cake pops: the nut-free conundrum

I recently agreed to make some cake pops for someone’s coworker as a birthday gift for school parties and such. That meant they need to be nut-free, per school guidelines. There is someone with a nut allergy in the class.

Can I just say I’m really grateful for the internet and for all the bloggers who have the kind heartedness to write about their experiences? I would have had no idea where to start without other people helping me and I might have said “no, this can’t be done” if I hadn’t found them. Fill My Cup explains how she made her nut-free pops here. Nut-Free Mom writes about her experience calling companies to verify information (there’s also stuff worth reading in the comments). I made some phone calls of my own, just to make sure.

And if you want the nitty-gritty on the laws regarding food labeling, the FDA has it here. The biggest thing to know if you’re searching for information on the net is that in 2004 the laws changed, demanding compliance by 2006. A few threads/forums I found on nut-free were as old as 2002. So not only is it important to check labels, checking dates is key too.

While I’m throwing links at you, I even did some research on how to get my kitchen properly cleaned since I baked with peanut butter a few weeks ago. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be and I was a lot more confident I’d done everything I could do.

I’ve baked nut-free before, cakes and cookies, but from scratch. Cake pops present a challenge of their own. I didn’t want to use a from-scratch cake to make cake pops (for one, it feels shameful to bake a real home-made cake knowing you’re going to pulverize it to crumbs while it’s still warm) (for two, I have a pretty good feel for how to mix and ball box cake;  home-made cake would add yet another variable into the tenuous dipping process).

And then there’s the candy melts. A quick foray over to Google gave me some initially worrying results: finding candy and chocolate that aren’t made in nut-free facilities is a challenge. Wilton’s candy melts have the “may contain” warning because they process nuts in the same facility and so do all the store-brand candy melts I found at hobby stores. Same with many popular chocolate chips.

A trip to the grocery store confused me even more. I’d read that Kroger Brand Bark is okay to use but the first kind I picked up had the label “contains.” Oi. I happened to get lucky, shopping further down the aisle, to see they had another kind of bark (one is melting candy, the other is called bark coating) which didn’t have any allergen warnings. I called Kroger and their customer service rep told me they do comply with FDA law.

But that goes to show how tricky this nut-free thing can be: the two products looked like “pretty much” the same thing. Similar foods, similar ingredients, similar packages. Two entirely different warnings. Baker beware.

I stopped at a Shop N Save and noticed they had a similar type of bark coating that did not have any nut allergen warnings. But since I had already chosen my bark, I didn’t call. It’s worth a try, though, if you don’t have a Kroger in your area, to check for store-brand bark coating and call the 800-number on the back to verify.

Bark coating tends to be more translucent than candy melt so I double-dipped these pops. I’ve never worked with the chocolate-colored, but the white is thin when melted properly and a double dip was necessary to make them a vibrant white. For the second dip, I waited until the cake pops were room temperature so that the second dip was as thin as possible, though that makes their setting time that much longer.(Apologies for the lack of pictures).

Have you baked nut-free recently? How did you find resources to help you bake with confidence?

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