Halloween strikes fear in my heart, not because of the spooky costumes and our neighbors' eerie lawn decorations, but because Cricket has a severe nut allergy. (Think: possible anaphylaxis. Think: must carry EpiPen at all times.) Candy and other holiday treats are often laced with nuts, whether nuts are a main ingredient or not. And there is always a question of improper labeling; even if labels of processed foods don't indicate the inclusion of nuts, the possibility is always there, haunting moms of nut-allergic kids.
Cricket now notices and requests treats other people are eating, and I'm finally comfortable letting her partake if those foods are allergy safe. Since homemade snacks are easier to control for nuts than processed ones, I’m trying to start baking more often again. I'm also trying to expand my chocolate-all-the-time-in-any-form frame of reference, since chocolate is notoriously risky for nut avoiders.
With the holidays—in all their nut-filled goodness—upon us, I decided to launch an occasional column called "Nut-free eats." This blog isn't really a baking blog, and I'm not really a food blogger or photographer, so bear with me. I'd just like to share some safe and gooey recipes with you from time to time, should you be in need of some nut-free ideas.
For the inaugural column, I made these caramel cinnamon bars. I avoided using packaged caramel to be safe and made my own…lots and lots of it.
The bars were a big hit with Jeff, who actually prefers caramel to chocolate(!), and Cricket, who was thrilled to hear I made a treat just for her. When I explained that a bar was like a cookie—she tasted her first cookie last weekend—she squealed.
She investigated the bar, nibbling and nibbling before delivering her verdict: "I like it! I like that bar!"
Ahhh, the sweet taste of success.
Captions: Cricket admires her treat while Nora looks on, wishing she could use her first tiny tooth to demolish a few bars.
Caramel cinnamon bars
Adapted from buns in my oven and smitten kitchen
For nut-free baking, always remember to check each individual ingredient to make sure it is not labeled as containing nuts, “may contain” nuts or “processed on equipment that also processes” nuts.
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla (I use Rainforest Spices vanilla, which comes from our favorite organic spice plantation in Costa Rica, Villa Vanilla. If you're in the neighborhood, take a tour. It's unforgettable!)
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350°F. For batter: Mix flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in medium bowl. In a separate bowl, mix brown sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix. Remove 1 cup of batter for later use. Spread remaining batter into lightly greased foil-lined 13x9-inch pan. Bake 10-12 minutes or until firm. For caramel: In a small sauce pan, bring cream, brown sugar, corn syrup and a pinch of salt to boil over medium heat. Stir continuously for 14-17 minutes, then stir in vanilla. Remove from heat and let thicken for several minutes. Pour caramel over baked bars in pan and spread evenly over top. Drop spoonfuls of uncooked batter into caramel, then cut through batter with knife to spread. Bake 18-24 minutes or until center is set. Cool in pan. Cut into bars.
I'm Julia Soplop, writer and photographer. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.