The allergy-friendly cupcake: Hilary chats with My Real Food Life’s Alea Cardarelli

Cupcakes from My Real Food Life

Hilary Duff (blog/Twitter) is a quirky 21-year-old who loves multimedia journalism, cycling, food blogging, and churning massive amounts of baked goods out of her cramped student kitchen. She is currently writing an LTOttawa series on her hunt for Ottawa’s perfect cupcake.

Think you have bad food allergies? Think again.

For this week’s cupcake tasting I met with Alea Cardarelli, the mastermind behind the allergy-friendly blog My Real Food Life.

Alea Cardarelli, My Real Food Life

As Alea reviews her allergies to me, I feel my jaw dropping.  She is naming virtually all the things I eat multiple times daily – gluten, dairy, eggs, refined white sugar, etc. etc., as well as other sneaky food items that seem to find their way into several unexpected products.  In total there’s about 30 items to which she has developed intolerance.

The cruel punch line with Alea’s bouquet of allergies is that she didn’t find out she was allergic to most of these foods until last year.  She said her allergies got really bad when she was in university and went to Italy to visit her family.  The Italian pasta-heavy diet did not exactly work wonders with her health.  Alea started experiencing bad reactions to food as early as grade two.  Now in her early 30s, it’s evident that she hasn’t had the best food-related life. 

She started her blog last March as a way to keep track of what she was making herself to eat.  The blog was also a way for her to take pictures of food; an activity she says is another one of her favorite hobbies.  Despite her food intolerances, Alea still believes that cooking should be fun.  As well as catering to the gluten free crowd, Alea tries to make her blog as inclusive as possible, so that everyone can enjoy eating, regardless of their allergies.

Chickpea nacho chips, via My Real Food Life

Like so many other bakers around Ottawa, Alea also sells her cupcakes (among other things, including the chickpea nacho chips I mentioned in my ECO EXPO blog post) at a local farmer’s market.  She had her first set up at the Main Street Farmers’ Market two Saturdays ago, and will be there every second weekend.

Another unique service Alea runs is her cooking workshops.  Every month or so, around 15 people pile into her special basement kitchen, for a two hour lesson.  So far she has run workshops on general gluten free baking, Christmas baking and cooking, and hopes to expand to a regular set of classes within the next few months.

As for the cupcakes themselves, Alea brought two kinds for me to try:

A vanilla lemon cupcake with a raspberry lemon icing…

Vanilla lemon cupcake

…and chocolate cupcakes with a chocolate ganache and raspberry icing.

Chocolate cupcake

Both were vegan as well as free of gluten and several other allergens.

Since Alea’s baking caters to a specialized crowd, she brought in a few of her baking supplies to show me what was used to create the cupcakes I would be eating. 

Agar powder, solid palm sugar

The first unusual ingredient was a bag of agar powder, something she uses as a binding agent instead of eggs and xanthan gum.  The second ingredient was a block of solid palm sugar.  The sugar comes from a coconut tree and has to be grated to be used, adding on to the already lofty time it takes to make her cupcakes (about three hours to for a dozen).  Each block wields about 2/3 cup of sugar, and is bought from a special grocery store in Chinatown. 

As for the recipes, Alea said she made them up herself.  While I’ve tried a few gluten free cupcakes on my quest, I’ve yet to actually try a vanilla GF cupcake.  According to Alea, this is because it’s very difficult to create a good tasting vanilla cake.  Her vanilla lemon cupcake recipe alone took her two years to develop.

The contrast between chocolate and vanilla was quite evident when I got to eat my cupcakes.

While the vanilla lemon one was good, I much preferred Alea’s chocolate cupcake.  The chocolate was a nice foil to the powerful tartness of the fruity icing and cut the sharpness in taste.  I thought the vanilla cupcake lacked some sweetness; on the contrary the chocolate cupcake was full of the natural sugary glory that is always associated with chocolate cake.  In both, the icing to cupcake ratio was a little disproportionate, in the sense that each of the cupcakes sort of fell in on themselves.  I used several napkins, but it was totally worth it.  In the end, I was still very impressed by the cupcake that Alea had created.  Considering her ingredient limitations, she managed to bake a final product that could stand its ground next to the other cupcakes I tried.

So what comes next for Alea?  Well, she says her ultimate foodie dream is to have her own Food Network show. She already does a cooking segment once a month on Rogers Television, so she’s partway there.  

Cupcake personality: ***

Cake: ***

Icing: **

Cupcake overall: **½

How about it, blogging world – who wants to make Alea a star?