Food allergies suck. That's the short and long of it. So whenever a family member or friend has a food limitation, I do whatever I can with my academic mind, my self taught cooking skills and the endless information on the interwebs to make whatever it is that they've been missing out on since their diagnosis. When my dear friend Taylor recently approached me about making a fudgy vegan chocolate cake for her 30th birthday after learning of a whole host of things she could no longer eat, I happily accepted the challenge. Hence, the Flourless Vegan Chocolate Truffle Cake was born.
Y'all know I love to eat. You might even say I live to eat. I think about food all day every day, and for the last twenty years have made it my life's work. But even before then, food has been an integral part of my life. I grew up in the kitchen with my Mom, cooking and baking my way through my awkward adolescence. As a high schooler when my parents went out of town, I didn't throw just any kind of parties. I threw dinner parties. What teenager does that?!? So when my Mom was diagnosed with some severe food allergies in her 40s, it totally changed my perspective on food.
If you've ever experienced allergies, you know they're awful. Many of you may think that allergies are limited to the annoying symptoms of hay fever in the spring, with sneezing and itchy eyes being the worst part. Y'all. That's not even the beginning. Allergies can maim. They can kill. And sometimes they can make you miserable and destroy your quality of life without knowing the cause.
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Example #1 - My Mom
When I was about 12, my Mom started getting a terrible rash across her face and body that wouldn't go away. She saw a host of doctors who couldn't figure it out. One even suggested that due to the butterfly pattern of her face rash, she likely had lupus. It was really scary stuff. If you know my Mom Eileen, you know she's a beautiful, outgoing person. The rash was ruining her life. Not only was it painful, but it was also disfiguring. She began to lose sleep and became depressed.
My Dad Butch is a medical malpractice defense attorney, so we always had access to the best and brightest doctors who would happily go out of their way to take care of Butch and his family the way my Dad took care of them. So my Mom kept being put through the rounds until she finally found a doctor that suggested she may have food allergies. They did some tests, and lo and behold, the culprit of her terrible rash was a severe allergy to corn and wheat.
Corn and wheat were ruining her life.
You may think this was no big deal. You'd be thinking wrong. This was in the 90s, before "gluten free" was a commonplace term. When corn syrup or some kind of corn product (detrose, detrin, maltodextrin, sorbitol or fructose) was in nearly every single packaged good, even yogurt. When "organic" was a pretty hippy-dippy concept and wasn't available at normal grocery stores. And when gasp! low-fat diets that subbed in high carb ingredients were all the rage.
In the blink of an eye, my Mom who loved to cook, who made her own pasta, who relished eating bread, who ate tortilla chips every day, who lived for summer days with corn on the cob and who loved cookies and black licorice lost it all in one fell swoop. When we went to the grocery store, we began obsessively reading ingredient lists for any of the evil culprits. Overnight, entire aisles of the grocery store became off-limits.
As a middle school kid, I didn't have a lot of friends, so I often spent Friday nights baking cookies. The kitchen and my stand mixer were my favorite companions. After Mom's diagnosis and her lingering depression about losing so much of her favorite foods, I went about researching how to make Mom-friendly cookies. I tried new recipes. Once I became comfortable with those, I dove deeper and discovered alternative flours at our local health food store. I started my first recipe development project and eventually created our family's new favorite, what I've since branded my Accidentally Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies. My Mom was so happy the first time she tried one, she actually cried. To this day, I remember how much that simple thing - a cookie! - changed her life. And so ever since, I've been on a mission to include everyone in the joy of eating.
Example #2 - Me
When I was in the 8th grade, I had a terrible lung infection that nearly landed me in the hospital. I was bed-ridden for three weeks. I had to use a breathing machine laced with powerful pharmaceuticals four times a day. The medications they gave me made my heart race and made it difficult to sleep. I lost weight when I was already a skinny ballet-dancing pre-teen. Just walking to bathroom and back winded me. It was awful. But during that time, I finally got diagnosed with asthma, exercise induced anaphylaxis (caused by food consumption pre-exercise) and was given a full allergy panel.
Luckily for me, I wasn't directly allergic to any specific foods. Basically every outdoor allergy that was possible, from grass to mold to dander, I had on the highest scale. I was a 4+ on a 5-scale of allergies to dogs (that hasn't stopped me. I have 140lbs worth of dogs in my house.) And I learned that I couldn't eat for at least 3 hours before having an elevated heart rate. I've never figured out the exact things that caused me to go into anaphylaxis. Once it was an apple. Once it was an egg. Another time it was a miniature cookie. All I know is that I have to keep myself calm after eating so I can fully digest my food. Even laughing too boisterously has set me in motion for an attack.
Y'all, knowing your diagnosis is powerful stuff. It literally changed my life. I was able to learn how to avoid things that triggered my conditions. If I started getting itchy palms, I learned that I had to gulp down a few antihistamines, a bunch of water, hit my emergency inhaler and sit still until it went away. I got my health under my control. For the first time in my life, I could run without wheezing. And now, twenty-some-odd years later, my daily regimen is two OTC meds in the morning and a very occasional use of my emergency inhaler. I haven't had to use my Epipen in YEARS. I have been liberated.
Examples #3 - 10,000
Not long ago, my sweet cousin Jenn had terrible stomach pains, anemia and other awful symptoms for years until she was finally diagnosed celiac. It's upsetting that she was made to feel like a hypochondriac by the medical profession for so long, but by being her own advocate she finally got to the bottom of it. Since her diagnosis, she has had to cook a lot more of her own foods and figure out the restaurants she trusts to take her condition seriously. But she's free of the symptoms that used to plague her daily.
My other cousin Jana's son has an extreme allergy to all nuts. His allergy can literally kill him. It's so severe that someone who has recently eaten a nut and then given him a kiss can set him on the path to anaphylaxis. Food allergies are not a joke.
Working in a restaurant for so many years gave me first-hand accounts of all kinds of other allergies, too. Eggs. Dairy. Nightshades. Alliums. Black pepper! The list is almost endless. And while there are those spoil-sports who claim that they have an allergy when they really just don't like something, there are thousands of proven, documented cases of food allergies causing real health damage. As a society, we have to take them seriously. (And as a side note to all of you folks who are faking your allergies, please stop. You are more than welcome to request things be left off your plate due to preferences. But you crying wolf is majorly detrimental to the people who have real, health-threatening allergies.)
Thankfully, science has come a long way since the 90s. Food allergies are more well known, and therefore, more easily diagnosable. I have a litany of opinions on why food allergies have become so pervasive in our day - from urban lifestyles to farming practices to food subsidies and the proliferation of highly processed foods and obesity - but that would take me at least a thesis length paper to unpack.
What I do know is that food brings people together, and losing out on that community due to food allergies is unacceptable. So when my sweet friend Taylor recently found out that she was allergic to all dairy, carrots, sweet potatoes, rice, canola oil, yeast, cane sugar and eggs (among a bunch of other vegetables and meats), she was devastated. For so long, she thought her problems were gluten related. Turns out, gluten had nothing to do with it! And some of her favorite foods were totally off limits now.
So I set about trying to create the most decadent, fudgiest chocolate cake with none of her allergens for her 30th birthday. This Vegan Flourless Chocolate Cake was the result. I took cues from Big Man's World for the cake, Loving it Vegan for the truffles and Downshiftology for the vegan chocolate buttercream. I made a few tweaks to them all, namely adding things like instant espresso, salt and coffee rum to amp up the chocolate flavor and subbing out sugar for monk fruit and erithritol. Taylor just texted me this morning and said it was a huge success, and even the pickiest of her family members still enjoyed it.
So the morals of the story are, 1.) ALWAYS advocate for yourself when it comes to not feeling well. If one doctor doesn't have the answers, keep searching for one who will. If nobody has suggested it yet, try getting tested for food allergies! You'd be surprised at how what you eat can affect your body.
And, 2.) Don't give up hope if you do get diagnosed with a food allergy. If there's something you really miss, there's likely a way to recreate it within parameters that are suitable for your new diet. There are SO MANY RESOURCES out there now for people with food allergies. And if you just can't find what you're looking for, reach out to me. I'd be happy to workshop whatever it is you're looking for, because everyone deserves to eat the foods they love. Until next time, friends. I hope you have a delicious day!
If you want more dessert inspiration, check out these other recipes:
Flourless Vegan Chocolate Truffle Cake
Cake Layers - adapted from Big Man's World
- 5 C Rolled Oats certified gluten free
- 2 tablespoon Baking Powder
- 5 tablespoon Cacao Powder
- 1.5 C Lakanto Monk Fruit Sweetener with Erithritol or sugar of choice if no allergy
- 1 ½ C Mashed Pumpkin or sweet potato if no allergy
- ½ C Unsweetened Applesauce
- 2 Flax Eggs made by mixing 2 tablespoon Ground Flax with 6 tablespoon water, and allowing to rest for 3 minutes until gelatinous
- 2 ¼ C Unsweetened Oat Milk or Soy, Almond, Cashew, Macadamia, Hemp, or other milk depending on allergy
- ½ C Unrefined Coconut Oil
- 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 2 teaspoon Instant Espresso
- 1 tablespoon Coffee Flavored Rum optional
Vegan Truffles - adapted from Loving it Vegan
Vegan Chocolate Buttercream - adapted from Downshiftology
- 1 C Vegan Shortening or Vegan Butter, depending on allergy
- 8 C Swerve Powdered Sugar Substitute or powdered sugar if no allergy
- 1 C Cacao Powder
- ½ - ¾ C Unsweetened Oat Milk or Soy, Almond, Cashew, Macadamia, Hemp, or other milk depending on allergy
- ½ teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 1 tablespoon Coffee Flavored Rum optional
- Add all cake ingredients into powerful blender or food processor. Start with just ½ C Alternative Milk, adding more if needed to completely blend ingredients together.Divide between two 9" round cake tins that have been sprayed with coconut oil and lined with parchment.Bake at 350F for 30-35 minutes, until toothpick comes out cleanly. Let cool completely.
- Over a double boiler, melt 1 ¾ C chocolate chips, coconut cream and rum. Stir until smooth, then add in ¼ C cacao powder. Stir until smooth again, then refrigerate until solid.
- Fill bottom of wide shallow bowl with remaining ¼ C cacao. Scoop ganache with disher and put in cacao, rolling to coat and shape. Repeat until all ganache is scooped. Place unfinished truffles in freezer to harden, at least 30 minutes.When truffles are fully frozen, melt remaining 1 C chocolate chips and coconut oil, stirring till smooth. One at a time, dip frozen truffles into melted chocolate, ensuring they are fully coated. Using a fork to lift them and drain excess chocolate, place on separate parchment lined plate. Decorate with sprinkles, sanding sugar, or grated chocolate if you wish. Repeat with all truffles, then refrigerate until ready to use.
- Cream shortening/vegan butter in mixing bowl until smooth. Slowly add in powdered sugar and cacao, mixing until fully incorporated. When mixture begins to tighten up and it's difficult to add more dry ingredients, begin to add alternative milk a few tablespoons at a time, alternating with dry ingredients. Add kosher salt and rum, mixing until completely incorporated.
- Invert one cake onto plate. Generously frost with buttercream, spreading all the way to the edge. Invert second cake onto first. Completely frost the outside of the cake using offset spatula. Refrigerate for 10 minutes to harden.Using piping bag and tip of choice, decorate cake on top and bottom. Adhere truffles with softened buttercream wherever you desire.Refrigerate cake until 1 hour from service, allowing it to come to room temperature before slicing. Enjoy!