December is a magical month for millions of kids. The snow is falling, festively wrapped gifts begin to appear, and plates of baked goodies abound. Little hands eagerly reach for squares of fudge, unless of course they are connected to a child with a milk or soy allergy. Mom’s roll out gingerbread and sugar cookie dough for kids to cut and decorate…that is, if they don’t suffer from egg or wheat allergies. So what indulgences do food allergic children enjoy around the holidays?
Are they munching on plain rice cakes as their friends indulge in chocolate confections? Perhaps in the past, but a dramatic rise in food allergies over the past decade has subsequently increased public awareness. Ideas from creative cooks and innovative products from small manufacturers now ensure that everyone can share in the food festivities.
Whether baking for your own family members or an upcoming party, here are some easy substitutes for allergy-friendly holiday baking:
Chocolate: The holidays are no time to suffer a chocolate-free existence. Many natural food grocers stock the “100% dairy-free & gluten-free semi-sweet chocolate chips” from Tropical Source for an allergy safe bet. The white chocolate chips from VeganSweets are another fun alternative made on dedicated dairy and egg-free equipment. If soy is also a concern, both Enjoy Life Foods and Ener-G Foods make chocolate chips that are completely free of dairy, soy, eggs, nuts, and other top food allergens.
Butter: Very few butter alternatives are made on dedicated equipment, but several companies follow safe cleaning practices to prevent cross-contamination. One favorite is Earth Balance. Their shortening and buttery sticks are a godsend for non-dairy holiday baking. For those who also experience reactions to soy, Spectrum Shortening (made with 100% organic expeller pressed palm oil) and organic coconut oil come to the rescue. When replacing butter in recipes, use ¾ the amount of coconut oil as the recipe calls for. Surprisingly, your basic cooking oil of choice (extra-light olive, canola, vegetable) may suit butter/margarine-based recipes equally well. In place of solid margarine, use ½ to ¾ the amount of oil as a substitute to avoid an overly greasy end result.
Milk: The most allergen-free option is homemade rice, grain, or nut milk; depending upon the allergies of concern. Rice and oat milks are by far the simplest and least expensive to make. Should convenience be in order, VitaSoy, EdenSoy, and Almond Breeze are brands prepared on dedicated equipment (dairy and egg free at the minimum). Many holiday recipes call for evaporated milk or sweetened condensed milk. For evaporated milk, take your favorite homemade or store bought milk alternative and cook it over medium low heat, stirring constantly, until it has reduced in half. Sweetened condensed milk is a bit more complicated, but doable. See the dairy substitutes section, or for offline use get a copy of "Dairy Free Made Easy." This guide contains several recipes and tips to meet your homemade “milk” and “cream” needs.
Flour: There are countless types of flour on the market aside from the old white or wheat options. Try a 50/50 mix of oat flour and barley flour or oat flour and rice flour as a direct substitute for wheat flours in recipes. Spelt and kamut flours are very close cousins to wheat. Though they can be excellent direct substitutes, they may be a problem for those with true wheat allergies. Gluten free consumers may have a trickier time (oat and barley flours contain gluten). Typically a binder, such as xanthan gum should be used to replace the binding power when using purely gluten-free flours. Luckily, a package of xanthan gum will go a long ways, and gluten-free flour blends are readily available in stores to ensure you get the right mix.
To track down hard to find allergy friendly baking ingredients, head to the Allergy Grocer. If you are short on time or energy their allergen-free sugar and gingerbread cookie mixes are fantastic. Use the coupon code DairyFree10 at checkout for 10% off your entire order anytime.
Another great option is Gak’s Snacks. While you are there shopping for ingredients, you may pick up “The Gak’s Snacks Allergy Cookbook: Baked Treats for All Occasions” or a festive nut, egg, dairy, and wheat free Cranberry Coffeecake. Order a copy of the new guide “Dairy Free Made Easy: Thousands of Foods, Hundreds of Tips, and Dozens of Recipes for Non-Dairy Living” and receive a $2.00 off coupon for Gak’s Snacks.
Here are a couple of simple allergy-friendly recipe ideas to kick off this holiday baking season:
Santa’s Cookies (milk, peanut, tree nut, and soy free; potentially wheat and egg free)
Source: “Dairy Free Made Easy”
- 1¼ cups whole-wheat, all-purpose, or 50/50 mix of rice and oat flours
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup oil (for soy-free) or Earth Balance Shortening
- ¼ cup white sugar
- ¼ cup packed light brown sugar
- ¼ cup evaporated cane juice
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 egg (egg replacer not yet trialed)
- ½ to 1 cup dairy-free (soy-free) semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350°. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Mix the oil, sugars, and vanilla in large mixing bowl. Add the egg and beat until well blended. Gradually stir or beat in flour mixture. Stir in as many chocolate chips as you like. Drop by the spoonful (big or small) onto un-greased baking sheets. Bake until lightly browned, roughly 8 to 11 minutes. Let stand for 2 minutes, then remove to wire racks or cool plate (before your husband or kids try to pull them off with their hands) to cool completely.
· Use any variation of the white sugar, brown sugar, and evaporated cane juice, so long as the total amount of sugar is ¾ cup.
· For Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, reduce the flour to 1 cup, and add one cup of whole or instant oats.
Chocolate Fudge (milk, peanut, tree nut, wheat, and egg free)
- ½ cup vanilla soymilk or other vanilla milk alternative
- 1¼ cups organic white sugar or other equivalent sweetener
- ¼ cup non-dairy margarine (such as Earth Balance)
- ½ cup dairy-free chocolate chips
- 1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
Put milk alternative and sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly to prevent curdling. Bring to a slow boil for 7 minutes. (Keep an eye on the pan at all times and stir frequently) Remove from heat and add margarine, chocolate, and vanilla. Stir until margarine and chocolate melt and mixture is smooth and creamy. Pour into a greased 8×8 dish (or a smaller dish for thicker pieces). Refrigerate overnight, cut into squares. Serve.