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Monday, 2 August 2021

Baking for people with allergies

My mum had a birthday this week, so yesterday, we had a family barbeque to celebrate. On the back of a pretty successful barbeque on a recent camping trip, we did the all-inclusive idea again. So we have a number of allergies in the family and the idea was, as far as possible, to make all food safe for all of us. 

But that can be quite tricky! Rewind to Saturday and the great bake-off!

The Allergies


My dad is allergic to gluten but there are other family members who are coeliac and can't tolerate even small amounts of the stuff. The trouble is, gluten is in a lot of nice food! One of my dad's moans is that he often can't get what he fancies to eat in gluten-free and when he can, it's just not as nice.

Photo of the gluten-free recipe book - link below
I got a fantastic mother's day gift this year! My son and future daughter-in-law (who can't eat gluten) bought me this book:

How to make anything gluten free by Becky Excell

The author is gluten-intolerant and has spent her life creating recipes that are as near to the gluten equivalent as possible. From bread to cake to take aways, this book is full of fabulous recipes. So today, I'm baking two batches of bread rolls, one that I've made before and one that is a new recipe. I'm also baking a lemon drizzle cake. 


Also dad but again, he's not alone in the family. In theory, dairy-free cooking shouldn't be too difficult. There are plenty of substitutes out there. When eating out though, the biggest issue is that most places do gluten-free and lactose-free but trying to find something on the menu that is both... well, that might leave you with just one option, which isn't really how a menu is supposed to work. 

For our family, the other problem with the dairy alternatives, is that most of them contain carotenes, and I'm allergic to them. So we basically have few options and some of them are so niche, they are difficult to get in small town supermarkets.

Soft butter: Vitalite 
Hard butter: Flora plant
Milk: Soya milk or coconut milk
Cream: Forget it! 
Double cream: Absolutely forget it!!!


My allergy frustrates me. I've known for many years that beta-carotene is the offender. I've never really been able to eat carrots and over the years, other foods have given me bad reactions and so we've gradually worked out that the common ingredient is beta-carotene... but basically, I now avoid all carotenes.

Having said that, until we moved to Finland, it was only a handful of veg and fruit that actually triggered an allergic response. So I couldn't eat carrot, suede, beetroot, mango, apricots... that kind of thing, but I could eat lots of other things. I don't really know what happened. Repeated exposure to carrot/suede on the 'special diets' bar at school didn't help but I suspect stress, age and some unknown factors have also played a part.

The upshot is that my allergy mutates from time to time, and things I could previously eat, I suddenly (often with dramatic effect) can't. A good example of this was kale. I'd eaten it without problems for years and then suddenly had it one day and burned up from head to toe and turned beetroot red... and now I can't eat it. It was the same with carotenes as an additive. So now, I can't eat anything that has even the smallest amount of carotenes as a colouring, e.g. margarine, most ice creams... in fact many processed goods.

The main problem with this allergy, is identifying where it might be hiding. It isn't on the list of allergens, so it is rarely in bold. It is almost never in the allergy book at restaurants. You can give a list of foods to be aware of, but the list is very long and it could also be just added as 'natural flavourings and colourings'. It is E160 with/without letters after its name, vitamin A, carotenes, or sometimes something as innocuous as pumpkin seeds. 

I can tell people I'm allergic to it and they will promise to check everything but I live with it and get it wrong. I really don't expect others to manage it with much accuracy!


My brother and a cousin are allergic to nuts. One is more serious than the other and has resulted in a couple of facial transitions into the Elephant Man. Fortunately, neither of them have completely stared death in the face yet, but this is an allergy that gets worse with each exposure, so it's important not to get it wrong!

The bake-off

Burger buns

Metal mixing dough with a very sticky and wet bread dough in the bottom.
Last time, I made Becky Excell's brioche-style burger buns and they were quite nice but Neil found them a bit heavy going. So this time, I'm having a crack at her floured bread rolls. I made the first batch this morning, before waking Neil, so that if they were no good, we still had time to revert to plan B.
Baking tray with eight bread rolls on it. It is covered with cling film and is just starting to rise.
Once baked, I cut one in half, smeared it with butter and strawberry jam, and we had half each for breakfast. It was really nice but the middle was a little cakey. I wonder though, whether they'll be better when cool. Anyway, they were nice enough to attempt a second batch. 
Six cooked bread rolls, brown and crispy on top and lightly floured.
The thing with gluten-free bread is that the dough has to be really sticky and wet. I find it quite tricky to handle, especially with having a tremor! I keep meaning to weigh my empty bowl, so that I can work out the total weight of dough and divide the buns evenly. Today, I went for 5 oz on the first batch but only got seven rolls... then 4 oz on the second batch but the eighth was still quite small. 

Lemon drizzle cake

A wooden chopping board with 8 half lemons on it.
We tried this last week for the first time and fell in love with it. It has got a really strong lemony flavour and smell. It takes me a while to prepare, as zesting and juicing four lemons takes time. 

The cake mix itself is quite a runny, batter-like mix but it cooks up really nicely. The lemon drizzle always feels like overkill. It drowns the cake in the tin but in the end, it all soaks up, giving an insensely lemony flavour. Lovely! 

Sticky toffee puddings

Well I was going to photograph these. They are very popular though and we had to intervene to stop my 13 year old niece from eating them all up! She surrounded them with spray cream and added a whole strawberry. 

I normally make a sticky toffee sauce to go on top but the recipe requires double cream and we can't find a dairy free alternative that doesn't also have carotenes in. Jolly poor show from the cream manufacturers! Never mind though, pouring cream is nice too and there are alternatives for that!