Homes filled with scents of baking spices, gingerbread houses topped with icing and candies, star-shaped cookies doused in sprinkles: baking cookies with loved ones is part of many families’ holiday traditions. Whether they’re baked from scratch with an old family recipe or from a boxed mix, this activity brings people together and builds memories. For those with food allergies, baking can pose a challenge. Among the list of top allergens are milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts and wheat – all ingredients common in cookie recipes.
When baking for someone with dietary restrictions, keep these tips in mind:
Avoid cross contamination. Trace amounts of an allergen can cause symptoms in someone with food allergies. Be sure to clean surfaces and wash hands with warm soapy water before touching safe foods. Use separate cookware and utensils when handling allergy-free ingredients. For example, if butter is spread on wheat toast and then the knife is placed back into the butter, the butter is no longer safe and will contain traces of wheat.
Read ingredient lists. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “the name of the food source of a major allergen must appear: in parentheses following the name of the ingredient. Examples: ‘lecithin (soy),’ ‘flour (wheat),’ and ‘whey (milk)’ or immediately after or next to the list of ingredients in a ‘contains’ statement. Example: ‘Contains Wheat, Milk, and Soy.’”
Pay attention to toppings. Common baking additions and toppings may have ingredients with allergens. For example, while icing may seem like a simple ingredient, it may contain dairy, traces of nuts and wheat. The same applies to chocolate chips and candies.
Baking is a science, and most ingredients play an important role in the structure and texture of the final product. Substitutes may therefore taste and appear different than the original recipe.
Here are some common substitutes to try:
- If the egg’s intended purpose in a recipe is to bind ingredients together, a tablespoon of apple sauce or almond butter can be substituted. Egg replacers often made from potato starch and tapioca flour are becoming more common in grocery stores and can also be used.
- Gluten-free 1:1 baking flour blends tend to mimic wheat flour the best in recipes. However, flours made from almonds, cashews, chickpeas, rice or potatoes are also options. Keep in mind that nut-based flour alternatives may produce a coarser texture.
- Use a milk substitute such as oat, almond, rice or cashew milk if cow’s milk cannot be used. Keep the fat content in mind. For example, if a recipe calls for full fat milk, use a creamy oat milk.
- Use a milk substitute and add a tablespoon of lemon juice per cup of milk. Stir and allow to sit for five minutes before use.
Try one of these inclusive holiday cookie recipes to help accommodate friends and family with dietary needs:
Cardamom Chocolate Chip Cookies
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Recipe difficulty: Easy
Yield: 30-35 cookies
The chocolate chip cookie is a classic for a reason. In this recipe, cardamom sweet, peppery and aromatic flavor is added to bring a unique flavor. The cookies are topped with sea salt to create a balance in flavor. These cookies are free of milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, soy and sesame. This recipe was adapted from verybestbaking.com/toll-house/recipes/allergen-free-chocolate-chip-cookies/
- 1 1/2 cups gluten-free 1:1 baking flour blend (ex: King Arthur)
- 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 cup palm oil-based vegetable shortening
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 Tbsp. ground cardamom
- 1/3 cup room temperature water or oat milk
- 4 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cup allergen-free semi-sweet chocolate morsels
- 1 tsp. flaky sea salt
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a small bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder.
- In a separate large bowl, beat shortening, brown sugar and granulated sugar until well combined. Mixture will look sandy. Add oat milk or water, cardamom and vanilla extract and mix well. Gradually beat in flour mixture until smooth. Stir in chocolate morsels.
- Scoop a dollop of the cookie batter onto the baking sheet and flatten with the bottom of a spoon.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until surface is golden.
- Remove from oven and allow to cook on baking sheets for 10 minutes. Remove cookies to wire racks to cool completely. Top with flaky sea salt. Store in an airtight container.
Chocolate-dipped Shortbread Cookies with Crushed Candy Canes
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Recipe difficulty: Medium
Yield: 20 cookies
Shortbread cookies are a favorite for many because of their crisp and balanced nature. Using almond flour in the recipe adds a unique nuttiness. Simply dip the cookies in melted allergen-free chocolate morsels and top with crushed candy canes. These cookies are free of milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, soy and sesame. This recipe was adapted from: https://minimalistbaker.com/vegan-gluten-free-shortbread-cookies-1-bowl/
- 1 cup almond flour
- 3/4 cup gluten-free 1:1 flour blend
- 1/2 cup tapioca flour or corn starch
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. sea salt
- 1/3 cup palm oil-based vegetable shortening
- 6 Tbsp. maple syrup
- 1 ½ cup allergen-free semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 3 allergy-friendly candy canes, crushed
- Preheat the oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together almond flour, gluten-free flour blend, tapioca flour, baking soda, and salt until well combined.
- Add palm oil-based vegetable shortening and mix with clean hands or spatula until smooth. The texture should look sandy.
- Add maple syrup and mix with a spatula until combined. It should look like play dough.
- Place a piece of parchment or wax paper on the counter and transfer the cookie dough onto the paper. Mold the dough together into a disc and place another piece of parchment or wax paper on top of the dough.
- Using a rolling pin, begin rolling the dough between the pieces of paper until it is 1/4-inch thick.
- Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as possible.
- Use a spatula or butter knife to carefully transfer the cookies to the parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges just begin to turn golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 10 minutes on the baking sheet.
- Place the dairy free chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for one minute, stir the chocolate, and if needed, microwave for 15 second intervals until melted.
- Once the cookies are cool, dip in the melted chocolate then sprinkle candy cane pieces on top. Place the tray in the refrigerator so that the chocolate can firm up before serving.
Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan based in Detroit. Passionate about the science of nutrition and behavior, Shanthi has experience working in clinical nutrition, public health and teaching in the university setting. In her free time, she enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, exploring the outdoors, working on art and spending time with family. For more recipes and health information, visit ahealthiermichigan.org.
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