Welcome to Chef and Tell, an intermittent series where we trace paths taken by some of the more interesting chefs, bakers, butchers, and big personalities of the Phoenix food world to where they are now. Today, we talk with Nashira Cedeno of Sunny Batters.
Sunny Batters is a family-owned and -operated, gluten-free, and dairy-free bakery based in Scottsdale. A popular Uptown Farmers’ Market vendor, it offers artisan bread and pastries in addition to catering services.
What stands out about Sunny Batters is the light textures baker Nashira Cedeno has been able to achieve without any help from gluten. According to Cedeno, a native of Puerto Rico, Sunny Batters is the only bakery in the Valley making gluten-free laminated bread — a flaky multilayered dough that uses butter and water (or really, steam) to push open the bread or pastry's layers. Normally, a network of gluten strands stretches as steam releases, but Cedeno's art is in creating layers and puff without them.
However, these products didn't come before years of trial and error. Today, at Cedeno's farmers' market stand, one can find unexpected bakes like baguettes, croissants, and even sourdough free of gluten but full of flavor and texture.
Though Cedeno is an experienced baker, she started the baking business because of her sons. Here's her story.
Phoenix New Times: What got you interested in baking?
Nashira Cedeno: I was already a baker in Puerto Rico with a home-based business, making novelty cakes and treats. Baking runs in my family. My mom did it regularly.
Why gluten-free and dairy-free?
NC: My husband and I were looking for ways to help our two sons. One of them was diagnosed with autism and the other with dyslexia. They were having a lot of digestive issues. Once we learned they might benefit from a gluten-free diet, we got started on it. I was baking at home, horrible things, like, seriously inedible stuff. But, I just kept at it, hell-bent on creating delicious recipes.
What brought you to Arizona?
NC: In 2013. my husband found a job here and we decided to move. I continued baking.
When did you decide to make your baking into a business?
NC: Three years ago. The credit goes to my husband. The business idea was his. When I got started, I figured I’d be making simple rolls and cupcakes, never croissants or sourdough. But it has evolved so much throughout the years.
People often begin baking for neighbors and friends, then expand. What was your trajectory?
NC: From the onset, I decided — well, we decided — to sell at the farmers’ market. My investment in the business was $5,000. I started at the Downtown Chandler Farmers Market. Then I met Bo Mostow, the market manager at the Uptown Farmers’ Market, and we just clicked. And I'm not sure if she knows this or not, but she gave me an opportunity of a lifetime. Uptown is where my business really began to thrive.
Why the name Sunny Batters?
NC: It’s funny. I left the Caribbean and ended up in another hot place. Sunny is a nod to both my homes.
How do you choose which new products to make?
NC: From the very beginning, I saw Sunny Batters as need-based, not luxury. I choose items people can’t find anywhere else and challenge myself to re-create them. For example, I went for gluten-free sourdough bread, which I make with a natural levain, or croissants. Croissants need to be laminated. How do you achieve it with gluten-free flour? The same goes for pretzels. We boil the pretzels just as you would with regular flour.
Your pan de Mallorca is absolutely lovely. Can you tell us more about it?
Pan de Mallorca is a Puerto Rican sweet bread made from an enriched dough, rolled into a snail shape, brushed with butter, and sprinkled with powdered sugar. It originally comes from Spain. In Puerto Rico, you cut it in half, stuff it with ham and cheese, and toast it, or you might use it with jam. Sometimes people just have it with coffee.
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Are you still baking from home?
NC: No. Not anymore. We have moved to a dedicated gluten-free commercial kitchen, meaning although it's a shared kitchen, none of the other cooks and bakers use gluten. In my baking, I also try to stay away from other allergens like nuts and soy, but since it’s a shared kitchen, and others may use it, I don’t put those on my labels.
Anything else you want to add?
NC: We are a mom-pop business and we really want to keep growing and serving the community as best as we can. The pandemic has really challenged us and a lot of other small businesses. It’s hard work, but I love it when people send me messages and tell me how much they love the products or how excited they are to try their favorite baked goods without feeling sick. It really fuels me, because that’s why I’m here.
Find Sunny Batters products at the Uptown Farmers Market from 8 a.m to 1 p.m. Saturdays. or order online for pickup at Uptown. Customers may also order online, or call 480-868-3741, for pickup from the commercial kitchen at 7601 East Gray Road, Suite D, in Scottsdale. Hours are 9 a.m to 4 p.m., Wednesday to Saturday.