It has been a year now since we were advised to remove all dairy and gluten containing foods from Zac’s diet. In that time I have experimented with a variety of different foods to keep his diet balanced and his palate amused.
I have always loved cooking from scratch. So making nutritious dairy and gluten free meals has been an enjoyable challenge. We have all enjoyed the results and it is always so satisfying to see him tucking into a very healthy home cooked meal.
But sometimes, the boy needs a sweet treat. I know none of us should eat too many sweet things, but Zac is a very active and hungry three year old and snacking is hard for him – so I do indulge his sweet tooth from time to time. It is not like I can give him cheese and crackers, so the snack options are limited. He does have some ‘safe’ breadsticks and will eat fruit – but I have been advised not to let him eat too much as that can aggravate his tummy and may be bad for his teeth. A three year old is not supposed to have a high fibre diet, so even if he would eat raw carrots or peppers, I would still have to be careful about his daily intake of fruit and vegetables.
So when he fancies a cake or biscuit we reach into our stock of ‘free from’ treats bought in the supermarkets. I have to confess our cupboard is getting fuller and fuller. My very caring friends and family often buy them for him, but he is just not crazy about them and he is just not getting through them.
They are so expensive, and they often taste pretty grim, so this has been my motivation to try a bit of home baking. I don’t really like eating cakes or biscuits and never wanted my children to overeat junk either, but from time to time I think a child can have a sweet treat and so I have started to make my own. I have met with some success and other experiments have been less well executed.
I have tried some recipes that I have found online, others from the back of Doves Farm Flour Packets. Some were ‘normal’ recipes that I have tried to adapt and I have even tried some packet mixes. If you are new to free from cooking, they are a great starting place. Buying in all the free from ingredients can be costly and I often try a packet mix first and if the children like the results, I then try and cook from scratch the next time. I don’t like to waste my time or money on making things that will end up in the bin. But to be honest anything is better than the shop bought cakes, which I am highly suspicious of, as they seem to contain a scary list of ingredients and although they won’t aggravate Zac’s condition, I don’t know they are not causing other harm that will manifest later in life.
The brand I like the best is Hale and Hearty. They make a huge variety of packet mixes, e.g. bread, cookies, muffins, pancakes and brownies. I have found the widest range available in Sainsbury’s. They are always so simple and quick to use and not a bad price. You still get that fresh baked taste and aroma so are enough to make me feel like a ‘good Mummy’ when I present them to my children.
Last week, I decided to try and make chocolate brownies and cupcakes. We are all chocolate lovers in this family so anything that looks like a chocolatey treat but is dairy and gluten free is always appealing.
I am happy to say the instructions looked extremely simple, so I decided to make both at the same time. I thought it would be good to have a back- up in case I messed one up. Always, a possibility with me – even with a packet mix. My problem is that I am a bit slapdash and not so great with the measuring. The other problem is that I am relatively new to baking and don’t have a full range of equipment, so tend to improvise a lot and I have learned that is not always a good idea.
That is what happened here. I did, for once, follow the instructions carefully. But I had some odd sized muffin/cupcake cases and was not very careful when pouring the mixture in. I thought it would be ok. I was wrong. As the time went on, I peered through the oven door and saw them rising beautifully. Then I noticed a couple of them had blown up like balloons and then burst, leaving a flat top and oozing mixture over the side! Oh dear.
Then I checked the brownies. I couldn’t find a really small brownie tin, so had used what I thought was a small baking tin. But it must have been too big, as the brownies had hardly risen at all. They looked more like a thick, rectangular American style pancake. I didn’t think my children, or husband would mind, so decided not to give up on them. I let them cook for the full amount of time.
But the most important thing is that they tasted great. So even though they would win no prizes for looks, we all enjoyed eating them and that is the point. A dollop of dairy free ice cream and a few slices of banana, a sprinkle of Moo Free chocolate drops and they would become a truly heavenly dessert and no-one would ever know how they looked when they came out of the oven.
A competent baker with the right equipment, should easily be able to replicate the picture from the box, therefore you can take this as a wholehearted recommendation for the Hale and Hearty packet mixes. Definitely worth a try.