With diet plans, it’s often important to keep track of goalposts and milestones, and in early August, Cooltown Keto hit a major one. The burgeoning home-bakery excitedly shared that they’d reach 1,000 followers on Facebook.

COOLIDGE -- It’s a big step for the company that only just came into being last year. Heather Baer, who lives with her partner Renee Garling, is the owner of the keto-friendly bakery on the north side of town.

“Business is good!” Baer said of her overall success. “I’ve never heard a negative remark. I try to make sure everybody is happy and healthy.”

Baer works to keep the city healthy in a variety of ways — she and Garling also run The Better Human Coalition, which organizes frequent garbage cleanups around town — but the keto baking business began as a personal journey.

Around 20 years ago, Baer said she got serious about dieting and was on the Atkins plan, which helped her lose over 100 pounds. She was able to keep off the pounds for over 14 years on the low-carb lifestyle, until she quit smoking. Baer said “60 pounds piled back on” in a matter of weeks.

“Keto was all the talk then,” Baer said. “I didn’t know anything about it. I just googled everything and learned.”

The main principles of the ketogenic diet, which has gained popularity in recent years, is to switch out carbs for “healthy” fats and push the body into “ketosis,” during which blood sugar and insulin levels go down while fat-burning ramps up and the body — in particular, the brain — gets a greater energy supply.

There are various iterations of the plan but the basic premises of all of them revolve around the emphasis on fats and proteins.

Baer herself said she tried “dirty keto” at the outset but eventually decided to stay away from processed food over cholesterol concerns.

She also warns that keto couldn’t keep off the “pandemic pounds,” but that’s a problem almost no diet could really fix.

“On keto, you don’t feel good for the first few days,” Baer said. “But your mind starts to clear up, and your body is detoxing all of the crap out of your system.”

Baer began baking for herself when she kept trying to buy bagels from a Phoenix-area company and they never got around to processing the order.

“I got online, looked for a recipe, and it was super easy,” Baer said.

Then she started making more things — for herself, for friends, for co-workers. Finally by 2020 she decided to start the baking business.

In August, PinalCentral had the opportunity to watch Baer at work as she prepared a cheesecake.

For her staple items, Baer has her baking down to a science.

“At first I was really intimidated by the whole keto baking process,” Baer said. “But it’s not as complicated as it seems.”

For the cheesecake, she starts with two cups of almond flour and adds milk, butter and three tablespoons of xylitol. That mixture gets packed into the crust.

Baer keeps all the ingredients at room temperature for a few hours so that when they’re mixing, they don’t clump or become a mess. There’s also the risk of overmixing, in which case the cheesecake will get too soft.

After roughly 10-15 minutes of mixing the cheesecake batter, it’s time to put it in the oven. The cake pan is wrapped in foil and gets a water bath as it sits.

Baer keeps an eye on it, and when — after roughly an hour — the cake appears ready, it comes out “a little jiggly.”

The particular cheesecake Baer made had a raspberry sauce topping, but that comes later. First the cake has to set and get “superfirm,” which means sitting overnight.

After the packaging — Garling goes out once a week to Costco to get the baking supplies — the cake is ready to go out to another happy customer.

For her part, Baer says she’s preferential to the bagels and chocolate chip cookies she makes. The Cooltown Keto menu has a variety of items, ranging from baked goods like bagels and muffins to more elaborate desserts like cheesecake and more exotic savory items such as “fat pockets” (a keto hot pocket substitute) and cheddar biscuits.

The broad range of the menu highlights keto’s versatility.

The cheesecakes and bagels are the biggest sellers; Baer said she had one order that required her to make seven cheesecakes in two days. The holidays were busy and for reasons that aren’t clear to Baer, her order numbers spiked in March.

Many of Cooltown Keto’s customers told Baer that they were diagnosed as diabetic or can’t have sugar anymore.

“A lot of people are just starting out who miss sweets,” Baer said of her customers. The keto diet eschews “real” sugar, but Baer said she finds erythritol to be a more than acceptable substitute. For some of her cookies, Baer also uses monk fruit juice.

“I have a couple friends who buy stuff and don’t tell their husbands,” Baer said. “They have no idea they are eating sugar free and keto.”

According to Baer, people are frequently surprised by what she can make under the “keto” umbrella and that there are a lot of misconceptions about the diet. Baer says online she sees people mixing up ketosis and ketoacidosis — a complication caused by diabetes.

As her small kitchen operation continues to grow, Baer says she does think about what it would take to move operations into a real storefront. Baer said she keeps her eye out for spaces that open up in Coolidge, but what she really needs to expand the business would be an extra set of hands.

“Renee is a lot of amazing things, but she is not a baker,” Baer jokes. “If I had another fridge or oven, man, I could be cranking out all kinds of stuff.”

For now, she will keep churning out baked goods for the community from her home. Baer mentioned the possibility of starting a YouTube channel, although she says she’s “technology challenged.”

Baer also might take a keto course to become an actual keto coach, as she’s frequently asked health questions by customers. She’s not comfortable offering medical advice, especially if, in the case of diabetics, it could have significant consequences.

“People think keto dieters live off of bacon and cheese,” Baer said. “That is not good for you! You can’t just go all willy nilly and eat fattening stuff. You gotta keep your fats healthy. I eat salad.”

Although she’s very enthusiastic about Cooltown Keto’s success, Baer strongly believes people can adopt the keto lifestyle wherever they are, and even learn how to cook for themselves without too many painful sacrifices.

“It’s so easy to eat keto at restaurants,” Baer said. “Even if you go to a drive-thru, you can get the burger without the bun. It’s not that hard. If people think they can’t live without bread, it’s hard to give it up at first, but on this diet, all of a sudden, your thinking gets better, your mood increases. You feel better.”

Local customers interested in checking out items from Cooltown Keto can contact Baer at https://cooltownketo.com/ or can find them at Nana’s Coffee Shop at 235 W. Coolidge Ave. in Coolidge. PW

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Aaron Dorman is the Casa Grande reporter at PinalCentral, covering government, schools, business and more. He can be reached at adorman@pinalcentral.com.

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