from the kitchen

Sunshine & Moons Organic Bakery Lets the Sunshine Into the Valley

By / Photography By Smiths Design | December 15, 2015
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Sarah Niebler decorates snowflake cookies at Sunshine & Moons organic bakery
Sarah Niebler decorates snowflake cookies at Sunshine & Moons.

In Glenwood Springs, an organic bakery makes Valley life even sweeter

Walking into Sunshine & Moons organic bakery, I’m intoxicated by the warm, comforting aromas of butter, caramelized sugar and spices. Owner Sarah Niebler is busy mixing roasted Paonia pumpkins into a thick beige batter for bread. Rows of filled rectangular pans line the stainless steel table. She greets me enthusiastically, and apologizes for not shaking my hand because hers is covered with pumpkin goo.

A vintage Vollrath standing mixer and primary workspace are located in front of a picture window overlooking the Roaring Fork River and Sunlight Mountain. If you crane your head you can see Mt. Sopris.

Niebler, 39, opened her 1,200-squarefoot workspace in an unassuming Glenwood Springs industrial park a year ago, and while Sunshine & Moons remains under the radar, she’s already gained a cult following. Walk-ins are welcome, as evidenced by the steady flow of neighboring business owners and Valley residents who stop by to pick up orders or a late-afternoon sugar fix. Niebler knows them all by name, and cheerfully rings up sales in between other tasks.

The counter is lined with baskets full of homey treats, including the gluten-free, low-glycemic and vegan items for which she’s known (she holds a BS in dietetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison): cream cheese brownies, fruit crumble bars, granola shortbread cookies (from lemon lavender to Earl Grey), peanut butter “blossom” cookies with chocolate ganache, the perennially popular gluten-free blueberry-lime white chocolate cookies, and seven-layer Stout bars made with beer from Glenwood’s Casey Brewing and Blending. There are also standards like English toffee, turtles and peppermint bark. The caramels, in particular (including vegan candies made with the milk and oil of coconuts) are captivating: salted, chocolate fudge, ginger. I pop a sea salt version into my mouth and swoon from its rich, buttery complexity.

“I use Organic Valley butter, cream cheese, buttermilk and heavy cream,” explains Niebler. “I’m from Wisconsin, and besides the incredible quality of their products, I like to support the state’s dairy industry. I do buy some butter and whole milk from Boulder’s High Country Organics, but I looked at the logistics, quantity and financials for bulk dairy orders, it unfortunately wasn’t feasible to buy all of my dairy from Colorado. Everything else, besides the leavening agents, is certified organic or grown in a sustainable manner.”

This ethos is key for Niebler because, she says, “I can stand behind everything I make, and be part of this national movement toward a healthier lifestyle. My motto is that everything can be enjoyed in moderation—you can still live a healthy lifestyle and treat yourself with food, especially when it’s made with the highest-quality ingredients.”

Part of Niebler’s skill lies in her ability to bake at altitude—what I like to call an art form within a scientific art form. Add to that the challenges associated with creating baked goods adapted for dietary restrictions, and it’s no easy feat.

“Baking any type of dietetically specialized product, especially at altitude, is challenging and requires a lot of trial and error,” Niebler admits. “Every recipe is different. Some work well with specific flours like coconut, tapioca or garbanzo—it’s a lot of playing around. I also need to adjust flour ratios on everything according to the humidity level, which fluctuates seasonally.”

Niebler also sources from regional growers like Austin Family Farms, Osage Gardens, Eagle Springs Organic and Kokopelli Farm & Produce for seasonal ingredients like the aforementioned pumpkins, apples, cherries, blackberries and peaches. For her savory baked goods—quiche, breads and scones—she uses local herbs, spinach, zucchini, onions and mushrooms, as well as CapRock Vodka and Eaux de Vie. In the off-season (November to May) Niebler also caters full meals and chefs privately in the Roaring Fork and Vail valleys. Year-round, on the first Saturday of every month, she collaborates with Casey Brewing and prepares a pairing lunch (go to the brewery’s website for tickets; space is limited).

From a 1,200-square-foot kitchen and retail space in Glenwood Springs, Sunshine & Moons provides baked goods for restaurants, coffee shops and other outlets as well.

Niebler grew up baking with her mother, a high school home economics teacher. “A lot of the recipes I use are hers, like my pecan butter cookies with cream cheese icing, and the sugar cookies. I’m of Norwegian-German heritage, and my caramel recipes are my German grandfather’s. I grew up helping my mother and our neighbors bake cookies for the annual Gemuchlichkeit Days festival in Jefferson, Wisconsin. I loved helping in the kitchen.”

Niebler’s early influences are what led her to pursue an education in dietetics (“When I had home economics in high school, I would always try to make the recipes low-fat or healthier!”), but she wasn’t initially planning on a career in the kitchen. “I had the love of food and creating, and while doing a graduate degree internship, I had the opportunity to work in various environments like hospitals, clinics and at Sysco (a major national food distributor), testing recipes for diabetics, celiacs and nursing home residents. I loved it, and really enjoyed the community aspect of it.”

In 2003, Niebler attended the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (PICA) in Vancouver, and double-enrolled in both the culinary and baking/pastry programs. It’s exceedingly rare for food professionals to focus on, much less excel in, both.

“I started working in restaurants in Wisconsin,” she says, “because I wanted to learn a different aspect of dietetics. Working back-of-house is when it finally clicked for me that creating food—not the clinical aspect of it—was what I was passionate about. After working in the kitchen all night, I’d come home and bake to de-stress.”

Niebler interned at a vegetarian/ vegan restaurant in Vancouver and after graduating from PICA worked variously as a dessert consultant, food stylist and kitchen manager at a steakhouse chain. The latter is what brought her to Colorado in 2006, which was part of a goal because she grew up skiing Keystone and Arapahoe Basin. She met her husband, John Theodore, that same year at the steakhouse. He was born and raised in Carbondale, where his father worked in coal mining. The couple co-owns Sunshine & Moons, and John recently left a corporate IT position with Whole Foods to become the bakery’s full-time bookkeeper.

In 2008, Niebler was hired to help open the West Colfax Whole Foods in Denver, as their prepared foods and bakery specialist. She worked her way up to Team Leader, overseeing three departments, before she and John were transferred to Basalt to help open the Roaring Fork Valley store in 2012. Niebler was making wedding cakes on the side, so in 2014 she and John decided to open Sunshine & Moons. She left Whole Foods to bake full-time.

A year later, the bakery has one fulltime employee and two part-timers (“I worked the first eight months without a day off,” she recalls with a laugh), but Niebler is still in the bakery every day measuring, mixing, scooping and stirring. “I feel energized,” she says cheerfully, in between transferring pumpkin bread in and out of her commercial, double-deck convection oven. “The best thing about my job is being able to see the reaction when a customer tastes something I’ve made and they love it. I have a fun business, and I get to see sun and nature every day from my work space.”

Sunshine & Moons’ baked goods are also available at the following locations throughout the Roaring Fork Valley: Bonfire Coffee, Allegria and Tonic Juicery in Carbondale; Colorado Ranch House, Deja Brew Coffee & Tea and River Blend Coffee House in Glenwood Springs; Misty’s Coffee Shop in Silt; and Olive Ridley’s Coffee, Tea & Travel Co. in Rifle.


Sunshine & Moons
2550 Hwy. 82, Unit A208, Glenwood Springs

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