Friday, February 15, 2008

Dairy-Free/Egg-Free/Nut-Free Baking - Simple Substitutions Only Please!

Yummy desserts can be hard to come by when you have a dairy, egg, and nut allergy. When I found out my daughter was allergic to these foods, I (and my serious sweet tooth) was quite dismayed at what this meant in regard to sweet treats for the household. I began a frantic recipe search for allergy-safe cookies, cakes, muffins, ... anything that would hit that sweet spot yet be safe for my daughter to occasionally enjoy as well.

As I mentioned in my very first post, I'm not a big fan of certain allergy-friendly substitutions, especially those that result in an end product that barely resembles the "real" version of the dessert or those where I end up feeling like a scientist in a chem lab mixing up concoctions to mimic common baking ingredients. Having made many traditional desserts before, I simply did not enjoy shifting to a process of shopping for uncommon ingredients (what is xanthan gum anyway?) and then making significant alterations and substitutions to favorite recipes only to end up with something that was less than satisfying. But that's just me. If other people have the ambition and patience to experiment with and combine various non-traditional ingredients into a dessert that ends up being truly delicious, believe me, I would be one of the first people in line to get it.

Having said all this, I do recognize that without dairy products or eggs, baking can be a daunting exercise and that some substitutions using non-traditional ingredients are required. So what kinds of ingredients work for me? I like ingredients that are fairly straightforward in terms of what they're substituting for. For example, I use dairy-free margarine (Earth Balance) or canola oil instead of butter and soy milk instead of cow's milk. I try to stay away from recipes where real eggs are critical (think custard) and instead lean towards recipes where eggs are used primarily for their leavening properties, in which case baking soda and baking powder together with vinegar seem to do the trick. For chocolate, it's often difficult to find any that is not manufactured on the same equipment as nuts. You could use carob, but for that real chocolatey taste, I've found two sources that are safe - Enjoy Life's Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips and Scharffen Berger's 9.7oz Home Baking Bars (see nutritional info here).

But can you bake anything good with only simplistic substitutions? Surprisingly, yes. I have to say that I am very grateful for all those creative vegan bakers out there. With the exception of those that include nuts, vegan recipes are a great resource when it comes to dairy, egg, and nut-free baking. Many of these recipes don't involve obscure ingredients either. I've tried several and, despite my doubts, they surprisingly passed my tastiness threshold. I will be posting these recipes on this blog and hopefully more as I continue to discover them.

So after much initial disappointment about not being able to bake goodies for my daughter to eat, I'm quite relieved and thrilled that I can once again incorporate some sweet treats into our lives that not only my daughter can enjoy, but my sweet tooth as well.


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Anonymous said...

to get the chocolatey taste from carob, you have to use natural smooth peanut butter or almond butter, I can't eat chocolate due to it's caffeine, but a friend made me a black forest cake and I swear there was chocolate in it. she makes all kinds of dessert that would normally use chocolate with carobs and you honestly can't tell the difference, I had her make some brownies for my American Legion dinner and no one knew until I told them, it was made with carob.