Violets and Amaranth

Eating weeds and gaining grains: an adventure in eating

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Pie Crust Evolution (the annual flour blend)

Over the recent holidays, I perfected my pie crust.  I was so excited.  Every pie came out perfect- a good blend of flaky and yet it held together.  Yes, my gluten-free crust held together.  I know I’ve blogged about pie crust here before, but this year I learned to cut back on tapioca flour.  I’ve observed that tapioca flour carries some of the characteristics of, well, tapioca.  Think boba or bubble tea, and then eat something with a lot of tapioca flour, and you’ll see what I mean.  That said, tapioca flour is certainly useful, especially when you cook without egg or gluten, but in pie, or even bread and cakes, there is a limit to how chewy you want the crumb to be.  For a few years I was making my baked goods too chewy, and now I’m experimenting with finding a more subtle texture.

What’s the difference?  In 2014 I discovered coconut flour and discontinued using sorghum flour altogether.  Why? I’ve never liked the taste of sorghum flour, even though it added some binding and protein to the mix.  Also, the Enjoy Life company stopped using sorghum and switched to millet.  I emailed to ask why, since we can’t have millet, and they said it is hard to source sorghum that is guaranteed soy-free, which we also can’t have.  Around this time I found coconut flour, and while a very little goes a long way (seriously, never use more than about 1/4 cup at a go), it adds binding and fiber to the mix, and it absorbs liquid really well, which I think helps prevent chewiness.  It also seems to help the baked product keep its shape, even without egg.  Tree nut allergies are one set of allergies we don’t worry about here.

Through all of this I realized that every year I come up with a new flour blend for standard baked goods.  Now that there are so many pre-blended all purpose gluten free flours on the market, I keep wondering if I should just experiment with those and give up blending my own, but, for now, I like the control and the ability to keep learning about the properties of different flours.

The go-to flour blend of 2014 ends up being….

  • 2 parts sweet rice flour- sweet rice flour has glutinous properties (without the gluten!).  It makes for a nice texture, but helps the baked good stick together.  It isn’t sticky enough though for egg-free baking all by itself
  • 1 part tapioca flour- like I said, I didn’t get rid of it all together, I just try to keep it in check, never more than about 1/2 cup per recipe
  • 1/2 part coconut flour- up to 1/4 cup.  Never more, or the coconut taste takes over and it’s too heavy.  Coconut flour is very high in fiber.
  • 1/2 part potato starch- this seems to give baked good structure without making them too sticky. Like the sweet rice flour it brings some lift and lightness to the blend.

What will 2015 bring?  No idea.  But I’m interested in exploring modified tapioca starch.  I’ve heard good things about it for making bread.  I’m still trying out good bread recipes.  I’m just not happy yet with breads, but who knows, maybe 2015 is the year.  But enough about bread and flours, on to the pie.

This recipe evolved thanks in part to a Good Eats episode on pie crust, and the book Allergy-Free Deserts by Elizabeth Gordon.  The end result isn’t like either of their recipes, but I’m an academic and I like to cite my sources 😉

This is a double recipe and makes enough for about 2 pies, or enough to make at least a dozen pie jars.  Seriously, if you’ve never made pie jars before- do it.  Just remember to use the wide mouth jelly jars and you are in business.  That was our 2014 homemade gift to co-workers and teachers.  I made them all apple-quince-cranberry pie jars.  They were a big hit.

Flaky Gluten Free Pie Crust

  • 2 sticks butter, chilled
  • ½ cup ice water, aproximate, will depend on the day
  • ¼ cup coconut flour
  • 1 ½ cup sweet rice flour
  • ¼ cup Tapioca Flour, plus more for rolling
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • ½ teaspoon table salt

1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine flours, xanthan gum, and salt by pulsing 3 to 4 times. Add butter and pulse 8 to 10 times until texture looks coarse.

2. Dice the butter and measure out the water.  Place both in the refrigerator while you prepare the flour

3. Remove lid of food processor and drizzle the surface of mixture with water. Replace lid and pulse about 5 times. Add more water and pulse again repeating until mixture forms a ball when pulsed. Place mixture in large zip-top bag, squeeze together until it forms a ball, and then press into a rounded disk and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

4. Remove dough from refrigerator. Place a little less than half of the dough in a pie bag and sprinkle both sides with flour. Roll out with a rolling pin to a 10 to 11-inch circle, making the dough about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. When rolling, roll in one direction only and rotate the dough and 1/8th of a turn with each roll, until the dough is large enough to fit a pie plate. If the dough is too thick when it reaches the right diameter, put less dough in the bag for rolling.

5. Open the bag again and set a pie pan on top of dough. Turn everything upside down and peel plastic from bottom of dough. Trim edges if necessary, leaving an edge. If the dough cracks, just press it back together.

For blind baking: poke holes in dough and place in refrigerator for 15 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Place a large piece of parchment paper on top of dough and fill with dry beans. Press beans into edges of dough and bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove parchment and beans and continue baking until golden in color, approximately 10 to 15 minutes longer. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack. Let cool completely before filling.

For filling right away:  Fill raw dough with your favorite topping and bake per your recipe’s directions. Use the extra dough to roll out a top.

Remember- leftover dough stores well in the freezer until the next time you need pie crust.

 Sorry no photos this time either.  I never think to take pictures of the food anymore!  This recipe isn’t very hard.  Go make your own pie and then you’ll now what it looks like.  Feel free to post a picture below 🙂  Have a lovely rest of winter!


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Thoughts on the Allergy-Free Deserts Cookbook (and my all purpose flour blend recipe)

Despite my lack of posts, I am in fact managing to make a recipe a week out of Elizabeth Gordon’s cookbook Allergy-Free Deserts.  And if you haven’t done so already, go check out her blog.  I have tried 10 of her recipes so far, and I’d rate 8 out of 10 as top-notch, and the two that weren’t absolutely amazing, were so much better than anything else I’ve tried, and honestly the lack of perfection was probably user error.  Here are my thoughts:

Three cakes (with frosting):

I have made the Coconut Cake, Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes, and let’s throw the Berry Muffins in here too, even though they aren’t technically cake.  All three are 5 out of 5 stars.  Just perfect.  They all had great taste and felt like cake.  None of them lasted long in this house and I served both the cake and cupcakes to family and friends who also agreed they were great!  I did try a version of the Vegan Buttercream Frosting on the coconut cake, and that was a 4 out of 5 for me, but I am sure that was my fault.  I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, so I can’t be surprised it wasn’t the same level of perfection that the rest of the delights in this book seem to be.

A slice of coconut cake.

Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes (and a rhododendron branch)

Five other great baked goods:

The very first recipe I tried were the Cherry Crumb Bars.  Mine didn’t work out quite right, this is another 4 out of 5, but it was good and the crumb toping tasted like crumb topping should.  I think the problems I had were again user error.  Why can’t I follow a recipe properly?  Oh, and if you make it- use two cans of pie filling- one just doesn’t seem to be enough 🙂 .

In the perfect category are the Cinnamon Swirl Rolls, the Pumpkin Bread (which we have also made and gifted to a friend already), Free-form Raspberry Scones, and the Pancakes.  Ah the Pancakes.  Seriously, I have never had such a great gluten-free pancake.  In fact, you won’t even notice they are gluten-free.  They are easy to make, and come out perfect every time.  We’ve tried for over a year to make such satisfying pancakes.  This recipe alone is worth the price of the book (with that coconut cake and the muffins also worth the price of admission).

Which brings me to pie:

I haven’t actually made any of the pies in the book yet, but I have made the pie crust for a beef pot pie and a fig pie.  It is good.  It’s the best gluten-free crust I’ve found yet.  It still isn’t as perfect as I want a pie crust to be, but honestly, if I never find anything better than this, I’ll be happy.

Why the lack of photos?  Most things we ate so fast, we didn’t even stop to get the camera.  She has great photos in the book though.

Final Thoughts:

In my mind, two reasons these recipes are so great are 1) she’s trained in baking, so she knows what she’s doing but more importantly 2) she found a great flour blend that actually works.  If you are like us, first you start with a commercial blend, but it tastes off.  Then you start trying to make a blend yourself, but things don’t rise, the item is only good 10 minutes after you bake it, or it still tastes off.  I always thought this had something to do with us not using eggs.  Now I know it gluten-free and egg-free can be very satisfying.

Her blend is a combo of garbanzo bean, tapioca and potato starch flours (and she sells it pre-made).  I was already experimenting with something similar, and actually haven’t used her exact blend in any of these recipes.  Instead I have riffed off her proportions to come up with a millet-based blend.  We have some family with issues with beans, so we try not to cook with bean flours, especially if we want to share!  I’m still tweaking the proportions, but basically this is the flour blend I have been using:

  • 1/4 Cup millet flour
  • 1/4 cup sorghum flour
  • 1/4 cup potato starch OR sweet rice flour
  • 1/4 cup tapioca flour

If I need more flour, I up the proportion of millet and sorghum first and then the potato and tapioca.  I’m finding that as long as I use some combination of these flours, most recipes are fairly forgiving if I deviate from the proportions.

A year and a half in, and maybe, just maybe, we’re starting to figure this out 🙂

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Catching Up: THE sugar cookie recipe from Chirstmas

Christmas was only a month ago. It isn’t so bad that I’m just now posting the recipe, right? On this grey day, it’s nice to remember the glitter and shine of Christmas anyway. This recipe came from several disastrous attempts on my own, then the research and merging of recipes from other places. The result is now a cookie that I can roll and cut, frost, and love. I like them better than gluten-filled sugar cookies. We found if you roll them out very thin (1/16th of an inch) they bake in about 4 minutes and are very good. Thanks to my sister for getting us a new rolling-pin with thickness discs on it!

Cookies cut, and heading to the oven

½ cups millet flour
¼ cup sorghum flour (Or you could skip the millet and sorghum and do 3/4 garbanzo bean flour instead)
½ cup corn starch
1 cup tapioca flour
1 ¼ cups sweet rice flour
½ cup potato starch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon flax steeped in 4 tablespoons water
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup whole milk , (or just 1/2 cup sour cream)
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon cracked anise, (eye-ball it)
3 drops peppermint oil

Makes about 3 dozen – depending on how you roll them

1. Mix together the dry ingredients. Set aside.
2. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light in color. Add flax, milk and sour cream, and vanilla. Beat to combine. Gradually add flour, and beat until mixture combines and is creamy.

If you want your cookies to just be sugar cookie flavored, wrap the dough in plastic for a couple of hours and skip to step 4. If you’d like to play with the flavors continue to step 3.
3. Divide the dough in half. In one half, add in cracked anise (this batch will taste like pizzelle, especially if you roll it thin). In the other add the peppermint. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight
4. After the dough has rested,  roll the dough between plastic. I use a pie crust bag (go google it or look for it on amazon).  Don’t forget to preheat the oven to 375 ℉. Use tapioca flour to keep the dough from sticking to the bag.   If dough has warmed during rolling, place cold cookie sheet on top for 10 minutes to chill or pop it back in the fridge.
5. Cut into shapes if you want, place a cookie sheet lined with parchment, or silicone baking mat, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating cookie sheet halfway through.  The cookies won’t brown and that’s ok. Move them, baking mat and all to a cooling rack.

A little Tip: This dough keeps really well in the refrigerator.  Instead of baking up all 3 dozen at once, we would roll out a sheets worth every day or every other day and bake them up.  That way the cookies always were fresh.  I will say though, we kept some towards the end for over a week and they still tasted fresh and crisp.

Lightly browned and still holding their shape!

Lots of sugar cookies heading to an office party

Now, if you’d like to frost these, I recommend looking at the new Allergy-Free Deserts cookbook by Elizabeth Gordon (I am making a desert every week out of it all year, watch for posts on it soon!).  I got that book for Christmas, and she has a lovely icing that would work here.  But, I made these cookies before I had her book, so this is the icing I used.

Vegan Frosting
¼ cup coconut oil
¼ cup agave
½ teaspoon vanilla

1. Combine all the ingredients.

2. Add food coloring if desired.

3. Spread it on the cookie and refrigerate to get the frosting to harden.


A Christmas goodie plate with ginger cookies, frosted sugar cookies, and cream cheese and hot pepper jelly on a pecan nut cracker.

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Pineapple Pie and Thoughts on Rice Flour

Pineapple Pie with a rice-flour crust

This recipe came from Extending the Table, and I didn’t have to substitute anything.  Well, ok, I did use GF flour, but anymore that doesn’t count.  The filling is a nicely spiced, thickened pineapple sauce, which was light and tropical the perfect foil for these cold, damp spring days we’ve been having.

Slice of Pineapple Pie

I learned a little something about rice flour as I made this pie. I used the Gluten Free Pantry’s pie crust, and I was not impressed.  It was crumbly and didn’t hold together, which is why the top looks the way it does.  It tastes great though.

I’m starting to wonder if my consistent problem with items made with rice flour is because we are egg-free?  Perhaps the flax and xanthum gum aren’t enough with rice flour to make it come together and stay together.  Which reminds me, there was no xanthum gum in this pie dough mix and I didn’t add any.  Hmm….   Well let’s see how they compare:

Rice flour is very low in protein, and flax seeds, while higher in protein, have less than an egg.  When I make something based in rice flour, it will only have the 3.5 to 5 grams of protein depending on how much flax I use.  Rice flour mixes that use eggs, have 8 grams of protein.  That’s only 1 gram shy of the protein content of wheat flour and an egg.

When using regular wheat flour, the amount of protein is related to how much gluten will be produced.  The higher the protein content, the more gluten will be produced.   But, what about gluten-free proteins?  Are they as important to baking? Colorado State’s Extension office has some useful information on the subject.  They point out that gluten is important in baking because it lends structure and creates spaces where gas can form, but not escape, which makes baked goods  light, fluffy, and chewy.  Without gluten, air bubbles can escape, which is why we use eggs, xanthum gum, and other binders.  They make up for some of that lost elasticity.

Given that explanation, I think my hunch is right- those of us who are egg-free are going to have a harder time with rice flours.  Now to ponder the next question, will all proteins create those ideal situations to keep air and moisture in the baked good, or will only some proteins?  If all proteins, then let’s just experiment until we get the protein ratios right and call it a day on all this flour experimentation.  If all proteins are not created equal, then which ones are more suited to baking?  I mean, if all we needed to do is add in another high protein flour and all our gluten-free worries are over, then why did anyone even bother experimenting with rice flour?  And, finally, where does xanthum gum fit in here?  It doesn’t have any protein at all!  Is there a food scientist in the audience?

Look for the thrilling answers to these and other wheat-free questions in future episodes!


Pasta! a new and wild fronteer

Almost everyone I know likes pasta.  Some people I know are down right picky about pasta.  I even have a friend of Italian ancestry for whom I will never cook pasta, or risotto, or anything Italian.  I know it will never be right, so I make other genres of food for him and his family.

If you or someone you know is gluten-free, the topic of pasta has probably come up once or twice.  You can buy gluten-free pasta, but that breaks down into 3 categories:

1) Rice Pasta: as you may have noticed, I’m not a fan of rice flour… yet.  I’m sure it has a good purpose and I will discover it!  Rice pasta is mushy.  It has a poor texture, and does not reheat well.  It really falls apart.  Rice pasta is a different texture than Asian rice noodles (which are an acceptable use of rice flour in my world ;-).  But, if you’ve ever tried to use Asian rice noodles as spaghetti noodles, you know it just isn’t the same thing.

2) Corn Pasta: this has become our saving grace in the noodle world.  It has a good texture, cooks in about the same time as wheat pasta, and I think it reheats well.  The Geographer, on the other hand, does not care for them reheated, and he is the gluten-free person in our home, so that opinion counts.  Other drawbacks include that it is really hard to find; only one grocery near us carries it, and they cost about $3.50 for 12 ounces of pasta (yikes!).

3) A Corn/Rice combo:  This is by far the best option out there from a texture perspective.  The noodles end up almost exactly like traditional wheat noodles and reheat very well.  But, like corn pasta, they are hard to find, and cost even more at $4.00/ 12 oz box.  On the upside, they come in more shapes than corn pasta.

So what are we to do?  Ration out the pasta meals?  Not likely.  The Geographer tells me regularly that I could serve spaghetti every day and he wouldn’t get tired of it.  Before going gluten-free mac and cheese was a regular feature of weekend lunches in our house.  It seems like its time for me to experiment with making my own!

In mid-January I actually made pasta, and it was edible, in fact, it was quite good.  I found the recipe in Bette Hagman’s Gluten-Free Gourmet.  She offers 2 recipes for pasta, and I opted for the Bean Flour Pasta.  We’ve had such good luck with bean flour, it seemed as good a place as any to start.  She also wrote that she had made those noodles without egg, another bonus for me.

Bette Hagman’s Bean Flour Pasta

As I formed the ball, I added in cornstarch until the dough won’t take any more and the dough is firm and dry.

I put the dough on a cutting board and tried to roll it as thin as possible.  This step was especially hard for me.  I’m rarely able to roll a dough very thin, and this dough definitely could have rolled more thinly if I had more oomph behind my technique.  I then tried to slice it into strips and shape it.  It sliced easily. My son even helped me make fun shapes, like bow ties.

The past can be cooked immediately, or it can be frozen uncooked, although I haven’t tried freezing the dough yet.  We cooked the noodles as we would any pasta noodle using boiling salted water.  The recipe says it will take 5-7 minutes to cook.  If you have supper-thick noodles like I did, it will take more like 20 minutes to a half hour.  Our noodles weren’t perfect, and the thickness was the main problem.  They did taste great though, and they reheated perfectly the next day.

Cooked, but thick noodles

The finished product

Now that I’ve jumped over the hurdle of homemade noodles, I can’t wait to experiment more.  I want to try the other noodle recipe in The Gluten-Free Gourmet.  I also can’t wait to get a noodle press.  I haven’t tried making noodles again, and it is in large part due to lack of a noodle press.  Besides, with the right attachment, I could then make ravioli.  Something the Geographer never gets to have and a dish I miss.  Nothing beats stuffed noodles.  I look forward to sharing that adventure with you!

4/2/11: Updated to make this post more compliant with copyright law.  Thanks!

1/26/12: Made some spelling updates

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Pie, Pie, me oh my!

Remember that saying from the movie Michael?  My son, age 2, says it, and one snowy day, came up to me saying, “Mom, we need pie, pie, me oh my”.  He was right.  Usually in winter, we eat a lot of fruit turnovers; the kind from the freezer section.  Well, we can’t eat those anymore.  Nor can we eat other fried dough delights, like samosas.  The first week of February became fried pie week!


I decided to adapt the recipe from Extending the Table by Joetta Handrich Schlabach (1991, Herald Press).  To make the pastry, I combined 2 cups bean 4 flour blend, 1/2 tsp salt, 2/3 cup water, and 1 tbsp oil.  I let the dough hydrate while I fried some potatoes in turmeric, ginger, coriander and cumin powders.  I added fresh cilantro to the mix and then went back to the dough.


The dough was sticky, and impossible to roll out.  I ended up grabbing lumps of it in my hands, stuffing potato into it, and frying in my electric skillet.  They tasted ok, but working with the dough was unbelievably frustrating.

These samosas were fairly good, but not worth the effort.






It was with a bit of trepidation that I tried fried dough again the next day.

Empanadas (Let’s be honest, fried turnover pie):

I worked to combine the Empanadas recipe from Extending the Table and the Four Flour Pastry recipe from The Gluten Free Gourmet. I ended up with:

  • 2 cups Bean 4 flour mix
  • 1 generous tsp xantham gum
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • ½ cup butter-softened
  • 3 T boiling water+ 1 T ground flax seed
  • ½ cup milk (I used whole milk for the fat content, you could use heavy cream too)
  • 1 tsp white vinegar

Combine the flours, xantham gum, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Cut in the butter. Then add the flax seed, milk and vinegar. Once the dough comes together, shape it into a ball, cover in plastic wrap, and let it sit for an hour on the counter.


Then, divide the dough into small balls.   To work with the dough, don’t put a lot of pressure when rolling it out.  Dust the whole ball in flour before rolling and roll the ball out to something symmetrical, square or octagon is ok here.  Fill half of the circle with the filling of your choice, we like cherry pie filling. You might also try any combination of meat or potatoes.  Be carefull not to over-fill it, and when folding it over, aim for the thinner patches of dough.  Use water as you go to keep the dough together.

Bake at 375 for 12-15 minutes, or deep fry until brown.  We decided to fry half, per the directions on the empanadas recipe, and bake half, to mimic those freezer pies we love so much.


The results were flaky, yummy goodness.  The fried pies were just a bit flakier than the baked, and both were exactly what we had hopped they would be.  In the future, I would use the empanadas recipe to make samosas.  I think we could make a pie and freeze it, then bake it, just like those freezer pies we like so much.  Now I just need the time to make enough that I can eat some and freeze some!


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A-Z: Fun with Four Flours

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I used the Four Flour Bean blend as an all-purpose flour.  This flour blend has saved our gluten-free kitchen.  It is a great all-purpose flour with some ability to hold together on its own, and a great texture when baked or cooked.  I have used it with great satisfaction in everything from cakes and cookies, to yeast breads and pie crusts.  I make my own blend, but I have also seen some of the main-stream gluten-free all-purpose flours in the grocery that seem to be the same general blend.  Based on the ingredient labels, I suspect they use a bit more sorghum flour than this recipe does, and they also use potato starch.  I find too much sorghum has a metallic taste, but the recipe that follows, minimizes that metallic taste.  I keep a container of this on hand and just use it one for one in any recipe that calls for flour.  As this adventure continues, I’m sure I’ll find times and places for other all-purpose flour blends, but for now, this is my go-to blend.

Note: there is no rice flour here.  Someday I’ll find a good use for rice flour.  If you know of one- let me know!

A complete list of flour mixes, including the one listed below can be found at the Celiac Sprue Association website.  This recipe can also be found in Bette Hagman’s Gluten Free Gourmet- a resource that never fails me.  This recipe is based on a 20 oz bag of tapioca flour (which happens to be 5 cups).

  • 3 1/3 cups garfava bean flour (this is a blend of garbanzo and fava bean flours)
  • 1 2/3 cup sorghum flour
  • 5 cups cornstarch
  • 5 cups tapioca flour

I put them all into an air-tight container, then shake.  I usually give the container before each use.

Anymore these flours can be found in almost any grocery in the baking or gluten-free aisle.  Some co-ops sell these in bulk, and of course the natural foods stores sell these.  I have been finding mine at a discount chain called Marc’s, but as friends of mine recently reported, theirs didn’t seem to carry the flours and they ended up at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.  Wherever you go to find them, if you want to cook and bake without gluten, this flour blend will see you through a lot!

Happy baking!

Updated 4/4/11 to respect copyright rules.