Photo of faux hazelnut cake, one of many free-from recipes.
Faux Hazelnut Cake

People are often shocked when they see the food I make, knowing what it’s free from. They are then blown away when they take a bite, especially of the cake from our bakery. We’ve had people tell us after eating our cake that they can die happy now. WOW. Talk about a statement. For reference, that cake is gluten free, top 9 allergy free, vegan, and free from a LOT of less common allergens. So then, how do I go about creating such magic if it’s free from so much? Let’s take a look at my process for building tasty free-from recipes. 

First, the term “allergy friendly” is unregulated and can mean anything. If you ask someone with food allergies, that term usually means “free from what they’re allergic to.” Well, that’s what I call hyper-individualized. As someone with more than 200 food allergies and food intolerances, I view the term to mean “free from 3-4+ major allergens and made on dedicated free-from equipment.” With that mentality, a LOT of our community is fed. For me, that is the ultimate goal: remove as many major (and less common) allergens whilst creating a delicious experience that feeds as much of our community in one go. 

If you’re reading and wondering what the major allergens are, here in the US it’s: Wheat, Milk, Egg, Soy, Peanut, Tree Nuts (including Coconut), Fish, and Shellfish. As of January 2022, Sesame is number nine. From there, I personally see allergies to corn, oat, legumes (beans), beef, banana, and alliums (onions and garlic) the most. When I see someone’s avoid list, my brain starts thinking of recipes that are dominated by their avoid list, then I think of all the ways I can work around it. As someone with only 9 safe ingredients to work with, I’ve been able to create muffins, cookies, cake, ice cream, and more. That should tell you how creative I can get with an ingredient in the kitchen. It also means that I’m able to create an exponential number of combinations in the kitchen for everyone else. 

Let’s look at wheat (and gluten).

No cheese mac n cheese, one of many free-from recipes.
No cheese mac n cheese

Gluten has really cool properties that you’ll never replace without the use of a gluten containing grain. This includes the window pane test in bread making (go watch a video of that, super cool). However, we sure can get close in other ways (think taste and texture). The secret to working without wheat: BLEND. Yes, I’m sharing the secrets of the universe here. 

When you blend flours, you’re able to better recreate what wheat does in common recipes. You’ll want to always use a lightweight starch such as arrowroot in your blend to produce a better crumb. As you explore gluten-free pseudo-grains, you’ll learn a lot… millet tastes like corn in large amounts. Sorghum and brown rice flour produce the most neutral of tastes. Oat flour absorbs liquid differently. Potato starch can add a tender crumb in baked goods. Coconut flour also absorbs liquid differently but is on its own separate planet. I could go on, but you get the idea: mix them!

Now let’s take a look at milk.

Ready for the next secret of the universe? In most cases, it’s a 1:1 exchange. Yup. I hope I’ve taken the guesswork out of future conversions for you. Unless a recipe calls for something super specific such as 2% milk, whole milk, buttermilk, etc., use your go-to milk replacement. BE CAREFUL not to use sweetened and/or dairy-free milks containing vanilla in your savory recipes. That can totally throw off the end results. 

OK, let’s look at what I get questioned about the most: Eggs.

First, secret time. Eggs have 4 key functions: lift, bind, moisten, and emulsify. You might be thinking, how is that a secret? Well, you have to know what the job of the egg is in recipes in order to substitute it properly. You know “that chart” online that tells you how to sub out an egg? In most cases, they don’t tell you the application, thus rendering the chart unhelpful in most circumstances. 

Take mashed banana for example, or even a flax egg. You absolutely will NOT get your soufflé to rise with those substitutes. See my point? And when the chart says to use tomato paste, please don’t do that in your sugar cookies. Without the fine print, going egg free can feel like a nightmare. 

Instead, we need to look at the functions, and build a recipe from the ground up without the egg. If the job was to moisten, add some oil. Remember when you were a kid and you heard about putting mayo in cake? It’s because mayo is an egg-based condiment that’s super creamy and fatty. We use the oil in its place to create a great mouthfeel, add fat, flavor, and even a bit of texture. Fun fact: you can alter the rise of your baked goods based on the oil that you use. 

Pineapple tart, one of many free-from recipes.
Pineapple Tart

Now, if you’re trying to lift, that’s where rising agents come into play. For the ultimate lift, you’ll use baking powder + baking soda + acid (apple cider vinegar or lemon juice are great choices). This produces the kind of lift you see in conventional recipes. 

My favorite binding agent is a thick flax gel. It’s simple and usually gets the job done. Chia seed is another option that works well, but not nearly as universal. Chia can totally change the look and texture of baked goods. However, chia fried chicken is something else… 

Ever read the ingredient panel and wonder why a lecithin was used? It’s often the emulsifier. That’s the fancy way of saying “to bind together and/or stabilize ingredients that normally separate such as water and oil.” Another way to do this is mechanically with your blender, immersion blender, or electric mixer. 

I said allllllll of that to say this: You can absolutely have your cake and eat it too! 

As The Allergy Chef, my goal is to show people that safe and delicious food is totally attainable, so long as we approach a situation with creativity and elbow grease. As we enter the new year and think about the new foods we’d like to try, think about replacements for what you’re allergic to. If you can’t have apples, can you have pears? They are rather interchangeable. 

For those who can’t have oats, tiger nut (NOT a nut, but a poorly named tuber) is a great substitute for oat flour in baking. You can also make milk from tiger nuts as well. For those who can’t have alliums (onion, garlic, leeks, etc.), lean into fresh herbs, or nightshade-based seasonings. You can still have amazing food that’s bursting with flavor, even when you can’t have the most common aromatics. 

I’m going to leave you here for now, as I could go on forever if they let me. If you need ideas, check out our Instagram, @theallergychef. There, I share super cool free-from foods that are safe and delicious for many to enjoy, together. 

To read a lot more about this topic, be sure to visit GoRaise.net. You can find our articles and blogs under our free resources. There, I’ve shared detailed articles about flour and milk, along with other major allergens. RAISE is also the home to more than 500 recipes that are all free from gluten, wheat, egg, dairy, sesame, lupin, and more. When you’re on the site, check out our Advanced Recipe Search where you can use more than 85 filters (major allergens, less common allergens, food families, special diet types, etc.) to customize the results to meet your individual needs. 

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