Substitutions for Your Safe Ingredients
Here’s the interesting thing about food allergies-what is safe for one person is another’s allergy. Baking for allergies is so tricky because baking is science, and every ingredient has its cause and effect on the finished product. In the absence of certain ingredients, such as eggs or gluten, the entire structure of the baked good is changed. Figuring out the how and why behind the process makes it easier for you to experiment and substitute on your own.
I have tried as best as I can to make these recipes a skeleton that you can mix and match to your safes and have good results. Sometimes as much as I have tried, an egg here or there is necessary. With all his allergies Casey can have peanut and MUST have daily dosing of it, so any recipes I make with peanut butter can be substituted with your safe nut, seed or soy butter. He has had anaphylaxis to seeds so I don’t even experiment, but I know the results that will occur when you substitute.
Here’s what I use, and substitutions, when creating the recipes:
Gluten free flour – This is, at its core, the hardest ingredient in my opinion to switch. Most people allergic to wheat and gluten containing grains (as Casey is) are living the gluten free life.
What is gluten? Gluten is the protein in flour that is composed of glutenin and gliadin. During the baking process they become intertwined to help set the structure of your baked good. It makes baked goods chewy as well, and flours with a higher protein content (like bread flour) will make it even chewier, such as bagels or pizza. All purpose flour is a mixture of bread and pastry flour, combining high and low proteins to create a neutral baking flour. When baking without traditional flour, the absence of gluten makes certain products a huge challenge. The baked good will fall apart and can be very dense depending on what is used. This is where is so important to use a kitchen scale for weighing your gluten free flour blends. I know you’re asking if you REALLY need this in your life and my answer is a resounding YES!!!! I get into proper measurements in another post but here’s a quick why-wheat flour measures about 5 ounces, or 130-140 grams (depending on the brand) per cup. It is NOT standard that a cup always weighs 8 ounces! Gluten free flour blends are notoriously dense from things like sorghum and starches, so going cup for cup as a substitution will not work. However, weighing your gluten free blend with a scale helps yield much better results and can even allow you to do even swaps for some recipes. I always use a blend that already has xanthan gum in it. Most of my recipes are tested with King Arthur Flour Measure for Measure Gluten Free Flour, but I also like Namaste Perfect Flour Blend, Authentic Foods Multi Blend gluten free and Better Batter. **PLEASE NOTE that the King Arthur gluten free flours do share lines with other allergens. Please do your own research to see if this is safe for your needs.** The Measure for Measure is NOT the same as King Arthur’s Gluten Free All Purpose Blend. I have found that measuring it at 140 grams per cup (5 ounces) when altering recipes using wheat flour works well, but all gluten free blends have different weights. For example, Better Batter blend weighs at 5.5 ounces or 156 grams per cup. That can make a difference in a recipe. As stated earlier, gluten free flour is much denser than wheat flour so more liquid can be needed. Casey is allergic to beans and legumes, so we need to avoid blends with chickpea flour.
Cassava flour – Only 9 months ago when Casey was a little over 2, did he pass rice and oat challenges. Until then baking was beyond a huge challenge until cassava flour, particularly Otto’s brand, came into my life. For those who are gluten free, Paleo or cannot have rice that is in most gluten free blends, this is a huge win.
Cassava flour is made from the dried whole root of the cassava plant. It is a tuber, like potato and generally well tolerated. It is a great source of prebiotics and great for gut health. Tapioca starch comes from the cassava plant, but it is not the same thing. It is ground very, very fine, so be very careful when dumping and measuring, it’s like talcum powder flying around. It is very absorbent and lacks gluten, so extra moisture is a must with cassava. It is not always a 1:1 ratio in substituting for wheat flour. It also has a high level of carbohydrates, so it should be not be eaten all day as a gluten free flour replacement as to not cause blood sugar spikes.
Some of Casey’s favorite things, like the Herbed Crackers, are made with cassava flour. I will specify when it is used.
Xanthan gum is a by-product of sugars during fermentation and blends, but if you by it independently to add to your own homemade blend, the general rule is ¼ teaspoon of xanthan gum per one cup of flour. Whisk the gum into the dry ingredients and don’t mix with liquid until ready, it will turn into a hard, rubber like ball.
Coconut flour – This is a tricky ingredient to work with but so delicious and worth it if fits your safe food profile. Coconut flour is definitely not a 1:1 flour substitute as it is so dense and needs a lot of eggs for leavening, the product will crumble and fall apart without it. Generally, the amount of coconut flour is ¼ the total amount of wheat flour in a recipe, with approximately one egg per ounce of flour. For those who can have baked egg this can still be a stretch because of the amount of eggs needed for even a small recipe. It can also be used as a thickener in sauces when cooking.
My two favorite brands are Nutiva and XO Baking Company. Nutiva has stellar allergen protocol information on their website, and their flour is light and has the best texture. XO is a fantastic blend of coconut and cassava flours. I heard of them and reached out to see if they were safe and their customer service was fantastic.
Oat flour – I think oat flour is such an underrated ingredient! I love the nutty flavor and texture, and a little fiber never hurt anyone. The oats are naturally gluten free, but you need to always make sure they are certified gluten free because oats are often cut with flour during processing. Oats tend to be victim of a lot of cross contamination. I love Gluten Free Harvest oats, and buy the flour, quick and old fashioned (rolled) oats often.
Oat flour can be substituted for a portion of flour in a recipe but will still require a binding agent and a leavener. I prefer quick, not instant oats for recipes. They absorb less liquid than rolled oats so the texture is better, and instant oats are precooked so they will lose all texture once baked. Oat flour in recipes lead to a great crunch and slight sweetness, which is great because sugar content can often be dropped a notch to compensate.
Wheat flour – A lot of my recipes are adapted from ones I have been using for years that were made traditionally with wheat flour. If that is safe for you, then go ahead to take out the gluten free blend! The exception is anything with cassava or coconut flour, those are formulated specifically with the needs of those flours. I still try to keep with the 140 grams per cup measurement to go back and forth. Note the gluten free recipes do a have a bit more leavening than a traditional wheat flour recipe, so that could need adjustment.
Baking soda– One of the first tricks of baking I remember learning is “soda spreads, powder puffs” in regard to what baking soda and baking powder do. They have the same ultimate goal to make your baked good rise, but they also have different chemical compositions. Baking soda cannot be substituted for baking powder, but the powder can be used in place of soda, just in a higher amount.
Baking soda is straight sodium bicarbonate and requires acid and heat to create carbon dioxide gas bubbles that grow and burst in the heat of the oven, causing the product to rise. The acid can be something like buttermilk, yogurt, lemon juice, vinegar, brown sugar or even chocolate. Anything with baking soda needs to baked as the reaction begins immediately. Remember the elementary school volcano experiment? That’s exactly what’s happening in your muffin batter or cookie dough. Baking soda is not typically used in something like a cake batter as it doesn’t provide enough rise, it’s used in conjunction with baking powder or eggs.
Baking powder – Baking powder can be a bit more forgiving than baking soda, and it can be used instead of baking soda if you are out, however, it can leave a bit of an aluminum foil taste if too much us used. Baking powder gives you a little more time before the leavening is lost when putting together your product. It is called “double acting” because the first reaction happens when moisture is added, the second when the heat of the oven creates more gas bubbles for rise. Baking powder has a starch added to it as a drying agent.
Milk/heavy cream – Milk is a big part of baking because it has so many functions. The water in it provides moisture as well as leavening when it boils from heat, flavor, fat for moisture and the sugars help to brown the baked good to produce something that’s called the Maillard Factor or in a bake wash for crust color. The good thing is, most safe milks can be substituted with little ill effects. They all have different viscosities so that is something to keep in mind. Flours will absorb a very thin milk much more quickly than a thicker milk, and nut milks will lend a bit more of a flavor. Casey can have baked milk, so I need to keep his dosing up with it. The parameters are at least 30 minutes at least 350 degrees. Ironically, some companies I have called disclosed that they share lines with nut milks, which freaked me out. I have been using Horizon safely as I felt comfortable with their answer and protocols. I use So Delicious coconut milk when something is not baked for the necessary time frame, and that is also his drinking milk. I don’t buy vanilla flavored, as the added sugar and flavoring is nothing that Casey nor the recipe needs.
To substitute heavy cream, my go to is coconut cream, and it is one of the few options out there for a heavy cream type ingredient. Certain recipes, like my truffle ganache, need a richer fat as opposed to milk, and this is where the fat component is key. I always keep a can of full fat coconut milk or coconut whipping cream in the fridge so the fat can be scooped out and melted for a recipe or whipped up with some sugar for whipped cream. It’s so good! I know coconut is not an option for a lot of people and I apologize for my common use of it, but it really is the best fat option out there. There are some vegan soy heavy creams on the market, but I cannot use them due to Casey’s soy allergy. If the cream does not have to be whipped in the recipe, safe vegan creamers can offer similar texture and viscosity as heavy cream.
Yogurt – I really like using yogurt in allergy friendly baking. The acidity helps wth leavening, it helps bind in the absence of an egg and offers moisture to doughs and batters. So Delicious unsweetened is what is in our refrigerator, but there are endless options out there. If regular dairy is safe for you, plain yogurt is an even swap for sour cream.
Butter – Do you know why butter is called “melt in your mouth”? It’s because butter melts at a lower temperature than body temperature so it dissolves more quickly. That’s is one thing I hear a lot that is missed by using vegan butter substitutes, but the good news is that luckily, there are a lot of great options out there that really yield great results! Butter or solid fat is critical in the backbone of many recipes for flavor, moisture, leavening (especially during the creaming method) and color. I use Fleischmann’s unsalted margarine sticks for Casey because a lot of vegan butter options have seed oils or pea protein and he cannot have either. I recommend buying in stick form, it is much more accurate to measure if you don’t have a scale. A lot of vegan butters are oil based and don’t have the water content that butter has.
Shortening – As a professional I am begging you, please don’t give shortening the bad rap it doesn’t deserve! Believe me, it is used all over the place at your favorite bakery. It has a very specific use and the amount is dispersed through the whole recipe, it’s not like one brownie square is holding all the shortening in the recipe. I’m a big fan of Spectrum palm shortening. It is a great vegan fat option and helps make amazing crust (check out my 3-2-1 Pie Dough!) and chewy cookies. It helps keeps streusel crumbs from melting out in the oven and holds a lot of liquid in certain doughs. If soy is safe for you, then traditional shortenings will work.
Oils – In baking, neutral flavors work well and that is why canola is the choice of oil. Oil is considered a liquid fat and used in vegan baking when melted butter isn’t an option. It provides so much moisture and can also serve as a bonder, holding ingredients together. I use Mazola canola. In a pinch, or in savory baking, you can certainly use a mild olive oil, Felipo Berio is a staple in Casey’s favorite Herbed Cassava Flour crackers.
Coconut oil is different. It is solid when cold and softens considerably when warm and melts to a clear liquid. Knowing when and how to use it can be tricky because it does change it properties. I sauté vegetables and make eggs in it instead of butter for myself but use it in solid form to emulsify into a liquid when heat is not a factor. My recipe will specify if it was used or not.
Butter, sugar, flour eggs. 4 cornerstones of baking, 3 out them are in the Top 8. Ugh. But we make it work!
Eggs are so important to baking for so many reasons but providing structure from the whites (where most of the allergic protein is) is probably its main function. It is hard to navigate around the absence of eggs but there are so many egg substitutes out there to experiment with, and it’s just a matter of knowing when to use which ones. Let’s explore our options:
Applesauce/Banana– Use ¼ cup per egg in a recipe. These are better in cookies and quick breads as they are too dense for a cake. I prefer unsweetened applesauce so extra sugar isn’t added to the recipe. Banana is a wonderful option too, but it has a much stronger flavor.
Ener-G or other chemical egg replacers – Ener-G has been around for years and is many allergy or vegan baker’s go-to. It is cost effective as the shelf stable box lasts for quite a while and easy to use. Other brands such as Bob’s Red Mill make egg replacers. These work well in many recipes.
Baking powder egg – I love these! They are very similar to the chemical egg replacers but can be made easily and cheaply at home. To make, mix together 2 tablespoons water, one teaspoon oil and 2 teaspoons baking powder. Use immediately.
Chia/Flax eggs – A few years ago, I added flax and chia seeds in many things I ate. Then Casey had a biphasic anaphylactic reaction to flax. Yeah…no more of those in the house! However, if these are safe options for you, they are a great source of protein and fiber and make a great egg substitute due to its viscosity. Mix together 1 Tablespoon chia seeds or flax meal with 3 Tablespoons water per egg. Let sit 5 minutes until absorbed and gelatinous.
Gelatin/agar – For recipes like custard and pudding where egg is used to it firm up, gelatin and agar come in. Bloomed, melted and added to warm liquids, it will set up on chilling. Even though Casey has FPIES to beef and pork, the protein is so broken down in gelatin he can tolerate it. I use Knox brand.
Aquafaba– Aquafaba is really cool. It is the liquid chickpeas are cooked in. It whips up like egg whites with a pinch of cream or tarter to stabilize or acts as a binder (like egg) in recipes. Use 2 Tablespoons of aquafaba to equal one egg white. Casey cannot have beans or legumes, but I have been experimenting with it, mainly macarons!
So, this is the “short” list of substitutions as allergy friendly bakers that we need to live by. I try to see it all as a challenge, making new recipes from the old favorites. Are there any substitutions you love? Let me know!
As we all know, reading labels and preparing food when managing allergies is a job within itself with much responsibility. All the brands I use are ones that I have contacted, and Casey has eaten safely. That being said, I must remind…
Please do your own research when deciding which products and foods are safe for the allergies you manage. These are the ones that are safe for our needs but may not be for you. Everyone has different comfort levels with manufacturing and production procedures.
And, as a friendly reminder, always have 2 epinephrine auto injectors on hand!