In the Kitchen With: Bonta Gelato

At home with the couple behind the delicious dessert

Dutch Butter Cake

½ C butter (no substitutes!)

1 C sugar

1 egg

¼ to ½ tsp almond flavoring

½ C almond paste

1 C flour (can use gluten free flour)

Cream butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and almond flavoring. Mix in almond paste. Beat until light and fluffy, about five minutes in a KitchenAid mixer. Spread in 9-inch round cake pan that’s been buttered. Bake at 325 degrees for 40-50 minutes.

Garnish with course raw sugar and sliced almonds.

Bonta Natural Artisan Gelato owners Juli and Jeff Labhart might have thought the snow and frigid weather would slow down their Bend business, but what they’ve found instead is a “bursting-at-the-seams” problem, says Juli.

“We grew faster than we expected.”

Their frozen dessert comes in pint-sized containers and can be found in dozens of Bend restaurants and grocery stores. They’ve also expanded sales statewide.

“We’re in (the) Portland and Salem area, too,” explains Jeff. “We’ve been asked to sell in Eugene, but we just don’t have the capacity now.”

That will all change in the new year, as the couple recently signed a lease for a larger space on SE Wilson Avenue and Ninth Street. It will be more than five times larger than the 400-square-foot commercial kitchen attached to their home that they’ve been using for four years.

The couple says they’ll miss the short commute to their business, but it’s time to expand.

This Christmas season, Santa is also delivering to the Labharts an additional retail creamery shop on Minnesota Avenue in downtown Bend, where customers can get scoops of their favorite flavors.

“We have 14 or 15 consistent flavors that we always make, and another 10 to 15 of seasonal flavors,” says Jeff, pointing to a whiteboard of flavors.

The day we caught up with the Labharts in their home kitchen, Juli was making her Dutch Christmas specialty butter cake, “boterkoek,” a recipe handed down through the generations in her family.

“We’re three or four generations of Dutch from Lynden, Washington, and this cake is a tradition,” says Juli, as she puts the ingredients in her mixer. “My family holds contests every holiday season on who makes the best one.”

Juli points to her mom’s recipe, which calls for ½ cup of butter, and on the side her mother has written, “no substitutes, real butter.” Juli laughs at this notation. “Both my parents grew up on dairy farms,” she said.

Jeff grew up in the creamery city of Tillamook, known for its world-famous cheeses.

Married for 13 years, the couple found they had a romance not only for each other, but also for gelato.

Before their two children came along, Jeff and Juli sold all they owned and backpacked around the world for a year, stopping for gelato wherever it was offered.

When they returned from their adventures, Juli decided she would go to gelato school.

Since then, the couple have been in search of perfect gelato. Recipes they’ve perfected are top-secret, and they’re always creating new flavors.

“We don’t use powder or paste flavors in Bonta gelato,” says Juli. “We use natural ingredients. I don’t want all those starches in it, because I can’t have gluten or corn, so most of our flavors are gluten-free and corn-free, and the sorbets are also dairy-free.”

While the Dutch butter cake bakes in the home kitchen, Juli walks us through their garage full of freezers and opens a door that leads to the commercial kitchen, with all its stainless steel appliances and counters. Because it’s a commercial kitchen, she dons her hairnet.

She’s developing a new butternut gelato flavor for a restaurant client.

“Sometimes it’s like mad-science experiments in here,” says Juli, picking up a bottle and opening the top and smelling it. “This is a new experimental flavor. We soaked lavender in vodka for a month.”

The Labharts say part of their secret is trying to source locally as much as possible.

For their Vanilla Bourbon gelato, they use an Oregon Spirit Distillers product, and for their Vanilla Black Butte Porter flavor, they use Deschutes Brewery beer. This creativity in the commercial and home kitchen is what makes this career so satisfying for Juli, who holds a math degree from Linfield College and confesses she’s a “math nerd at heart.”

“You should see her spreadsheet recipes. They’re all mathematically based,” explains Jeff, who feels they’re making some of the best gelato around, and his loyal customers seem to agree. “We were considered, what the county calls ‘home occupation’, but you can see we need more commercial space.”

Q&A with … Juli Labhart

The Labharts agree that it’s a good problem to have: Bonta Gelato is booming into the new year. Juli Labhart visited with us about their life at home and more.

Q: What are the three ingredients you’ll always find in your home kitchen cupboard or refrigerator?

A: Yogurt and/or kefir — love it for marinades, dips, smoothies for kids.

Dijon — salad dressings, marinades, sauces.

Butter — pretty much everything.

Q: Favorite home meals you like to prepare?

A: Tikka masala, also really love Thai/Vietnamese-inspired food. I’m really more of a resourceful cook than a gourmet cook. I just make whatever I happen to have on hand.

Q: What is your favorite home appliance in your kitchen? What is your favorite hand tool/cooking utensil in your kitchen, other than a knife?

A: KitchenAid mixer, immersion blender and my round Demarle pan; it’s a Silpat (silicon product) out of France. I use it for everything, to steam the broccoli, poach fish, making quiche, and of course, the Dutch butter cake.

Q: Is there an appliance you disdain having in the kitchen?

A: I’m pretty low-key so I don’t have a lot of gadgets. Jeff and I do have an ongoing debate about the necessity of a cheese slicer …

Q: How is your home kitchen different than your commercial kitchen/workspace? Any cool gadgets at work that you don’t have at home?

A: I love my stone grinder that I have in my commercial kitchen. It makes really lovely nut butters, but it’s just too bulky to have at home.

Q: What chefs do you admire most?

A: Cookbook-wise, I love “Kathy Casey’s Northwest Table.” It’s a rare occasion that I actually follow a recipe, but there are so many recipes that I don’t feel the need to adapt in that one.

Q: What restaurants do you enjoy?

A: Zydeco, Spork, Jackson’s Corner, Ariana’s … all for obvious reasons. I actually have dreams about the spicy fried chicken from Spork. It’s a problem for me.

Q: Favorite room where you like to eat your meals?

A: Dining room table. I grew up in a large Dutch family, and you eat dinner all together, no TV, no football game excuses. Everyone comes to the table to eat.

Q: Does your family have regular dinner or meals together?

A: Yes. This is something that is really important to me, to sit together and eat. I know that it’s only going to get harder as our kids get older, but I want to keep that time.

Q: Guilty food pleasure?

A: Fried potatoes in every form — chips, fries, wedges.

Q: What’s your ideal/ dream home kitchen?

A: We did a remodel in this kitchen, and we also did the commercial kitchen. When we first bought this place, you wouldn’t believe it, It was still so 1970s, with bright orange, green, 2-inch shag rug. This shag rug was even in the kitchen and bathrooms! It was disgusting. We took out a wall to open the kitchen up, and we put new hardwood floors, and we did all the tiling and grout work on the counters. The cabinets are original; we just put new pulls on them. If you can imagine the shag rug in here, it was a cross between a pea-green soup color and orange juice. This kitchen is way better than what it was in 2009.

Q: If you could invite three guests to dinner, who would they be?

A: Probably my grandparents (one living, three passed). I know that’s four, but I want them all to meet my kids, and to just sit and chat with them again would be so great.

Q: What do you like to do outside of the kitchen. In other words what happens when the chef’s toque comes off?

A: I don’t wear a toque, I wear a hairnet. But I’m super excited that our kids are going to learn to ski this winter, so we can go up there all together. We also like to hike and camp in the summer.

Q: Favorite food quote or philosophy you often repeat to yourself?

A: In Dutch we say, “eten doodziek.” It means eat heartily!

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