Adapting Cake Recipes For Allergies

Posted on: 24 February 2015

A home-made cake is one of life's joys, but if someone you know has a food allergy, this simple pleasure may seem hopelessly out of reach. Studies estimate that around 1 in 20 children and 1 in 100 adults in Australia have a food allergy, with an even higher number reporting food intolerances. The most common food allergies include staple ingredients of cake baking - eggs, milk and nuts - and while wheat (or gluten) allergies are less common, it is one of the most common causes of food intolerance.

If you or a close family member is living with a food allergy, it's worth investing in one of the diet-specific cookbooks now available. But if you only occasionally bake for someone with allergies, or if you are longing to make your favourite recipe, the tips below will help you to get started.

The golden rule

Before you start to think about substituting ingredients or searching out recipes, look around your kitchen. For some allergies, even the slightest contamination of ingredients could lead to a life-threatening attack. If flour is stored next to peanuts, for example, it's simply not worth the risk. Buy a new, sealed bag for the occasion and store it safely. Make sure that all work surfaces and equipment, and even your oven, are scrupulously clean before you start work.

Gluten free

You can buy specialist gluten-free flour, but if it's not available in your local supermarket there are some other options:

  • Ground almonds can replace wheat flour, provided you are not also catering for a nut allergy. They are more absorbent, so you may need to add extra egg or liquid. You may also find that the cake does not rise as much as usual.
  • Cornmeal (or polenta) can be used but has a very distinctive taste, so consider whether it will work with the rest of your recipe. It is also not automatically gluten free, so always check the packaging.
  • Rice flour is used as a substitute for other purposes, but doesn't produce consistent results when baking unless mixed with other flours, so is probably best left to the more experienced gluten-free baker.

Watch out for baking powder. Not all brands are gluten free, so check the packaging carefully. You can make gluten-free alternative by mixing 1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) with 2 tsp cream of tartar, then measuring it out just as you would the original.

Egg free

Substituting eggs in cakes is difficult, especially if the recipe calls for three or more. In smaller quantities, there are a number of alternative ingredients you can use to provide the necessary moisture. The list below is based on quantities for replacing 1 egg:

  • 1/2 mashed (ripe) banana
  • 1/4 cup fruit puree, pumpkin puree or apple sauce
  • 1/4 cup soured cream or plain yoghurt (flavoured yoghurt can be used but will flavour the finished bake)
  • Commercial egg replacer - read the instructions on the packaging for quantities

Dairy free

A variety of non-dairy milks are readily available and can be substituted cup-for-cup with cow's milk. Don't be tempted to use goats milk, unless your guest has advised you to do so. It has less lactose and casein than cow's milk, so some people find it easier to digest, but this is not the case for everyone.

Of course, milk is not the only dairy ingredient commonly used in cakes:

  • Butter can be substituted cup for cup with 100% vegetable-based spreads.
  • Small amounts of melted butter can be substituted cup for cup with applesauce
  • A buttermilk substitute can be made by mixing 1 tbsp of lemon juice or cider vinegar with 1 cup of your milk alternative, and allowing to stand for 10 minutes
  • Yoghurt, cream or soured cream can be replaced by non-dairy yoghurt

Finally, if in doubt, don't be afraid to ask your guest for advice on what they can and can't eat or what they do themselves when baking. For more information, ask advice from a business such as Cookies and More.