Not having nuts does not mean it is “Nut Free”

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Last night I was watching one of my favorite TV shows – Cupcake Wars.  It was round 2 and the bakers needed to make 3 cupcakes that captured the essence of childhood fun & imagination.  One of the bakers chose to make a hazelnut cupcake and then decided to make an allergen free cupcake: gluten, egg, dairy and nut free.  I admired her desire to address the growing need for allergen safe food among children.  However, given her limited time frame, I have serious doubts the nut free cupcake was truly nut free.  While it didn’t have any nuts as an ingredient; surely it was made with the same utensils and equipment as the hazelnut cupcake.  The probability that it was 100% nut free was greatly diminished by the prospect that it was subject to cross contamination.

Cross contamination is what happens when one food item is inadvertently transferred to another food item, often by way of unwashed utensils or equipment, such as spatulas and other mixing bowls, or even unwashed hands. Cross contamination could turn a seemingly safe treat into a life threatening event.

About 8 months ago I opened a nut free bakery to address this very issue.  Traditional bakeries offer the prospect of cross contamination even if the item doesn’t have nuts in any of the ingredients.  Consider the baker that doesn’t change their latex gloves as they go from filling the case with peanut butter cookies to chocolate chip.  What if a baker used the same spoon to scoop walnuts into one batter and raisins into another?  Even if a bakery is careful to watch out for this type of cross contamination, it’s hard to know if the ingredients they purchase from their vendors are not cross contaminated themselves.   Just look at the back of any prepackaged national baked product or even the ingredients you use yourselves at home and it won’t take long before you find one of many variations of the voluntary warning statement “processed on shared equipment with peanuts and tree nuts”.

If you or someone you know has a nut allergy, be vigilant.  Just because a food item doesn’t have “nuts” as an ingredient, it doesn’t guarantee that it is nut free.  Read labels, talk to the bakers and chefs and know without a doubt that it’s truly nut free before allowing yourself or loved ones to eat it.

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Super Easy Homemade Ice Cream Cakes

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Summer’s here and ice cream is the dessert of choice and ice cream cakes are popular choices for celebrations.   If you don’t want to spend lots of money buying a premade cake, here’s a super easy way to make your own!

 

 

Here’s what you do:

Step 1 – Make a quarter sheet cake (9×11) with your favorite recipe or box mix.

Step 2 – Remove it from the pan, wrap it up and freeze your cake for at least an hour or more.

Step 3 – Take a box of ice cream (like the one pictured above) and cut the box in half horizontally.  A long serrated knife should do the job.

Step 4 – Take your frozen cake out of the freezer and place each half on top of the cake.  Peel off the cardboard.

Step 5 – Freeze your cake with ice cream on top for at least an hour.

Step 6 – Ice your cake; then freeze it again for another 30 minutes.

Step 7 – Decorate your cake and freeze until you want to serve it.

Pastel Rose Cake** If you don’t want to buy premade ice cream or can’t find the box kind, you can line a quarter sheet pan with foil, fill it with soft ice cream and refreeze to form.**

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Cake Baking Chemistry 101

whitecake9A basic cake recipe has the following ingredients:  flour, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla extract, baking powder, salt and milk.  We are all pretty familiar with these items and can follow a cake recipe quite easily.  But do you know how each ingredient contributes to your baked cake and why.  If you understand how each ingredient plays a role in your cake you can manipulate them to get your desired cake texture, density and taste.

Flour – Flour provides the structure for your cake.  When mixed with a liquid and baked the proteins in flour bond together to form the cake.  When baking a cake, it’s best to use cake flour.  Cake flour has fewer proteins to allow for a fluffier structure.

Sugar – Sugar adds sweetness of course, but it also helps the browning process.

Butter – Butter or other fats, such as oil, create the texture of your cake.  The fats coat the proteins in the flour.  While butter will give you a richer taste, oils are better at coating the proteins and as such will generate a moisture texture.  Butter is best creamed at room temperature.  If too cold or too soft your air pockets will not whip up correctly (see baking powder).

Eggs – The whites of the eggs act as a leavener, while the yolk adds richness and moisture.  It’s important that your eggs be at room temperature when combining your ingredients, this will allow them to mix correctly with the sugar and butter.

Vanilla Extract – Vanilla adds sweetness and flavor

Baking Powder – Baking powder is a leavener.  It releases carbon dioxide to create air bubbles that act to puff up your cake.  Creaming butter allows the butter to whip up and create opportunities for air bubbles.

Milk – Milk helps with the moisture of the cake but also contributes to the texture by bonding with the proteins in the flour.  You could also use buttermilk.  The acidic properties in buttermilk react to the baking powder releasing even more carbon dioxide, contributing to a fluffier cake.

Salt – Salt balances the sweet taste in a cake and helps to enhance the other flavors.

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Chewing Gum Chasers

orbit sweet mintBetcha can’t eat just one?  Lays coined this oh so true phrase to describe their potato chips.  Betcha can’t have just one bite pretty much describes eating sweets.  The first bite is intoxicating and immediately induces cravings for more.  Before you know it, one bite of a cookie or brownie ends up with every last crumb nowhere to be seen.

As a baker, I have to test my products.  I wouldn’t serve anything to anyone that I have not tried personally.   So you can imagine how hard it is for a sweetaholic like myself not to want to eat sugary treats all day.  Thankfully, I discovered something that has been wonderful for allowing me to taste my baked goods while not eating them all at the same time – chewing gum.   Ironically, my favorite go to gum is Orbit’s Sweet Mint.

If I pop in a piece of gum right after tasting a brownie almost immediately the sweet chocolaty taste is replaced by the overpowering flavor of mint.  The chewing of the gum keeps my mouth busy when it thinks it should be chewing additional bites of brownie.  These chewing gum chasers as I call them have spared me thousands of calories.

Whether you are a baker or not, if you want to truly, “just have a bite”, keep a piece of gum handy and your probability of not polishing off that treat will improve greatly.

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Super Easy: Make your own Peanut and Tree Nut Free Chocolate Easter Bunny

chocolate bunnyYesterday I went to Target in search of Easter treats for my nut allergic son.  There must have been more than a dozen different chocolate bunnies to choose from.  Solid ones, hollow ones, small ones, bunnies over a foot tall, etc.  Each and every one had a disclaimer printed on the package that implied it might not be safe for those with peanut or tree nut allergies.  It was very disheartening.  Biting the ears off a chocolate bunny on Easter is a privilege every child should have the opportunity to enjoy.

As I was about to leave, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a kit for Jello Jigglers.  For someone shopping for chocolate bunnies, Jello clearly would not be a suitable substitute.  However, what caught my eye was the mold that the Jigglers kit came with – it had a bunny in it.  I didn’t see a potential Jello bunny when I saw this mold, what I saw was a safe chocolate bunny for my son.  So I bought the Jello Kit.

jello jigglersIf you’ve got a bag of safe chocolate chips (I use Guittard) and a microwave you can make a safe bunny too.   Microwave a cup of chocolate chips in a glass container for about a minute.  Spoon the chocolate into the mold (only about half way or the bunny will be too thick to eat).  Refrigerate for about 30 minutes and pop out.  If you want to get fancy you can make some royal icing and color in the ears and eyes.

The mold also had a butterfly, duck and egg if you want to make other shaped chocolate treats.  I found my Jello Jigglers kit at Target for about $5 but I imagine you could go to Walmart or some other stores as well.

Happy Easter!

 

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The Emergency Cupcake

Confetti SprinklesBirthday parties, class room parties, holiday play dates, when you’re a parent of a child with nut allergies these seemingly happy events can terrify you. That’s because we know that there will be sweet treats and the odds that they are safe are slim to none. Sure they may not have nuts in them, like the cupcake pictured here, but that doesn’t eliminate the risk.  Bakeries pride themselves on their peanut butter and nut creations.  In doing so, they pose a risk for cross contamination.

So for moms, like me, that means always being prepared with a safe “emergency cupcake”.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be a cupcake but it’s important to have on hand a treat just as good as whatever is being served, because lets face it, having a nut allergy doesn’t mean our kids don’t deserve sweet treats just as much as any other child.

Some tips to help you always have handy your emergency cupcake:

-Bake cupcakes in advance and freeze them.  They can safely be frozen for up to a month without any freezer burn.  Before you freeze your cupcake, decorate it, buttercream icing or even whipped icing will freeze well.

-Go to Michaels and buy some single cupcake boxes so you can transport your cupcake without a mess.

If you have a party to go to, just take out the cupcake about an hour before you leave put it in a box and go.

For those pesky unexpected birthday or other random celebrations in school, you can keep a treat in your child’s backpack.  Cake pops travel well.  Chocolate dipped rice cereal treats, cookies or even brownies are good solutions too.  If packed well these items could last the school week in a back pack.  You can freeze the rest of the batch and take them out one at a time.  Some may go to waste but better a wasted brownie than a child who sits eating gold-fish while the rest of the class ate a fun sweet treat.

If you’re not a baker what-so-ever, than seek out a commercial nut free bakery and buy a freeze some treats.  I happen to have a nut free bakery (Dreamy Desserts) and know of many others so there are options out there.

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Fun Valentine’s Day Facts

Valentine Cookies 3Valentine’s Day dates all the way back to 270AD in Rome.

The red rose was the favorite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love.

Approximately 110 million roses, mostly red, will be sold and delivered within the three-day Valentine’s Day time period.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries were invented by an Italian women, it is said that Lorraine Lorusso was the creator during the 1960’s. She introduced them at a store named “Stop n Shop” located in Chicago, Illinois.

More than 35 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate will be sold for Valentine’s Day.

Approximately 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually, making Valentine’s Day the second most popular card-sending holiday after Christmas.

Women purchase approximately 85 percent of all valentines.

73% of people who buy flowers for Valentine’s Day are men.

Many believe the ‘X’ symbol became synonymous with the kiss in medieval times. People who couldn’t write their names signed in front of a witness with an ‘X.’ The ‘X’ was then kissed to show their sincerity.

About 3% of pet owners will give Valentine’s Day gifts to their pets.

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