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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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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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.