Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

Considerate baking

on September 19, 2012

I have long experience of cooking and baking for those with particular dietary requirements.  A good friend of ours has grown up with a deadly peanut and almond allergy, which has, on occasions, seen him fighting for breath on his way to hospital in a severe state of anaphylactic shock (things have improved slightly since his marriage, as his wife is more diligent about carrying an EpiPen in her handbag, to guard against such emergency journeys).  This sort of allergy can be inherited genetically – and, inconveniently, can appear worse or differently in different people –  and so each of their four children has had to be kept away from nuts and seeds in general, along with their “traces”, until such time as they are old enough to be medically tested for allergies of all kinds.

The Bookworm has a reaction to pineapple or kiwi (and other, more indeterminate, food substances) which causes a red rash on her face.  We’ve been told it’s not life-threatening and that she might grow out of it, and thankfully they are easy foodstuffs to avoid (apart from the ones we don’t really know about, but we’re narrowing it down!).  Another friend has Coeliac disease and can’t eat gluten.  My brother-in-law was diagnosed a couple of years ago as whey-intolerant, which means he has to avoid dairy foods (even those such as buttermilk and some cheeses, which many lactose-intolerant people can manage to eat because of the manufacturing processes which break down that particular sugar). As my sister is vegetarian, and they have two small children, you can imagine how much planning goes into meals at their house!

All of these present challenges in baking, but they are pretty surmountable, provided one is careful in checking ingredients labels and being aware of substitutes (excellent muffins, for example, can be made with oil instead of butter or margarine and water or juice instead of milk, if you don’t want to invest in a dairy-free version).  But I have never been more stumped than when faced with the prospect of entertaining someone who cannot eat eggs or dairy, as is the case with several of my friends’ children (it seems to be a growing childhood problem, although most become able to eat both as they get older).  As I’ve said, I’ve done dairy-free many times, and it’s a useful baking fact that milk can be substituted for eggs (this came in handy during the war, I believe, and there’s a very good recipe here from the queen of wartime cookery, Marguerite Patten.  I’ve made it before when I’ve been out of eggs, although it does kind of rely on your being the sort of household which has golden syrup constantly in stock!).

But how does it work if both eggs and milk/butter/etc are off the cards?  The answer is to ask a vegan, or someone who does a lot of vegan cooking.  Last year, when I was expecting a visit from one of my friends whose little boy is egg- and dairy-free, I consulted a Twitter “friend”, Julie, known as @bohomumma.  She very kindly shared a recipe with me which I was able to make for my friend and her family.

The recipe calls for a rectangular tin, although I made it in two round 7″ sandwich tins without trouble.

This is the recipe, exactly as she sent it to me:

Makes one 20x30cm (8 x12 in) rectangle cake

175 g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
125g veg marg
125g light brown sugar
150ml soy milk or rice milk (I use rice dream – get it at tesco or sains in the longlife milk bit)

Preheat oven to 180 line cake tin

Cream marg & sugar. Sift flour & baking powder together. Then add sifted ingredients alternately with milk. If goes lumpy beat well til smooths out. (It is pretty runny compared to normal cake mix). Pour into cake tin & bake – book says for 20 mins but I usually find takes at least 10 mins longer – I just do til golden & sponge springs back when press down (sometimes turn down to 150 for additional time)

When I first made this cake I was amazed at how flat it turned out!  I thought I must have done something wrong.  It didn’t rise at all and looked rather unappetising, as I’ve plenty experience of what a cake that flat is like inside.  I put it in a tin and had another go, this time being very careful to include every tip I’ve ever learned for ensuring a good rise – only using metal spoons, cutting and folding rather than mixing and stirring, etc – but to no avail!  The two cakes turned out as flat as the previous pair.  To make the best of a bad situation I used all four of the layers, sandwiched together with plenty of strawberry jam, and kept my fingers crossed about the taste.

We were very surprised at how moist and tasty it was.  It’s kind of like making brownies in that it’s just a completely different kind of cake, with a different texture and appearance.  Once you get past the idea that flat = dry and tasteless, you’ll be a lot better off!

Next weekend the same friends are coming again, on their way up to Northumberland for a holiday, and I thought I’d make another recipe which Julie sent me at the same time: Honey Spelt Biscuits, which are actually suitable for those who can’t have egg, dairy or wheat*!  I was assured, however, that they taste good even if you haven’t got a dietary restriction.  As I can’t eat any myself yet (with a different kind of dietary restriction, for weight-loss-related reasons) and therefore can’t adopt my usual method of trying before I serve, I used my Bible study group as guinea pigs today!  They all said they enjoyed them and that they have a lovely flavour, although Southern Daddy (who was around too, working from home) suggested they would probably be best served with a drink as they are slightly dry – presumably because of the spelt flour, which resembles whole wheat flour in appearance and texture, so I suppose has a similar composition in terms of the parts of the grain it contains.

Here is the recipe:

200 g spelt flour

1 tsp of baking powder

1 tsp of cinnamon

100g honey

100g sunflower oil

Mix all, put teaspoons of mix on baking sheet with room around to expand, bake in preheated oven @ 190c for 8 mins/til golden

I planned to make a batch today, to feed to my Bible Study today and mosaic friends tomorrow, but on mixing the first batch I found that the quantity was not great and when I spooned it out resulted in 15 golf-ball sized scoops on the trays, so I decided to make up another batch just in case.  For reasons of mess space availability I was only able to fill one tray at a time, so the first tray went into the oven on its own (NB I oiled the tray, despite its not being instructed in the recipe, and I’m glad I did – my trays are honeycomb finished non-stick and the biscuits still stuck slightly).

I’d expected my golf balls to spread out in the same way cookies do, but when I removed them they had only expanded slightly and looked more the shape of the Viennese shell biscuits you sandwich together with buttercream.  I don’t know if this is meant to happen but I did wonder if it was because I’d used set honey, because it was what we had in, rather than the runny honey usually called for in baking.  So for the subsequent 3 trays I spread the mixture out slightly with a spoon, pressing it down into a vaguely circular shape, and this seemed to work better.

Other tweaks that I made to the recipe were to turn the temperature only to 170 C (the standard 20 degree drop for a fan oven) and to leave the first couple of batches in for 10 minutes, rather than 8, for them to get nicely golden.  As is the way with the Over-Zealous Oven, however, by the time I was ready to cook the last batch they only took 8 minutes because everything was a bit hotter (wonder if I should get that thermostat checked!)  By the way, the biscuits are soft when you take them out, and crisp up as they cool, so let the colour be your guide!

These biscuits are really easy and would be good to make with children.

A little tip about measuring the honey and the oil: if you put a small bowl on your scales and weigh that, then add the 100g of honey, that’s the easiest way.  Add as much of the honey as will come out into the main bowl with the dry ingredients, then put the small bowl back on the scales and weigh out the 100g of oil.  When you tip the oil into the main bowl you should find the remainder of the honey can be scooped out much more easily with the help of a spatula.

If you’d like to read more about spelt as a substitute for wheat in baking and cooking, I found these pages interesting: Baking Bites, BBC Food, Wikipedia.

Photos to follow at the weekend when I make more biscuits… it was a hectic morning and I completely forgot I was blogging the recipe!


*N.B. Spelt is not suitable for those on a strictly gluten free diet (e.g. Coeliac patients) as it still contains gluten; however, the protein is easier to digest and can therefore be eaten by those with a wheat intolerance.  If you are looking for gluten free flour, Dove’s Farm, whose spelt flour I bought, also offers a range of gluten-free options.


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