“We wanted to help other parents and caregivers so they didn’t have to reinvent the wheel,” said Mary Harris, who with Wilma Nachsin co-wrote “My Kid’s Allergic to Everything Dessert Cookbook.”

Faced with the challenge of feeding their children who had severe food allergies, the two women spent years concocting a combination of ingredients that would keep their kids well-nourished and out of the emergency room.

The pair described their quest for alternatives to wheat flour, corn, eggs and dairy products at an Evanston Public Library event Sunday.

Because the authors found many allergy cookbooks geared towards adults, they wanted to create a collection of dessert and snack recipes for children.

Harris said it was hard to explain to her 4-year-old son why he could not eat cake and ice cream at school parties. “He wanted a ninja turtle cake for his birthday,” she said. So she baked one from scratch.

Once Harris even made her son’s class allergen-free chocolate chip cookies and to help him fit in with the other kids, covertly placed them in an empty Famous Amos bag.

The cookbook includes several detailed ingredient conversion charts and more than 100 recipes such as Gluten-free Orange Snaps, Nutty Brown Rice Pudding and Aaron’s Honey Barley Cookies.

There are many flours made from grains and seeds, but their properties differ, which makes finding the right combination difficult, Nachsin noted.

Harris and Nachsin offered tips for baking with less common ingredients: barley flour makes a finer cookie, applesauce will add bulk if you replace sugar with Stevia (a naturally sweet South American herb) and use only alcohol-free vanilla to avoid an allergic reaction to the grain alcohol or substitute instead with cognac or brandy, which are made from grapes.

Any dessert can be prepared by using a variety of flour combinations: one-quarter cup of rice flour and three-quarters of a cup of amaranth can replace one cup of unbleached white flour in cupcake recipes, according to the chart.

While researching allergen-free products, Harris and Nachsin found ketchup is almost always made with corn syrup and most commercial baking powder and confectioner’s sugar contains added cornstarch to prevent clumping. The baking duo said parents should be diligent about reading food labels and call manufacturers if they have any questions about unlisted ingredients.

The authors brought samples for their small library audience. Visitors compared the tastes and textures of three different honey cakes, going back for seconds and thirds. One cake was gluten-free, another was baked with Stevia instead of sugar and a third was crafted with spelt and rye flour.

A table adorned with colorful flours and sweeteners served as interactive display, inviting people to touch and smell the ingredients featured in the recipes: coconut, oat and barley flours, agave syrup, Stevia and others.

“The beauty of using alternative flours and alternative ingredients is that you’re really getting a variety of ingredients and more nutritional value,” Nachsin said. “Don’t be afraid to experiment.”  

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