Hello dear healthy foodies! It’s Christine here with a one-of-a-kind Sweet-Tooth Friday: my first interview! Last week my world was rocked when I made gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free and nut-free Pineapple Upside Down cake from Elizabeth Gordon’s new book, Allergy-Free Desserts. This week you get to listen in on my chat with Elizabeth herself! How cool is that she checked in with us NMA-ers, especially when her next interview was on Sirius Radio’s Martha Stewart Everyday Food Show!
Elizabeth immediately got a lot of street-cred with me when I found out she interned for famed cake designer Elisa Strauss at Confetti Cakes. Ok so maybe you aren’t a cake-dork like me, but surely, ladies, you remember Charlotte’s wedding cake on Sex in the City? The clean and funky sculpted cake designs from The Confetti Cakes Cookbook have been a real inspiration to me in seeing how artful dessert can be.
I was excited to learn that Elizabeth is not just all about allergy-free baking, she also loves to run! She ran competitively in high school and college and still pounds the pavement today.
Anyway we chatted for a bit, so I bolded some of her more important insights about gluten-free baking if you want to skip around.
Christine: Thank you so much for sending me a copy of your book. It’s really pretty, I love the photography.
Elizabeth: Thank you!
C: Yeah, it’s just gorgeous. I did try out a recipe already- I did the cinnamon buns since you said those were your favorites.
E: Oh yeah? How did they turn out?
C: They were great! I was really impressed.
E: Oh good! Oh I’m so glad!
C: Yeah I’ve tried other gluten-free stuff before and it has always had that gritty essence.
E: Yeah that’s a real problem with rice flour which is why for this book I decided to stick with the bean flours. But I have been playing around with a little bit with rice lately and I find that the secret is to use Chinese rice flour.
C: Oh really? What is that, is it like sweeter?
E: It has a finer grind, it’s not as gritty. In one of my recipes in the book I have a cookie crust (no bake crust) for pie and I do use regular rice flour for that because I feel if you’re making something that is supposed to mimic a graham crumb cracker crust it is supposed to be a little gritty, but for most things you don’t want grit in your cookies or cakes.
C: So I’m really excited to try out some more recipes. Usually when I bake I do vegan, which is without the eggs and dairy of course, and I try to stay low on the sugar and use alternative flours. I had never heard of the Lyle’s Golden Syrup before your book. How did you find out about that?
E: One of my really good friends is British and my thinking in using that is that her husband is American and he’s a doctor, and he is very kind of laid back about foods and doesn’t really care what the children eat except for corn syrup. So I wanted to make something that would was like a marshmallow and like a decorating icing, and to do those two things in traditional American baking you usually would use corn syrup, and I couldn’t get the agave to work because it’s a little thinner, I couldn’t get it to do what I needed it to do…And I was walking with my friend one day and she just said, “Oh you’ve never heard of Lyle’s? In great Britain we use it for EVERYTHING.” It’s just cooked down sugar.
C: Yeah I saw the only ingredient is cane syrup. I recently got a big piece of cane sugar at the grocery store- I’ve never seen one before and was going to cook it down and see what happened.
E: Oh that’s interesting, let me know how that goes I’ve never done that before.
C: So, are you actually allergic to all the things that your book caters to?
E: I am allergic to wheat and eggs, and about the same time I found out I was allergic one of my closest friends had a baby who was diagnosed with severe soy and dairy allergies. So she was nursing this baby which means she couldn’t eat any soy or dairy. So I was like the more the merrier with all these food allergies, I’m going to give myself a challenge and see if I can make something for everyone. You know also I have kids and it’s worked out well that I did this because it makes for great treats that you can bring into the schools. (In NYC kids are not allowed to bring anything to school that has a nut in it. And a lot of the kids have dairy and soy allergies. This is a treat that you can bring to everyone’s classroom, (for the most part- you should still check with the teacher obviously) but it makes life a little easier for moms. I’m not sure if it’s a law in NYC, it’s just become an accepted norm and most schools have that requirement.
C: Do your daughters have your same allergies?
E: No they are very lucky they weren’t diagnosed with food allergies. My youngest daughter had a hard time starting with solid foods, she had some intolerance at the beginning but she seems to have outgrown them.
C: So I have been hearing a lot more about gluten-free baking even without intolerance to it- do you think that the allergy to it is on the rise or just awareness is increasing?
E: I don’t know, you know people ask me that about autism all the time too because a lot of autistic kids aren’t allowed to eat gluten or dairy. I think awareness is rising, because there are a lot of great charities out there now like the NFCA, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness who have a lot of famous spokespeople and are able to raise money for awareness and therefore are really spreading the word so they are making this disease more accepted mainstream. And so there’s more food available for people like me who do have food allergies. And as more and more people hear about it, they hear the symptoms and go “oh my gosh, that’s been happening to me and then they go get a test.” So I don’t know if the awareness is increasing the diagnosis or the diagnosis is increasing awareness.
C: That makes sense. So do you guys eat mostly gluten free at home or are you able to have some other types of food at home for your husband and kids?
E: My husband and kids do not eat gluten-free, I mean I cook every night for dinner and I try to make stuff all of us can eat, so you know I’ll make polenta for dinner instead of pasta or I’ll make risotto instead of pasta or rice. But my kids are kids so they do love pasta, and I let them have it. It’s only been recently that I’ve discovered corn and quinoa pasta which I think is great and has a much better consistency when cooked than rice pasta.
C: Oh yeah I love quinoa. So what is your favorite dessert in the book to make for your family?
E: I think my favorite dessert to eat in the book is the one that you made, the cinnamon rolls. My daughters love the red velvet cake.
C: Oh I almost made that and I thought I’d just use natural food coloring, until I saw your little tip—
E: -oh yea don’t use natural [beet] food coloring it will taste so bad.
C: It’s so funny because one time for one of my Sweet-Tooth Friday posts I made red velvet beet cupcakes specifically with beets and I just never posted it because it was just so bad. It was disappointing because they were really pretty but just tasted like dirt.
E: I was really excited the first time I tried the recipe and I was so excited because I had used natural food coloring, and I was like “Look at me, I’m so clever that I did something natural” and then I took a bite and my husband couldn’t even eat it- it was so disgusting. But back to the recipes, they rice crispy treats are always a hit with my girls, they love to make those and I actually like to make those with them because they are pretty quick and easy and there’s a lot of stuff for them to pour in.
C: I saw you called for gluten-free rice crispies- aren’t regular rice crispies already gluten free?
E: No, regular rice crispies are not gluten-free, they do contain wheat. The one mainstream cereal that I know of that has always been gluten-free is Rice Chex.
C: Oh yeah I love Chocolate Rice Chex, they say largely on the box “gluten-free” so I guess they are advertising it now.
E: Yeah so if you just go to the supermarket and want to grab something easy the Rice Chex are always gluten free but the rice crispies aren’t, so you have to look for the brand Erewhorn crisped rice, not puffed rice, which would be terrible.
C: What do you think would be one of the trickiest ingredients in store bought food that people wouldn’t realize contains gluten or nuts?
E: I think people who just decide you know that ‘everyone around me is trying to avoid wheat,’ or ‘I’ve got a loved one that I want to bake for,’ might be fooled by spelt. They might go to the store and think oh it’s spelt, it’s not wheat but actually spelt is glutinous and is part of the wheat family.
C: One that I was surprised by was alcohol, like vanilla extract can be grain alcohol so I needed to get alcohol-free vanilla.
E: Well you can actually call the manufacturer and find out what kind of grain they use for the alcohol because a lot of times it’s corn. At home I use Penzeys Double Vanilla Extract and it is gluten-free, I checked with the manufacturer.
C: Yeah anytime I’ve done an order for gluten-free I’ve had to spend so much time online, checking the food coloring and the sprinkles to see if there’s anything random in them.
E: Yeah the sprinkles, you think they are just sugar but sometimes they have soy in them, so I usually just use the colored sugar crystals.
C: Oh that makes sense! So a lot of prepackaged food seems to randomly say ‘may contain traces of…’ or ‘shares processing equipment with…’ Do you think a lot of that food could be safe for people with celiac disease and [the label] is just put on there because of the liability issue?
E: That’s a really tricky question that I’m probably not qualified to answer. Well I can tell you, for example, this I know this for sure, that Bob’s Red Mill, which I’m a big fan of their flours, they will say “manufactured in a plant that processes I think it’s almonds or something to that effect.” So I called them, panicked, thinking ‘oh my god my food is contaminated.’ They said they had to say that because it’s segregated manufacturing but because the almond flour is on one side of the warehouse, and walls are up in between and there is another wall, and they do their flour on the other side, they are required by law to say that. So that’s why that’s a tricky question because I don’t know what every manufacturing facility looks like. I don’t know if they are co-packers and run things on the same line- then I would say very dangerous, or if it’s just semantics, I don’t know. I guess the answer that I would like to see on your blog is that I’m not qualified to answer that and that you should always call the manufacturer.
C: So with your own baking company (Betsy and Claude) were there any issues like that, where you had to label your baked goods a certain way?
E: No, I got a new space, I got all new equipment. Nothing with flour has ever entered that space or the oven. All of the ingredients have been kept out. And now I’ve switched to just doing private events rather than a pound of cookies here and there, so I am baking less and less and focusing more and more on really big projects like working on a wedding cake, or—
C: —more cookbooks! I think I am going to make your pineapple upside down cake next. So what is one thing that you’d like the NMA readers to take away knowing about your book?
E: That it is a labor of love, that I wrote it so my family and I could enjoy the desserts, but also so that no one would miss out on that part of childhood, or be forced to always have a separate dessert at birthday parties or at school. I want everyone to know that they don’t have to forsake tasty desserts just because they have allergies. Thanks again and so glad that you enjoyed the recipes!
C: Thank you so much for talking with me today!
It really is obvious that Allergy-Free Desserts is a labor of love for Elizabeth Gordon. The book does a great job explaining what alternative ingredients you need for allergy-free baking and how they work to replicate the structure and taste of traditional desserts. I really liked the tips and sidenotes throughout the book- especially when making these yeast-risen cinnamon buns. The tips anticipated my troubles (gluten-free dough rises a lot differently than regular dough) and instructed me on how to handle obstacles.
Oh by the way, since picking up a bottle of Lyle’s golden syrup I’ve become so hooked on it! It has that pleasant burnt caramelized taste, like the top of creme brulee. I’ve been putting it in my tea, mixing it with balsamic vinegar and oil to roast brussel sprouts, and adding it with lime and coconut to my Thai curries. Yum!
If you haven’t yet, check out the recipe for Allergy-Free Pineapple Upside-Down Cake from last Sweet-Tooth Friday. You can find the recipe for these AMAZING cinnamon buns (even my dad liked them, and he’s a toughie) in Elizabeth’s Gordon’s new book, Allergy-Free Desserts. To hear more from Elizabeth, check out her blog My Allergy-Free Life.
Until next time, stay sweet!