Birthday Parties, Birthday Cakes and Food Allergies, oh my!

cupcakes

My daughter celebrated her birthday this month, and as usual, I planned to make her a “from scratch” cake.  She just turned six, and had never had a Birthday party (other than with family), but I always said if she asked for one, we’d do it.  So this year, she asked for one and we had one.

However, I knew for certain that one of her friends has a gluten allergy, and another is allergic to dairy and eggs.  This meant that my family’s favorite chocolate cake recipe was out if I wanted all the children to be able to eat it.

ingredients

I love to bake, but I’ve never tried any gluten free baking.  Baking can be a little bit like science, making the ingredients work together to rise and bake properly.  I knew that the gluten free part wasn’t going to be easy, but I figured I’d give it a shot anyway!

substitutions

I stuck to my recipe, but substituted rice milk, gluten free all purpose baking mix and egg replacer.

egg substitutegluten free all purpose mixegg substitute

So here’s what the recipe looked like:

  • 2 cups flour all purpose gluten free baking mix
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup hot coffee water (if you’re making this for grownups, it is fabulous with coffee, or Kahlua!)
  • 1 cup milk rice milk
  • 2 large eggs equivalent of egg replacer
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

I did all the usual: sift the dry ingredients into a bowl, add oil, water and milk and mix at medium speed for 2 minutes.  Add eggs (replacer) and vanilla and mix 2 more minutes.  Pour into greased and floured pans and bake 45 min for a 9 x 13 pan, 30 minutes for a 9″ pan, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs.  Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then remove from the pans and cool completely.  (I did these in cupcake format so we could taste test them before I tried the frosting!)

sifted ingredientsbatter

mxing cupcake batter

I honestly didn’t expect it to be this easy, and it wasn’t!  The cupcakes rose really high, then fell in the center.  Believe it or not, these chocolate pancakes actually tasted delicious, but clearly, I’m not serving them at a birthday party!

fallen cupcakes

fail cupcake

So, on to plan B!  I did some googling about gluten free baking (which is why I wasn’t surprised by my cupcake failure) and found a cake mix that received pretty good reviews.

allergen free cupcake mix

It’s made by Cherrybrook Kitchen and it’s gluten free, egg free, dairy free and nut free.  I found it in the tiny gluten free section of my grocery store, and it was $4.99 for the box, which makes a 1 layer 9″ cake or 12 cupcakes.

I just had to add water, vegetable oil and vanilla extract, and baked the cupcakes for about 20 minutes.

cupcakes

We all thought they tasted like any other boxed cake mix!  If I hadn’t made them, I wouldn’t have known they were gluten/egg/dairy/nut free!

icing ingredients
I made my usual buttercream icing, with a few substitutions (and I halved this recipe):

  • 2 sticks room temperature butter unsalted margarine
  • 2 cups Spectrum non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon Wilton’s butter flavor (this contains only artificial flavors)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 pounds powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon meringue powder
  • Milk water to thin

cupcakecupcake

The cupcakes got a thumbs up from my family.  The cake was more like boxed cake mix (duh, ha ha) than my gooey and rich chocolate cake, but you’d never know they were gluten (etc. etc.) free!  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it soy free since the vegetable oil and margarine contain soybean oil!

I made a 9″ square cake for the party.  It’s kind of boring, but I didn’t want to add dyes, in case someone has a sensitivity!

cake

I brought along lists of ingredients in each cake to the party, in case parents needed to review them.

cake ingredients lists

For fun, here’s a picture of the allergen and dye-filled cake.  Don’t make fun of me, I’m no cake decorator, but it was made with love!

birthday cakebirthday cake

Please know that I don’t know a single parent of a child with food allergies that would expect you do do/make anything special for their child.  This is something that I chose to do.  Below, I’ve put a bit more information about my experience with food allergies.  It’s not intended to tell anyone what to do!

Food allergies seem to be much more common today; I don’t remember any of my classmates having allergies when I was a kid.  As I’ve experienced food allergies with my own child, family members and friend’s children, I thought I’d share some things that I’ve discovered.  Please keep in mind that this is intended only for those who are concerned.  I do not have a child with a serious food allergy, and I do not speak for those parents. This is just my experience and point of view, I promise no one is expecting you to do these things or judging you if you don’t!

  • If you’re inviting a child to a party and you know s/he has food allergies, talk to the parent.  She may already have plans to bring a special treat for her child, so the child isn’t left out.
  • If you want to bake something that’s safe for an allergic child, ask the parent first.  Don’t be offended if they’d rather their child not eat it.  There are many types and severities of allergies, and some families make it a rule not to eat homemade treats baked outside of their home, since cross contamination can be very dangerous.
  • If there is a child who has a nut allergy, and your birthday girl has to have her favorite peanut butter icing, let the allergic child’s parent know well before the date of the party.  They may choose to leave the party before the cake is served, or decline the invitation.  Don’t take this personally!  They just want to keep their child safe!

If you decide you want to bake a treat, there are some things to keep in mind.

  • Have a list of ingredients (including brands) handy for the parent to review.  It’s not that a parent doesn’t trust you, but ultimately their child’s safety is their responsibility.
  • Make sure to read product labels carefully.  Even if a product is nut (or dairy, or egg) free, it may have been processed on the same equipment, or in the same facility as the allergen, and cross contamination is possible.
  • Be sure all of your bowls, utensils and surfaces are clean.  Wiping them won’t do it, they need to be washed and dried, preferably in the dishwasher.
  • If you are sifting ingredients, it can be difficult to get a sifter clean.  You can use a mesh sieve instead in a pinch.
  • Flour can stay in the air for many hours. If you are baking for someone allergic to gluten, make sure to clean any flour residue from your mixer, and do your gluten free baking before your regular baking (making sure completed gluten free goodies are packed away.)
  • I found out in doing this experiment that oat products can often be contaminated with gluten because they are grown near wheat and/or processed in the same facilities.
  • Of course, make sure you have different, clean serving utensils for your allergen free goodies!

Allergies can vary from easily avoidable (like my son’s F.P.I.E.S; his trigger is sweet potato) to scary and life threatening (like a nut allergy.)  If your child has a friend with a food allergy, please don’t exclude them; invite them!  Just be open with the parent so they can make sure their child is safe.

I’ve made it a habit of asking parents if their child has any food allergies before they come over to play, since I usually offer a snack to the kids.  It’s a great idea to teach your kids about food allergies too.  I’m still trying to get my daughter to understand that food allergies aren’t the same as dust making someone sneeze, without making it seem too scary.

  • My daughter’s school has a “no sharing food” policy.  Sharing is nice, but if you share food, it can be dangerous.
  • Teach your child to always ask the child’s parent, before offering to share with the child.  My daughter wanted to share her snack with a boy on the playground, who turned out to be allergic to dairy/egg/soy after we asked his mom!

The bottom line is that parents of allergic children don’t expect special treatment, they just want to keep their kids safe.  After getting to know some Moms whose sons have nut allergies, I am so thankful that my children don’t!

Does someone you love have a food allergy?

Fitteds and Pockets and Snappis, oh my!

Comments

  1. 2

    This was beautifully written! Thank you for drawing attention to this subject. My son is severely allergic to peanuts, but also other foods, including eggs. (We use the same egg replacer..love it!) It’s so tough when others do not understand that your child can actuall die from this. It’s like poison for their bodies.
    I love this statement…”The bottom line is that parents of allergic children don’t expect special treatment, they just want to keep their kids safe.” So perfectly put!

  2. 3

    Great post! With so many kids with allergies and sensitivities to food, we all should be educated about alternatives ways to prepare meals even if our kid is not affected because no one wants to feel like the odd one out

  3. 4

    My daughter has a life threatening egg allergy (and an under developed throat). I really appreciate the post and the effort you recently made. My son’t birthday was last month and two kids in his class have food allergies. I sent an email to the moms and asked what they wanted me to do. They were very thankful that I made the effort.

    On a side note…If you have a whole foods near you, their vegan cupcake is really great for egg/milk allergies.

  4. 5

    Thank you very much for a wonderful cake. Your step by step procedure is very much explainatory. My daughter is going to celebrate her first birthday in another 2 months. She is allergic to milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanut and lot more. Your allergy free cake made me feel happy that I can have a birthday party with a cake which my little one can eat. I appreciate your good work.

  5. 6

    Thank you si much for this information my 3 years old daughter is allergic to soy, milk, wheat, eggs, nuts, etc. and her birthday it’s coming, I will try the recipe definitely we so excite !

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