My health-consciousness slips a little. Or, In Praise of Crisco
***FOR THOSE OF MY READERS WHO ARE GF/CF, BUTTER CRISCO IS GF/CF — see below!!! ***
When I was a kid, my mom was the classic semi-ex-hippie health nut. She sprinkled wheat germ on everything, served us whole-wheat bread (often homemade), would NEVER allow Kraft Cheese Singles in our home, nor Kool-Aid, nor Twinkies and the like. We had natural peanut butter and honey on that whole wheat bread. At school, no one ever wanted to trade lunch items with me. Carrot sticks for a Little Debbie cake just didn’t work. As I suffered, I pledged to do differently when I was a grown-up, especially when I had kids. I just wouldn’t do to them what was done to me.
Well, fast-forward 25 years, and guess what? If anything, I’m healthier than my mom. Obviously, since we’re gluten-free, there’s no wheat germ to be found in the house, but there is rice bran! Hehehe! I avoid processed foods, making as much from scratch as possible, saving us both money and exposure to unnecessary additives and fat. I strive for whole-grain baking, putting brown rice and sorghum flour in my cakes. We eat lots of fruits and veggies, and Kool-Aid has never passed my threshhold. Another thing I scrupulously avoid is trans-fats. Those artery-clogging baddies haven’t seen my pantry shelves in years. My pantry is stocked with Spectrum Non-Hydrogenated Shortening. (Spectrum is made of palm oil, which is semi-solid at room temperature.) Since we’re now dairy-free, we use Smart Balance, which is trans-fat-free, as well as dairy-free. No “regular” margarine for us — ever — though I really miss real butter.
However, in addition to striving to be healthy, I’m also practical. Since 5/6 of our family is gluten-free, and 1/3 of it is completely dairy-free, and an additional 1/3 is dairy-reduced, I have to make most of what we eat gluten-free and casein/dairy-free. Doing so is often an exercise more akin to a science experiment than to baking. There’s so much that changes when you take out the protein of wheat and milk; it makes many “standard,” simple recipes extremely difficult. Multitudes of previously unexperienced problems crop up. Baking really is all about chemical reactions, and GFCF baking breaks so many of the rules we rely upon for successful “normal” baking.
One problem I continually have is that of my cookies spreading too much. I tinker with the sugar content, the moisture content, the temperature at which they bake, the kind of pan on which they bake, the kind of fat I use in them… still, I’m often left with unintentionally crispy, flat cookies. They still taste good, but they don’t look (nor have the texture) that they should.
Enter Carrie, the Ginger Lemon Girl. She’s a gluten-free blogger with a similar baking sensibility to mine: she’d rather use one billion ingredients and come up with the PERFECT recipe than use fewer and have the results be simply edible. I thought my recipe lists, intros, notes and explanations veered into the “Over the Top” category, but hers take the (gluten-free) cake. She pays attention to the most minute of details, and writes about them in great detail, including tons of pics.
I almost laughed myself through her ultra-detailed description of making chocolate chip cookies. Now, I haven’t yet made her recipe, but I will. (I’ve been distracted for the last five weeks turning her bread recipe into a casein/dairy-free version, but that’s for another post.) At the end of the post, though, I received a baking revelation: using Crisco in lieu of non-hydrogenated Spectrum shortening stops the spread. She even illustrates this pictorially.
The lighter, “puffier” cookie on the bottom left is made with Butter-flavored Crisco, the darker, flatter one on the upper right is made with Spectrum:
This rocked my trans-fat-free world. Even though they have recently reformulated, Crisco does contain some hydrogenated oils, which do contain trans-fats. However, it is merely “technically” free of trans-fats, because each serving (1 tablespoon) contains less than 0.5 grams, so they’re allowed to list it as 0g. I’d really like to know the exact gram-content of trans-fats in, perhaps, a larger amount. So far, though, I haven’t been able to find it.
Anyways. After seeing Carrie’s post, I bought some Butter Crisco on my next trip to the grocery store. I’ve been using it everywhere: in bread, in cookies, in cakes… with stellar success. Last night, the Butter Crisco went into some hot dog buns. I used a recipe I’ve used before, but never with these results. I’ve never had puffier, more wonderfully-textured hot dog buns, ever. (MANY thanks, by the way, to Oscar Meyer for their new, nitrate/nitrite-free beef hot dogs, which are comparably priced to other branded “regular” hot dogs.) Those buns were SO good.
In fact, after heading home by myself from Bible study last night, I had this little conversation with myself, “Hmm… Should I stop at Sonic and get some Tater-Tots? Or, hey, their shakes are still 99 cents!! No… I think I’d rather go home and have a sandwich or hot dog on those buns I made this afternoon.” They were that good.
I have to say, I’m sold on Butter Crisco.
EDITED TO ADD: OK, I should have researched this better before writing the two paragraphs below on the potential of Butter Crisco containing dairy/casein ingredients. I called Crisco, and after listening to an actually helpful recording on allergens, I had the option of talking to a real person. She was extremely thorough and friendly — the best customer service rep I’ve talked to in a long time. She assured me that the “natural flavorings” (as well as the artificial ones) in Butter Crisco are NOT, absolutely NOT, derived from dairy. They contain no casein whatsoever. Butter Crisco is gluten-free/casein-free. She wouldn’t say, flat-out, the sources of the natural flavorings, because it’s “proprietary.” However, if you have an individual allergen, beyond the standard “big eight” allergens, they will research it and call you back. I asked her to check to see if it contained any carob. Wes isn’t as violently allergic to carob as he used to be, but I still avoid it.
Not that that makes Butter Crisco actually healthy, but at least it’s safe, and sometimes, for us, safe has to trump healthy.
Now, for the allergen disclaimer: Our family’s need to eliminate dairy is largely due to Wesley’s extreme allergy to casein (the protein in milk). One Hershey’s Kiss has enough dairy to give him a full-on asthma attack. Butter Crisco is flavored both naturally and artificially; I’m guessing that the natural flavors are dairy-derived. But, for us, if it is from actual dairy, it’s a small enough amount that it causes no reaction in Wes whatsoever. (We can’t even get “butter-flavored” microwave popcorn, because he reacts to that. But, so far, Butter Crisco? No problems.) Audrey is also allergic to dairy (though not quite as severely; it causes skin and digestive problems), and I, as much as I care to ignore it, appear to be allergic to dairy, too. Additionally, another of my sons has a learning disorder akin to Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a form of autism. Many autistic children dramatically improve on a GFCF diet. Grant has responded to a GFCF diet, but not “dramatically” and, honestly, I’m not as vigilant about him avoiding dairy 24/7 as I am with Wesley, or even Audrey.
SO. All that to say, if you’re on an extremely restricted GFCF diet, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Butter Crisco. Maybe you could use “plain” Crisco – give it a try, anyways! For everyone else baking gluten-free, I give a resounding recommendation to Butter Crisco. In the world of g.f. baking, which is riddled with difficulties, it’s just lovely to eliminate one more problem.
Posted on July 2, 2008, in Allergies, Celiac Disease, Cooking/Baking/Food/Recipes, Dairy-free, Digestive Woes, GF Recipes, GFCF, GFCF Recipes, gluten-free, Medical Stuff, Nonverbal Learning Disorder, The Kids. Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.