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Look at a cake. In fact, just look at any baked item; a pie, bread, biscuits, cookies… it’s guaranteed that you’re either wondering what majestic being conjured up the mysterious, unearthly creation… or you’ve just become very hungry. Everyone has a favourite type, and there are plenty of them out there for you to pick from! There’s a whole plethora of items you can purchase from most places – provided you don’t have an allergy. Seeing a family member suddenly become gluten intolerant, I’ve come to realise that there is a distinctly reduced amount of choices available for people who simply can’t eat gluten, wheat or dairy. Whilst charities such as Coeliac UK are paving the way for supermarkets to stock more items catered to people with food allergies, the items are often very expensive and the choice limited.
Now, baking can be as complex as you make it. It can be as simple as mixing a few things together and blasting it in the oven, or performing an alchemic combination, where one mistake can cause the whole intricate creation to collapse before your very eyes. As such, it’s an activity catered to anyone and everyone of all skill levels and ambitions, limited realistically only by time. To make a good batch of cookies takes the better part of an hour (if you intend to clean up after yourself!), whilst making bread could be a project that encompasses preparing the dough in the morning and baking it in the evening. However, for anyone attempting to make a recipe for anyone with a particular intolerance or diet, it can be significantly harder.
Take gluten intolerance. For a start, you simply cannot use regular flour, which means that the dough is more difficult to handle; it sticks a lot more, and doesn’t ‘stretch’. As such, you need to add a binding agent to most doughs, which takes the form of xantham or guar gum, and use alternative flours derived from buckwheat and brown rice, just to name a few examples. Already, the addition of these different elements can make the recipe from your budget baking book completely inadequate for the job. Of course, it becomes even more complex if you’re a practicing vegetarian or vegan, the latter of which would require flax gel (derived by crushing flax seeds, and standing in water) as a replacement for eggs.
Of course, that’s not to say it’s impossible. And the benefits are enormous! Being able to bake after becoming intolerant (or even being born with an intolerance) is a huge confidence booster and gives power over the diet back to the baker. For someone to be able to eat a slice of cake for the first time, after potentially years of grief trying to learn a diet built around label-hunting is a delight! Furthermore, baking itself, regardless of who it’s aimed for, is a marvellous pastime and will certainly make you very popular with your friends and flatmates! The ability to be able to bake at will is a lifesaver if you need motivation for a study session or need an impromptu gift. Going extravagant, you can impress at socials, and even find yourself baking for your future spouse.
In fact, baking can often be an avenue of expression for those of us who often aren’t simply flooded with confidence. Baking can often be creative, not only with the choice of ingredients but with shape, size and decoration to play with, meaning if you just have to make a rendition of the Death Star in cake, then all that’s stopping you is your imagination…and the availability of the oven.
Baking isn’t exactly the top thing you think of when you’re desperately trying to cram for an exam, but no one can deny the availability of a triple chocolate Nutella-filled cookie isn’t worth the time put in. Even more so, if you’re baking under the constraint of an allergy, it can be empowering being able to defy the limitations of an otherwise potentially crippling condition. In fact, the simplest joy is seeing someone’s face light up as soon as they realise they’re being given cake for free. Come on now, don your aprons, blast the furnaces, and get baking! It’s good for you.