How Not to Screw Up Allergy-Friendly Cooking

Whether its for your kids' bake sale or birthday party, make sure you're doing allergy-free baking correctly.

April 4, 2017
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Adapted from Bake Sales are My B*tch

There are many ways to screw up in the kitchen, and, believe me, I've done most of them. We're still trying to get that chocolate-barbecue sauce off my kitchen ceiling. It becomes very crucial to avoid screwing up, however, when you're handling food for kids who could react badly to an allergen. Crucial. While you're preparing allergy-free recipes, please keep the following in mind.

baking cookies oven
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Wrap it for safety

You must prepare allergy-free food on clean surfaces and in clean pots, pans, and baking sheets. You absolutely cannot boil some gluten-free pasta for your mac and cheese in the same pot you just used to boil up your gluten-filled pasta. You cannot bake an egg- and dairy-free cookie on a sheet that has been habitually used to bake cookies chock-full of eggs and dairy without covering it with parchment or scrubbing it so hard you probably scrub off the nonstick surface. You can scrub pots and pans within an inch of their lives, but if they have even a crumb of allergen left over, it's possible it will stick on your nice, allergy-free dough. You also cannot bake nut-filled cookies on the same sheet as their nutless brothers and sisters. This may sound like a pain, so I have two words that will make it much easier to keep things clean and separate: aluminum foil. Oh, and two more: parchment paper.

Before you bake, cover your bakeware with aluminum foil, or parchment paper for the cookies that stick. Before you grill, place aluminum foil down on the grill that will hold your allergy-free options. If you don't have a cutting board, or very clean surface to prepare your safe food, put down aluminum foil or parchment paper. Your new best friend is aluminum foil. Get to know him, along with his BFF, parchment paper.

chicken fish cooking
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No holding hands or PDA

When you're preparing food, keep the allergens far away from the allergen-free ingredients. If they get mixed up, your allergen-free dish is toast. Don't use the same cutting board for fish that you do for chicken, if you have a fish- allergic guest. Also, don't think fish is a great ingredient for a school bake sale or a 6-year-old birthday party. That's a mistake you'll only make once.

Additionally, don't let all this hard work keeping surfaces bleached and ingredients separate go to waste by serving up all of your safe food on a platter alongside the dangerous food. Continue to keep these foods separate, using separate cooking pots, pans, and sheets, as well as separate utensils. Consciously uncouple the allergy-laden from the allergy-free foods to make sure that the end result is safe for all.

More: The 5 Step Anti-Allergy Plan

Whew! That's a lot, but if you remember to keep your allergy-safe treats safe from the first time you pick up the ingredients until they are safely delivered to the sale, you'll make a heck of a lot of kiddos happy, as well as their very anxious parents. It's like farm to table, but without the hipster element.

If you want to get started baking right away, here are a few items to consider stocking in your pantry before you put on your allergen-free apron. (Okay, that's not a real thing, so don't panic. Any old apron without clumps of food on it will do.)

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Butter substitutes

Earth Balance: This vegan butter alternative comes in many forms, but you'll most likely be picking up the baking sticks for the following recipes. If you're making a soy-free treat, do not buy the buttery baking sticks, but instead pick up the soy-free version.

Nutiva Organic Vegan Superfood Shortening: This soy-free, dairy- free, gluten-free, GMO (genetically modified organism)-free, fair-trade product is a combination of red palm oil and virgin coconut oil. You can find a million different coconut oils on the market, but Nutiva's combination with palm oil makes it a better option for baking when you're avoiding the eight main allergens.

Crisco Vegetable Shortening, Butter Flavor: I grew up using Crisco butter flavor in so many family recipes that I naturally tried it first when I went about experimenting with dairy-free baked goods. While my family probably used Crisco as a butter substitute for completely different, now-defunct reasons (it was the 1980s, and butter was the enemy), it does hold up in recipes pretty well. Crisco contains soy, along with artificial flavors, so if you're not on board with either of those, you should probably try Spectrum organic all-vegetable shortening. The main ingredient in both vegetable shortening brands is also palm oil.

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Egg substitutes

Ener-G Egg Replacer: The OG of egg replacement, Ener-G has been helping out egg-free bakers for a very long time. If you're going to be baking egg-free a lot, I would suggest grabbing a box and going to town. Since it's also eight main allergen-free, it's a good substitute for the kids.

Golden Flax Meal: Flax meal has become my go-to for baking without eggs. You combine 1 tablespoon of flax meal with 3 tablespoons of water per egg called for in the recipe. The key is in letting it sit for a little while before you use it. (I say at least 10 minutes, but if you have a half-hour to wait, do that for optimum egglike properties.) You can either buy the golden flaxseeds and grind them in a coffee grinder when you're ready to use them, or buy the meal and keep it sealed up tight so it will retain its freshness.

Chia Seeds: Chia seeds work in the same manner as flaxseeds, and are truly gelatinous. My only issue is if you're creating something light in color, you can get a little black spot action in the final product. Both work well, so go with what you like.

Follow Your Heart Veganegg: What's great about this all-allergen-free product is that you can even cook this up and make an omelet if you've been craving one since you had to go egg-free.

Baking Soda and Vinegar: I've used the baking-soda-and-vinegar combo in a pinch and, while it didn't seem to work as well as the magic flax meal, it's definitely serviceable in your baked goods. Combine 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of vinegar (watch, as it will bubble up), allow to dissolve, and you have a substitute for 1 egg.

gluten free flour
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Gluten substitutes

Cup4Cup: For baking, I've always loved Cup4Cup multi-purpose gluten-free flour, but it will not work as a flour in the dairy-free recipes, as one of the ingredients is milk powder. I also like to use all-purpose flours so I don't have to experiment with xanthan gum or add anything else to the mix. It makes it easier, and that makes me happier.

Better Batter: Luckily, my other favorite gluten-free, all-purpose flour is dairy-free (and every other allergen-free, plus kosher), and it also gives fantastic results. It's become one of my go-tos now that I'm experimenting with gluten- and dairy-free recipes, but it is sadly harder to find than many other popular brands. I recommend ordering online and stocking up if you're going to be the bake-sale queen.

King Arthur Gluten-Free All-Purpose: Another great gluten- and dairy-free option, I also love to use King Arthur's recipes. It's a solid choice, and I almost always have a box in my cupboard.

Almond Meal: Only if you know there are no nut allergies around, almond meal makes for some delicious cakes. The texture is lovely and moist, and the slight nutty flavor can enhance any cake recipe. You do have to experiment with it, unlike the all-purpose flours above, but if you're 100 percent sure that you don't need to keep it tree-nut-free, have some fun with the almond flour family.

 
 
Milk substitutes
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Milk substitutes

The trouble with milk substitutes in baking is the lack of eight main allergen-free options if (and this is a pretty big if) you have a coconut problem. While rice milk fits the bill, it is not as rich and appropriate for baking as coconut milk cream and coconut milk are. Soy milk and nut milks are also great substitutes, but have the obvious problem of being in the eight main allergen family.

I generally recommend coconut cream and coconut milk regardless, as a coconut allergy as part of a tree-nut allergy is so incredibly rare. And when it comes to baked goods, coconut milk does have the best result in a recipe. Still, be sure you know the specifics of any allergies kids may have before you start to mix up your eight main allergen-free brownies.

More: Your Guide to Milk Alternatives

One more note for the bake-sale bakers: If you're preparing food for a party, bake sale, or anywhere that you will be dropping off and not sticking around to explain what's up with your cookies, label your treats. Let the dairy-free know if something is safe to eat by being very clear with your packaging. After all, what's the point of making allergy-friendly treats if no one knows about it? (Note to parents of the severely allergic: You still don't want to risk homemade treats from someone's kitchen unless you've had a very detailed convo and know without a doubt that they're safe for your kiddo. But you knew that already, I'm sure.)

Now, stock up on your cellophane and decorative twine... it's bake sale time!

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