Bearing up

Fame at last! As you can see, Sidney is bearing up remarkably well despite his Food Allergy Ordeal.

Billboards and front pages of the Hackney Gazette, no less. I hasten to add, despite the headlines, he can eat birthday cake (albeit wheat free, egg free and nut free – see here for recipe) and he happens to like boiled courgette, but that aside it’s nice to have a bit of a plug for the upcoming parent support group. Date TBC as soon as poss – hopefully June. All food allergy parents who can get themselves to the Hackney area are very welcome. Details to follow…

An old-fashioned sponge

(Wheat free, nut free, egg free, banana free!)

The first birthday loomed and I started to fret. We’d been trotting along quite happily with a nice rotation of allergy-free homemade meals. But cake? I couldn’t let his birthday go by without cake.

Already we’d been to a few parties and had to drag the poor kid away from sticking his hands in a medley of elaborate concoctions – a farm scene replete with marzipan cows; a giant, jolly yellow duck; cupcakes iced with perky animal faces.

While the other babies shovelled up the sponge and jam, our little one contented himself – quite happily, I have to say – with sticks of boiled courgette (I know, but I hadn’t anticipated the cake thing and it was all I had to hand…).

To be honest, we’d been banking on having lost the wheat allergy by his first birthday, as the doctor had said he was “95 per cent likely” not to be allergic but to avoid it as a precaution until he was closer to a year.

Two weeks before Sidney turned one we attempted a hospital-backed home ‘Weetabix challenge’, and a few days into it he broke out in hives from top to toe. Not a severe reaction, because he’d managed to stomach a couple of teaspoons before the rash broke out, but enough to mean wheat would remain a no-no for the foreseeable.

But, still, there had to be cake. And finding a recipe was easier said than done. There were plenty of wheat-free or egg-free ideas out there, but not necessarily wheat-free and egg-free. And the ones that did exist had one magic ingredient: banana.

In the end it was a mix and match job, cobbling together a couple of vaguely promising recipes and adapting them to suit – switching normal self-raising for wheat-free; ditching the ground almond. A succession of mini efforts were baked over about a week, with some dodgy outcomes. But the end result was this:

Looks OK, I reckon. The sponge is a little denser than a traditional version would be, but it actually tastes pretty good. I’d even go so far as to say you’d never know…

It’s become a stalwart for us now, for baby birthdays or family dos. It’s nice sandwiched with St Dalfour raspberry fruit spread or Dr Oetker apricot baking glaze and whipped cream or buttercream. Sometimes we top it with the apricot and leave it at that; for properly grand events we might even smother it in fresh cream and dot it with fat raspberries. Or just pour over some runny white icing and let it dribble and set…

Ingredients:

100 ml sunflower oil

150g caster sugar

200ml plain yoghurt (Rachel’s organic live Greek natural or Total Greek are good options that don’t, unlike Yeo Valley, for instance, have ‘nut trace’ warnings on them)

300g Dove’s Farm wheat-free self-raising white flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

200ml whole milk

Unsalted butter for greasing

1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence (optional)

One 6-and-a-half inch baking tin (pref with removable bottom)

For the filling:

Fresh whipped cream and raspberries

or

Buttercream (75g unsalted butter, 175g icing sugar, a few drops of milk or warm water)

For the topping:

Dr Oetker apricot baking glaze

or

Fresh whipped cream and raspberries

or

Glaze icing (125g icing sugar – NOT royal icing, as this contains egg – 1tbsp (15ml) warm water)

Method:

Grease the tin with butter and swirl it around with a little wheat-free flour to coat.

Cream together the oil, sugar, yoghurt and vanilla essence (if using).

Sift the flour and baking powder over the mixture & beat with an electric whisk. Gradually add the milk and continue whisking for a good minute or more.

Turn the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake at 190 C (this may depend on your oven, but I find it better not to use a fan oven for this) for 25 minutes.

Check cake is done by inserting skewer. If it comes out wet, leave for another five minutes or so.

When baked, leave for five to ten minutes then turn out on to a rack and leave to cool completely.

Carefully slice the cake in half, lengthways, and sandwich with whipped fresh cream and jam, or buttercream (see below for method) and jam. Top with apricot glaze, fresh whipped cream and raspberries or glaze icing (see below for method).

The cake freezes well for a good two or three months if wrapped in clingfilm and sealed inside a knotted plastic bag.

Buttercream

Place butter in a bowl and beat until soft. Gradually sift and beat in the icing sugar, then add milk or water to give a fluffy consistency.

Glace icing

Sift icing sugar into a bowl. Gradually add 15ml (1tbsp) warm water until the icing becomes thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If necessary, add more water a drip at a time or icing sugar to adjust the consistency.

… and eat!