Square Farmers’ Market on Fridays and Saturdays.
Owner Blaine Caravaggi’s stand has been a staple at the Union Square Farmers’ Market for five years. Health-conscious and vegan New Yorkers flock to her outdoor bakery every weekend, rain or shine- for an excellent reason.
All of Caravaggi’s sweet and savory eats – some are vegan – are wheat and sugar-free. Her cupcakes, cookies, and cakes are all baked with fair-trade and organic ingredients like coconut flour, raw cacao powder, corn meal and flour, and oat flour. The non-vegan delights are made with eggs and dairy products from local animal-welfare-approved farms. The sweetness comes from organic coconut sugar, honey or maple syrup from the Hudson Valley.
Caravaggi, a former Wall Street trader who went on to manage Manhattan restaurant Swifty’s with her husband until it closed in 2016, began experimenting with different gluten-free flour blends due to inflammation issues. She didn’t like the gluten-free options on the market.
“I hated all the inferior flours and not healthy options that were out there for gluten-free,” Caravaggi said.
It took her about a year to concoct the perfect blend of gluten-free batter.
“Once I knew that all these different flower blends worked, and had good texture and tasted good and were healthy, I started coming up with different varieties of things and different flavors,” Caravaggi said.
People told her to sell her products at a farmer’s market.
“It just sort of was born in my kitchen. It’s like a cliché. I got into Union Square, and that sort of changed everything,” Caravaggi said, who described the Union Square Farmer’s Market as the “holy grail of markets in the country.”
Some of her bestsellers are keto products like the cappuccino muffin with Cappuccino glaze, the carrot cake muffin with orange cream cheese frosting, and the lemon blueberry muffin.
“That’s now half my business for sure. And also, you know, it’s all gluten-free,” Caravaggi said. “But [Keto] has become a real integral part of [the business].”
Other bestsellers are the vegan triple chocolate cake with chocolate coconut cream ganache and raspberry and the cinnamon streusel crumb cake with preserves.
Caravaggi prepares and bakes her confections in a commercial kitchen in Kingston at an artisan work site provided by the Cornell Creative Business Center and The Arc of Mid Hudson, which hires people with disabilities.
“Some of the employees that I have are in various programs that help people with developmental issues,” Caravaggi explained.
The baker’s many customers are regulars who love Caravaggi and her products.
Nancy lives on 15th Street and shops at the market three times a week. She said Caravaggi’s items were “amazing” and recommended the cheese bombs, chocolate chip cookies, and muffins because of the “nice portion size.”
“For somebody who’s watching gluten or unable to eat foods with gluten, this just opens up so many possibilities for delicious things to eat,” Nancy said.
Friends Stephanie Neifeld and Emma Goddard were first-time customers and chose the carrot cake muffin.
“We’re just two girls trying to live a healthy lifestyle, and so I think it’s fun to be able to like indulge a little bit on a Saturday with your best friend and not feel so guilty about it,” Neifeld said.
Richard Mensing has been a regular for five years and gluten and dairy free since the 80s “before it was a thing.”
Mensing uses Caravaggi’s products as a “gateway” to educate people that tasty desserts can also be healthy.
“So many people have come here just from sampling what I’ve given them,” Mensing said. “When you find things that are good, and that are healthy, and that are reasonably priced, and someone who makes them with love and care, you want to spread the word.”
Mensing recommended the chocolate vegan muffin with chocolate ganache.
“You put it in the oven for like a minute and it just gets warm enough. It’s ridiculous,” Mensing raved.
“It’s really nice that I have such a nice relationship with so many people,” Caravaggi said. “And there’s a lot of loyalty out there. It’s one of the things I love about the market. It’s that face-to-face interaction and the relationships that develop.”
Off the Wheat is at the Union Square Farmers’ Market every Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.