Dining Reviews

The Anti-Cupcake

dining1Santa Cruz resident Hannah Balliet puts her gluten-free dessert to the test on Lifetime’s ‘Supermarket Superstar’

Upon looking for ways to control her 9-year-old son’s facial and body tics and curb her own autoimmune disease, Santa Cruz resident Hannah Balliet turned to gluten-free foods. Much to her chagrin, she quickly found that few gluten-free desserts could satisfy her son’s sweet tooth.

Not one to give up, Balliet and her son took to the kitchen and began experimenting. The result of their hard work? Gluten Free “Whoopin” Whoopie Pies.

The delectable desserts, which look like sandwich cookies, with cake on the outside and frosting in the middle, are currently sold at Aldo’s Italian Bakery and The Abbey, and will be featured on the “Natural Foods” episode of Lifetime’s new competition series, Supermarket Superstar, which airs at 10:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 8.

Hosted by Stacy Keibler, each of the 10 episodes follows three home chefs as they develop their product concepts and then pitch them to titans of the food industry for the opportunity to have them sold on supermarket shelves across the country. Celebrity chef Michael Chiarello, cookie mogul Debbi Fields of Mrs. Fields Cookies, and branding expert Chris Cornyn serve as the series’ mentors to share their expertise with the contestants as Dining2they prepare their products for mass production. The last cook standing will be awarded $10,000 in prize money and $100,000 worth of product development from DINE Marketing and Mattson to create professional samples of their products.

Balliet believes she has a good shot at winning the competition since her pies “taste much better” than what’s already on the market. In addition, they are made without GMOs and preservatives. She says she tries to use organic, natural ingredients as much as possible, as well as local. “It’s important to know where your stuff comes from,” she adds.

The decision to audition for Supermarket Superstar was completely spontaneous, according to Balliet. An avid cooking show fan and the daughter of food-loving parents—“They were foodies before that was even a term,” she says—Balliet spent much of her childhood clinging to her parents’ aprons in the kitchen, but really embraced the hobby after an autoimmune disease forced her to quit her teaching job.

Entering the competition, Balliet figures that her biggest challenges on the show will be containing her excitement around her idol, Debbi Fields, and selling the gluten-free aspect of her pies to the judges. Still, “It’s unique because it’s a retro dessert coming back to beat up cupcakes,” she laughs. “I’m over the cupcake trend—I call this The Anti-Cupcake. I like the idea of taking something old and making it new.”

Whoopie pies are just the beginning for Balliet, who dreams of one day selling a variety of gluten-free creations in Santa Cruz and beyond. It’s a tangible goal, since Aldo’s has already provided Balliet and her good friend Melinda Harrower of Melinda’s Gluten Free with the space for a completely gluten-free kitchen in the back of the bakery. “I probably spend a significant portion of each week experimenting with different recipes, so that there is more variety available for my son and others,” she says.

If she wins, Balliet plans to support her family with the prize money. “I’m one of those people whose mortgage is upside down, so [the money] would help me take some of that pressure off my family,” she says.

So far, her Supermarket Superstar experience has been both eye-opening—“I think my nerves kicked in when I found out how pricey real estate on grocery shelves is,” she admits—and heartfelt. “I’m emotionally raw because it’s about my son,” she says. “I want to do it for him.” 


The ‘Natural Foods’ episode of ‘Supermarket Superstar,’ featuring Hannah Balliet, airs at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT Thursday, Aug. 8 on Lifetime. Balliet is having a viewing party open to the public at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 8 (viewing begins at 7 p.m.) at Aldo’s Italian Bakery, 4628 Soquel Drive, Soquel. She will be giving out free samples at the event.

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