How To Make Any Cake Allergy-Friendly

We all know someone with a dietary restriction; here's how to bake a cake everyone can enjoy.

August 7, 2017
baking ingredients
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Adapted from Erin Bakes Cake

I'm guessing you know at least one person with a dietary restriction of some kind—gluten free, dairy free, soy free, vegan, no refined sugar, tree nut allergy, egg allergy, casein allergy, and so on. It can be overwhelming—and even worse, isolating—for the person suffering from the allergy or restriction. With cake being the most important celebratory food in our culture (sorry, salad), not being able to partake in the party time can be downright depressing.

More: 8 Most Common Food Allergies, Explained

Right before I opened my bakery, my sister was diagnosed with celiac disease, my father shortly thereafter. Luckily, I dodged the genetic bullet and can still indulge in my favorite glutenous treats. After their diagnoses, I went on a cake odyssey, determined to find a way to make tasty treats my entire family could enjoy. While on this journey, and in my time baking a zillion wedding cakes for the population at large, I ran into every other allergy and food restriction under the sun. And, I dare say, I conquered most. Here are my findings.

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Flour
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Flour

If you solely need to eliminate gluten from your recipe, don't mess with a good thing. Just pick up the best gluten-free flour blend you can find and follow their replacement suggestions. Gluten-free flour blends have come leaps and bounds since I first tried baking a gluten-free cake. I've gone through endless experiments attempting to create my own blend and in the end, the ready-made ones are tough to beat. King Arthur Flour and Cup4Cup are two of my favorite brands. As with anything, read through their ingredients before purchasing to make sure the flour blend works with your specific restriction.

Related: 3 Expert Tips For Better Gluten-Free Baking

Gluten and grains are a more complex subject for some. Rice, potato, and corn provide starchiness to most commercially produced gluten-free flour blends. My rule of thumb when I need to create a custom GF flour blend is equal parts GF grain to GF starch. If none of the grains work for you, then combine equal parts of two starches. When creating your own GF flour blend, it is helpful, but not 100-percent necessary, to add a small amount of xanthan gum (about 1/2 teaspoon) for added structure and stability.

Eggs
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Eggs

My favorite substitute for whole eggs in a cake recipe is Ener-G egg replacer. It can be found in most health food stores, some supermarkets, and online. Their egg replacer is made with a combination of starches that replace some of the structure eggs provide without adding an unpleasant flavor or texture.

If you can't do starches, my second favorite egg replacer is flaxseed meal. (No need to break out the coffee grinder; most health food stores and some supermarkets sell flaxseeds already ground.) Combine 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons water. Set the mixture aside for at least 5 minutes to thicken. Flax eggs can add a touch of nutty flavor to a cake recipe. They're best used in cakes where the added flavor will be masked, like a chocolate cake or carrot cake.

Most egg replacers work best in recipes where the egg is used whole. In chiffon-style recipes, where the egg whites are whipped and used as a leavener, the best solution is bean juice. Yup. Keep reading for more on this.

Related: How To Get More Protein In Your Diet

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Egg whites
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Egg whites

You read that right: bean juice. Aquafaba, or the run-off juices from a can of chickpeas, recently set the egg-free-baking world ablaze. No one is really all that sure why chickpea juice produces an uncanny whipped egg white substitution. Other bean juices work as well, but I prefer chickpea because it's clear and relatively tasteless (and I really like hummus). Whip up 2 tablespoons aquafaba for every egg white called for in your recipe. Literally just use the liquid straight from the can. Magic. 

Related: 5 Reasons To Eat More Beans

Vegetable oil
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Vegetable oil

In most cake recipes (and when making box mixes), vegetable oil can be easily replaced with whatever oil you have on hand. Light olive oil works well, as does coconut oil. Be sure to measure the coconut oil after you've melted it, not before. 

Related: A Guide To Healthy Cooking Oils

Milk
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Milk

In the majority of cake recipes, milk can simply be replaced with water. You'll lose a teensy bit of fat and sugar, but it's so small that it's hardly missed. In addition, most supermarkets now carry a large selection of diary-free milk substitutes. If you already have soy or almond milk in your kitchen, by all means use it (or make your own). Just be sure to buy the plain varieties without any added sugar or flavoring. 

Related: Your Guide To Milk Alternatives

 
 
Buttermilk
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Buttermilk

Ah, good old Queen of Complex-ia. Replacing this multifaceted ingredient is actually pretty easy. Combine 1 cup milk or nondairy milk with 1 tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice. Set the mixture aside for at least 5 minutes before using to allow the mixture to curdle. Or, replace buttermilk with the same amount of nondairy sour cream or yogurt. 

Related: The Truth Behind The Most Common 'Healthy' Food Labels

Refined sugar
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Refined sugar

Coconut sugar is a terrific one-to-one replacement for refined white sugar in most cake recipes. Its flavor is more similar to brown sugar, but it's dry and granulated like regular white sugar. My local supermarkets all carry coconut sugar now, making it easier to bake for my refined-sugar-free friends. You can also find it at health food stores and online.

There are many liquid replacements for refined sugar—maple syrup, molasses, and honey, to name a few—but they are very difficult to substitute one-to-one in most cake recipes without significantly changing the cake's flavor and texture. If you're adept at adjusting recipes, or have eliminated refined sugars for life, then go for it! If you're simply trying to throw together a quick dessert that all of your friends can enjoy, spring for the coconut sugar.

Related: 9 Sweetener Choices That Are Better For Your Health

Butter
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Butter

Replacing butter breaks my heart, but I know for some it must be done. If dairy is your sole concern, butter can be replaced one-to-one with shortening in both cake and frosting recipes. Most supermarkets also now carry at least one, if not more, vegan butter substitute. Earth's Balance is a widely available brand that has worked well for me in cake recipes, but I do prefer shortening over vegan butter when making dairy-free frostings. Coconut oil is another good substitute in cake recipes. Just be sure to measure it in its solid form when using as a butter replacer. 

The article How to Make Any Cake Allergy-Friendly originally appeared on Rodale Wellness.