Monday, February 1, 2010

What Is a Nut-Free Cupcake?

"Is there a nut-free bakery in Chicago?" is one of the most frequent questions I receive. Luckily, there is a terrific peanut and tree nut-free cupcake bakery in the Chicago suburbs: Nutphree's! They have recently opened a storefront in Mount Prospect and I couldn't be happier to have them. You can also order from them online.

The Chicago area's premiere peanut and tree nut-free cupcake bakery!
However, nut-free bakeries are still pretty rare and I bring up the topic for two reasons. One, I've been getting the nut-free bakery question with increasing frequency the last few weeks. And two, many bakeries that serve all manner of peanut and tree nut treats are claiming they can create a "nut-free" cupcake that's safe for allergic people. This is what I'm seeing not only in Chi-town but all over the country.

What is a nut-free cupcake for the purposes of a severely allergic individual? That would be one that is created in a dedicated nut-free facility. Now, I'm talking about supermarket and storefront bakeries right now. You know, the ones you like to sidle up to on a Saturday morning. Mass-produced baked goods have different standards, etc. and different regulation.

Most of you are aware that supermarket bakeries now carry allergy advisory signs somewhere in the baked goods section. That's because there is just too much risk of cross-contact in these small bakeries. If a small bakery is serving pecan pie and peanut butter cookies, I'd be concerned about serving an allergic person their products.

Here are two other red flag terms for nut-allergic people when evaluating a bakery: vegan and gluten-free. The vegan diet has tree nuts and peanuts as staple; gluten-free can often mean that ground up nut flours have been substituted for wheat. When I see vegan and gluten-free, I head for the hills. Personally, I wouldn't serve anything to my daughter that was created in a vegan and/or gluten-free environment unless the place was also dedicated nut-free.

Many bakeries see "nut-free" or "allergy-free" as a marketing tool. They don't realize (or choose not to acknowledge) that nut-free to a nut-allergic person is a health matter. And a serious one at that.

In my opinion, sticking to dedicated nut-free bakeries (and the U.S. does have several that ship across the country) makes the most sense.

Baking at home is also a great option if you're dealing with nut allergies. For example, you can bake cupcakes, leave them unfrosted, wrap them individually and then freeze them. Frost them as needed for parties or events. It's pretty easy and saves a ton of worry--and unnecessary risk.

Here are a few grocery items to have on hand at all times for nut-free baking: white and brown sugar (I use Domino brand), vanilla extract (McCormick or Nielsen-Massey are my choices), confectioner's sugar (Domino's again), all-purpose flour, old-fashioned oats, salt, baking powder, baking soda, McCormick food colorings, nut-free/allergy-free candies for decoration (check my Nut-Free Foods list for ideas.) Wilton and Cake Mate also have some safe options for nut allergies, so check the labels. I'm waiting to hear from Cake Mate about a list of nut-free cake decorations as I write this. I'll let you know. Don't feel like baking from scratch? Try the Cherrybrook Kitchen mixes and frostings. These allergy-free mixes are available at most well-stocked supermarkets. If you're looking for cake molds, cookie sheets, cookie cutters, etc. check out the Wilton baking section at your local craft store. They have a treasure trove for the home baker.

I will have my nut-free bakery roundup later this week. Please let me know your favorites so I can add them to my list.


Unknown said...

hi Jenny, I had mentioned in your previous on the Z best bakery. they made awesome challah bread, and italian bread..(they have more, but these are the ones we tried) they are located in evanston, IL. (I talked to owner and he will be sending us a box of bread this week)
we also tried the tickle your tummy cupcakes and love them! we are not a fan with Cherrybrook Kitchen, so sorry :( I know many love them and if someone has many different food allergies, this is a good option, but my daughter and I can never grow to like the taste.
i got the Z best breads and tickly your tummy cupcakes from wholefood in chicago area.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info! I had no clue about the whole gluten-free thing! Wow...thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi - do you know of any nut-free sprinkles? Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Just read on the Tipsycake in Chicago website that they can handle allergies but not sure how they would prepare nut-free special orders since they have nut items. Also, heard that Kim & Scott's pretzel cafe is supposed to be nut-free and supposed to be re-opening somewhere but I don't have dates or locations - does anyone know? Also would love to find out where to get nut-free sprinkles and nut-free ice-cream shops! Can't wait to see your list! Thanks, Kelly

Jenny said...

Hi guys, Regarding sprinkles, some of the Wilton, Cake Mate and a few others are safe for nut allergies. Just check the labels--Wilton's in particular are very well-labeled with regard to nut allergies.

There are no nut-free ice cream shops that I know of in the U.S.--sorry. In fact, commercially made ice cream is high-risk for nut allergies due to the way it's manufactured. Lots of cross-contact risk. And ice cream shops are not safe for nut allergies at all--the toppings alone are not safe and then you have the scoops being used for all the same flavors. Again, cross contact can occur. However, there are some nut-free ice cream shops and commercial brands in Canada. Hopefully, this concept will make its way to the U.S.

I haven't heard of Tipsycake but I'd stick to all the points I made in my original post regarding high risk of cross contact in bakeries.

Kim & Scott's is a great pretzel bakery-worth their own blog post. You can even buy their products at the supermarket.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jenny,
Just found out that "More" cupcakes in Chicago is peanut-free (owner's child is allergic to peanuts) but NOT tree-nut free (some have walnuts and hazelnuts). So if anyone knows their child is allergic to peanuts but definitely not allergic to walnuts and hazelnuts, this might be a place they could check out. Do you know the percentages of people who are allergic to peanuts only but not tree nuts? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Went to Kim & Scott's pretzel cafe in Chicago - they said the only thing with nuts is the pre-packaged pretzel sticks covered in chocolate by the cash register (facility with tree nuts) - surprised they had these.

Jenny said...

Many kids with peanut allergies are told to avoid tree nuts as well for cross-reactivity reasons--don't have exact numbers on this but I read recently that nearly as many people with peanut allergies have tree nut allergies. I really wish establishments could just go nut-free and be done with it! :)

Anonymous said...

My son has a severe peanut allergy and wheat allergy he also has a gluten intolerance. There are many good gluten free products that are manufactured in nut free facilities. In fact, I have found that most products that are manufactured in a nut free facility happen to be gluten free. So do not rule out gluten free products when in search for foods from a nut free facility or you may miss out on some really good products!

Jenny said...

Hi there,Anonymous thanks for your comment.

I just want to clarify a few things. First, some vegan and gluten-free foods can be safe for nut allergies but frequently, they are not. That's why I caution readers to be especially aware of these products unless, as I say in the post, they are also made in a nut-free facility.

I am mainly talking about storefront bakeries in this post, but since you bring up gluten-free and nut-free packaged, mass-produced foods, yes, I'm happy to say that more of these dedicated nut-free, gluten-free products are becoming available. Enjoy Life Foods, Lucy's Cookies are two examples.

However, many people I know think that if a product says "gluten-free" that means it is also nut-free. That's not the case, unfortunately. These are two very different things. Frequently gluten-free foods are loaded with nuts, so I want people to be aware of that.

Are there more allergy and celiac-friendly foods out there? Thank goodness yes, and sometimes they are made in a nut-free facility and gluten-free facility at the same time. But not always...not by a long shot.

I'm glad you are finding products to fit a gluten and nut-free diet--hope these continue to grow in popularity for those that need them!

Best, Jenny

Chicago mommy said...

Z best bakery in evanston, IL is no longer in a nut-free facility. A real bummer, as we purchased their breads, rolls and buns exclusively for years. So sad.

Chicago mommy said...

Z best bakery is no longer in a nut-free facility. A real bummer as we purchased their rolls, breads and buns exclusively for years. So sad