By Bethenny Frankel
Updated: October 01, 2008

As a natural-foods chef, an important part of my business is to know the synergy between food and healing, and more specifically, the effects of certain foods on different people's diets.

My line of baked goods, bethennybakes, was created to appeal to a captive audience: people with food allergies. I was running a health-food restaurant chain, and I was astounded by the amount of people who were allergic to wheat, dairy, and eggs.

Since so many of us have a sweet tooth and baked goods are such a delicious part of our lives, this is daunting to some people. Every birthday, holiday, and even many everyday meals end with something sweet. Allergies are even more devastating for children who may feel ostracized and "different" when they can't have a cupcake at a Halloween party.

My goal was to create baked goods that taste delicious with no sacrifice in flavor or texture. Parents (even if they don't have children with allergies) love these recipes, because they haven't been corrupted by artificial, processed, and unhealthy ingredients.

Simply put, allergy-free baking is chemistry and substitution. Through a process of elimination and substitution, anyone can make almost any dessert they can dream of. More importantly, they'll love it.

How to substitute
Take your favorite treat; let's say it's a chocolate chip cookie. Look at the recipe: Undoubtedly, white flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and chocolate chips are there. So what to do? One by one, make substitutions. Oat flour is an excellent substitution for white flour. Arrowhead Mills makes a great brand that I often use. Oats are high in fiber, don't spike your blood sugar, and they keep you feeling full longer. If you can't find this product, finely grind oats into a meal. Oats are often cross-contaminated with wheat, so for gluten allergies, this doesn't apply—I'll get to that later.

As for the eggs, I substitute with mashed bananas or applesauce. They act as a binder, add nutrients, and, as a bonus, keep the total cholesterol down. For one egg, use 1/3 mashed banana. Since you will be eliminating butter (if you're allergic to dairy), then you need to use a non-flavored oil or a softened vegan shortening (found in health-food stores).

Health-food stores and most supermarkets sell dairy-free chocolate chips; look for semisweet or dark chocolate chips (for added antioxidants) without milk. If your recipe includes milk, substitute soy, rice, or almond milk.

[ pagebreak ]Make small adjustments
Cooking times may vary from original recipes, so you'll need to watch your product carefully and check it often. Using tools like parchment paper and nonstick spray will make cleanup easy and prevent baked goods from sticking. Natural extracts will add delicious flavor, which is crucial.

Also, don't substitute everything at once. Bake several batches substituting one or two ingredients at a time so you know what works. If bananas don't, applesauce may. If that doesn't work, use egg replacer (found in health-food stores). If you don't like oat flour, mix in some rice flour.

Gluten-free considerations
For people who can't tolerate gluten, try brown-rice flour. Arrowhead Mills makes a gluten-free mix that also works well. Gluten-free baking is trickier because gluten creates great texture in baked goods.

Bethennybakes now has a line of gluten-free cupcakes that I think are just as tasty as traditional ones. An important tip I've learned is to always use very high-quality ingredients, whether it's cocoa, vanilla, raw sugar, or organic fruit. You are mimicking something decadent, so use the good stuff.

Don't overcompensate
Be careful of fat content when buying packaged vegan and wheat-free products: They're often loaded with fat to compensate for other missing ingredients. I limit fatty oils when I bake, because I know that adults may have allergies, but may still want to lose or maintain weight.

Finally, you don't have to have any allergies to want to eat this way. I'm not allergic to dairy or wheat, but I still love my baked goods because I'd rather have oats than white flour, raw sugar over white, and I don't do well with dairy. Look at the big picture when choosing your meals and baked goods, and pay attention to how your body responds to different ingredients. You may find that allergy-free products work for you too.