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Friday, May 20, 2011

When Life Hands You Lemons, Make an Egg-Free Lemon Cake

Thanks to all those who shared such wonderful comments regarding my last post.  It was truly from the heart, and I really do believe that we all possess some kind of inner strength that sometimes takes us by surprise when we are put to the test. 
It seems like I have been musing over this for some time because I recently found a personal essay I wrote about a year ago (a bit more anecdotal) that was never published (what’s wrong with these editors)?  Nevertheless, I felt that it would be most appropriate for my blog today.  I am also including a recipe for allergy (egg, nut, dairy) free lemon cupcakes. Who knows…perhaps they will become my signature cake. 
Essay:
I used to be a terrible baker. My cookies consistently resembled pucks or chew toys, and my cupcakes traumatized the family for months. I disregarded all rules about precision when I made my first banana bread.  I switched the flours, replaced the butter, added honey in lieu of sugar and carelessly threw in some chocolate chips. The results were disastrous. My kids refused to be in the same room with it.  The knife broke when I tried to cut it up; even the ducks at our nearby pond squawked at it in disgust. I vowed to my family (amidst audible sighs of relief) that I was throwing in the oven mitts and leaving baked goods to the experts.

When my son was diagnosed with severe egg and nut allergies three years ago, I was the proverbial deer in the headlights.   Armed with little knowledge, no baking skills, and a supremely fussy, allergic three-year old, I spent many days crying, frustrated and guilt ridden. Between his allergies and my vegetarian daughter, I was completely at a loss. 
My son pitifully begged for his old cereal, he missed the diner pancakes, “Why can’t I just have the stuff I used to eat?” He was desperate and so was I.  I combed through the specialty aisles and health food stores and one thing became very clear.  Many of the allergy free products were just expensive, sugary knock offs.  They weren’t nutritious and frankly, didn’t really taste that good. He deserved better, so I decided to take action.
When the kids saw me armed with an apron and a big mixing bowl, their faces grew pale.  I heard hushed whispers in the other room…”Uh-oh, mom’s baking again, what are we going to do?”  I started out by baking an innocent, egg-free pumpkin muffin and meticulously followed the recipe. I was cautiously optimistic when I pulled them out of the oven, but the kids thought it was a Trojan horse.  It looked good, but it could still be a trick.  “Honestly, just try them!” I said, irritated, while holding out a perfectly formed, golden colored muffin.  They sniffed it, like bloodhounds, and reluctantly tried it. “Wow, these aren’t bad!” They exclaimed.  My confidence soared as I watched my son smile for the first time in weeks.
Over the years, through much trial and error, I learned how to make healthy baked goods that looked and tasted like their egg equivalents…sometimes even better.  Birthday parties and holidays became enjoyable again because I figured out how to make all those specialty items that were previously taboo. Recently, I enjoyed a moment of smugness when I tasted a bakery muffin and thought aloud, “Huh, my muffin blows this away!”
The fact that I could even make such a comment made me pause for thought at how far my family has come with coping with food allergies. It is our new normal, the backdrop of our life, and the driving force in many of our family decisions.  I never thought I would actually get to this place, but one important thing that I have learned is, that when life hands you lemons, make an egg-free lemon cake. 
Lemon Cupcakes
The cupcakes were modified from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.  You can alter the type of flour and sugar, and if you don’t like glaze, you can frost or keep them plain.
Ingredients
1-cup soymilk (I have used vanilla soymilk as well)
1 tsp. organic apple cider vinegar
1 ¼ unbleached all purpose flour (you can use ½ whole wheat pastry flour and ¾ unbleached)
2 tbsp.cornstarch (I have also used potato starch in a pinch)
¾ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1/3 cup canola oil
¾ cup Florida sugar crystals (I would’t use Sucanat for this recipe as it overpowers the lemon flavor and its dark color.  You can try to reduce the sugar to ½ cup).
2 ½ tsp. vanilla (high quality vanilla makes a huge difference…it’s worth the price)
2 tsp. lemon extract
1 tbsp. lemon zest

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line muffin pan with cupcake liners.
1.       Whisk the soymilk and apple cider vinegar in a large bowl and set aside for a few minutes to curdle.
2.       Beat together the soymilk mixture, oil, sugar, vanilla and lemon extracts.
3.       Sift in the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix until no large lumps.
4.       Fill the cupcake liners two-thirds of the way and bake for 20-22 minutes till done.
5.       Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting.

Frosting suggestions:
Lemon Glaze
Chocolate Ganache
Lemon or vanilla buttercream

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