For most people who are diagnosed with having food allergies, being told to lay off wheat, dairy or eggs by your doctor is much akin to being ordered to lay off happiness. And for those poor souls who love to bake it seems the insult runs even deeper, after all, how do you go about baking a birthday cake for a child who is allergic to wheat and eggs?
The answer, in a nutshell, is to know your enemy (the allergen) and how it serves to function in the baking process. If you can pinpoint the particular role a certain allergen, such as the protein in eggs, plays in the baking process, well then it becomes a simple matter of substituting an ingredient that fulfills the same role, but without setting off an allergic reaction. Little Johnny certainly can have his gluten-free birthday cake and eat it too if you bake smart and substitute wisely.
When you’re baking with substitutes the most important thing you need to keep in mind is the functionality of the ingredient you’re looking to replace. Take eggs for example. Eggs are the second most common food allergy for kids. Being allergic to eggs is one of the most frustrating things to be allergic to, because in the world of baking, eggs find their way into just about everything. They serve to bind ingredients together, provide structure, act as leavening to make things rise and they add a soft texture to dry ingredients. Fortunately however, there are a few great substitutes for eggs when baking and by incorporating these into your anti-allergen baking arsenal you will be pleasantly surprised by the results, leaving your taste buds none the wiser.
Finely ground flaxseeds make for a great substitute in anything that calls for a nutty flavor. So cookies, muffins and pancakes are back on the menu. To substitute for 1 egg simply add 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed to 3 tablespoons of water.
For adding fluffiness to cakes and muffins simply combine a little vinegar and baking soda. It’s neutral in flavor so it won’t overpower the other ingredients. To substitute for 1 egg combine 1 tablespoon of vinegar with 1 teaspoon of baking soda.
Pureed fruit such as ¼ cup of applesauce or ½ a mashed banana will help add extra sweetness and flavor which makes cakes and cookies an absolute pleasure. Just be sure to keep watching the oven because pureed fruit does tend to extend the baking time a little.
Egg replacer powder is another substitute that has most eggs looking to leap from the nearest wall in consternation. To substitute for 1 egg use 1 ½ tablespoons egg replacer powder with 2 tablespoons of water. Whisk it with warm water for a light, frothy texture and with hot water for a thicker, binding effect.
Gluten is another formidable allergenic adversary when it comes to producing great tasting, freshly baked breads, cakes, muffins and all things delicious. Fortunately it is also one of the most easily substituted for ingredients. Tapioca flour is a light, white and very smooth flour which gives white and French breads a wonderful, chewy texture.
To whip up a batch of nutty flavored chocolate brownies, Soy flour is your best bet. It has a high fat and protein content and works beautifully in anything that calls for a nutty or fruity flavor whereas both corn flour and white-rice flour are great options for breads, muffins, pancakes and waffles.
The last category of allergens has proven to be arguably the most difficult to substitute for, purely because of the rich, characteristic flavor these ingredients bring to the table; dairy, predominantly milk and the mother of all baking ingredients, butter.
Milk can be substituted for with a variety of ingredients such as rice milk, soy milk, oat milk, almond milk and even fruit juice depending on the recipe. But it is replacing butter that remains the bane of many a baker’s existence. Although it is difficult to substitute for, it is not impossible. Olive oil is a heart-healthy oil that works wonderfully in breads, muffins and cakes that incorporate herbs, citrus or strong flavors like pumpkin.
Organic coconut oil will ensure a beautiful, silky texture and mild taste making it perfect for sweet recipes. And if all else fails a wise tactic to employ is to add an extra teaspoon of vanilla extract.
Allergen-free baking does not have to be a second rate attempt at replicating ‘the real thing.’ The world of flavor is incredibly diverse and more often than not, simply by educating oneself as to the function of a food in the baking process, it becomes a simple and richly rewarding experience to produce something from the oven that tastes just as good as it looks, without costing you a trip to the emergency room.