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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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!

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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.

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The A-Z: A subtle use for Buckwheat- Indian style!

When we became gluten-free, we took a moment to think about why wheat flour is so prevalent throughout human culinary traditions.  It is in everything, in almost every genre of food we could think of.  Agro-environmental geographer that I am, I started wondering, just what is the history, politics, and economics behind the “other” flours?  What are these lesser known grains that others use around the world, but receive little notice in our wheat flour cooking culture?  What cooking and baking strengths do each have, and how easy can we find them in this newly gluten-aware world.

As I manage to find these flours and try them out, I’ll add new A-Z posts featuring what I did with that flour and what I learned about its culture and history.  I don’t know how long it will take to get through the main ones, but if anyone has suggestions, feel free to share!  Right now I’m working off of the list in Bette Hagman’s The Gluten Free Gourmet.  If you have anything to add, please do!

Despite its name, buckwheat is not related to wheat.  From what I pieced together from Wikipedia, and an alternative field crop manual I found from the University of Wisconsin extension office ( , buckwheat is native to SE Asia.  It was an easy crop for people to move around because it grows best in short, cool seasons and the soil it grows in can be of poor quality.  It doesn’t like lots of nitrogen (usually when you add fertilizer to soil, you’re adding nitrogen back in).  This was an early crop brought to North America by the Europeans, and in the few places it is grown in the US, it seems to be east of the Mississippi still.

Before adopting a gluten-free diet, we used to eat buckwheat pancakes (we know them as ploys) and as soba noodles with Japanese dishes.  We discovered, however, that typically buckwheat is mixed with regular wheat.  We have yet to try pure buckwheat pancakes, and the pure buckwheat soba noodles always stick and clump together, which is a disappointment.  I’m sure I’ll have posts in the future about successes with buckwheat.  For now, the consistent way I’ve found success with buckwheat is as a replacement for whole wheat flours.

Buckwheat has an earthy, nutty flavor, and it is strong.  A little does go a long way.  I have found that even in cakes that call for whole wheat flour, buckwheat does well.

-The Chapatis Experiment

We had a dear friend over for diner a couple of weekends ago, and she unwittingly agreed to be our guinea pig.  We used to live in the same town, and Indian food was one of our favorite genres of food to share.  A couple of months back I stumbled across this fabulous recipe for paneer masala (  Since going gluten-free, we haven’t had any bread with our Indian food.  Company was the perfect excuse to try.

I decided to combine two different chapatis recipes, one from Madhur Jaffrey’s An Invitation to Indian Cooking, and one from a book called The Higher Taste, which is distributed by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.  From Jaffrey, I took smaller proportions, and the idea that I could cut the whole wheat flour 1/2 and 1/2 with all-purpose flour.  From The Higher Taste,  I took the addition of yogurt to the dough, which I thought might help bind the bread in case my replacements for wheat didn’t have the right properties.

I used:

1/2 cup bean 4 flour blend (a post on this is forthcoming!)

1/2 cup buckwheat flour

less than 1/2 cup yogurt

1/2 cup water

The dough came together well, but getting dough to come together seems like the easy part.  It is getting the dough to work that is hard!

The dough did work, and it formed perfect little balls.  They turned out well, and the flavor was good.  The only problem was on our end.  We didn’t have a good way to heat them over a gas flame to make them poof up.  So, we can’t claim this was a success completely, since we don’t know if the buckwheat will puff the way wheat will, but it did taste good and it worked for scooping up the yummy paneer masala!  Even our dinner guest seemed pleased!