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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Thanksgiving Redux

It was a great Thanksgiving in our corner of the world.  We’ve been gluten-free for a little over 2 years and this is the first Thanksgiving that there was no cross contamination, no after dinner reactions.  Just a lovely visit with family and good food. A sample of our menu:

Pulled pork (who needs turkey?)- tastes great as is, with BBQ sauce, or with enchilada sauce

Baked sweet potato or mashed potato

Cranberries and jello

Soft Bread- I tried the Brown Bread from the Complete Allergy-Free Comfort Foods Book by Elizabeth Gordon.  We made it with hard cider rather than beer, since we have a hops allergy here.  Wow is all I can say.  It was a great, soft bread.  Even if it tasted like apples from the cider.

Cooked Carrots

Pumpkin Pie.  We made a pie crust, only instead of butter, I used 6 tablespoons palm shortening and 2 tablespoons coconut oil.  Then we used this pumpkin custard using flax for the eggs and agave for the sugar.  Yum!

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Chex Mix- how hard could it be?  It was really easy:

  • 4 ½ cups Rice Chex
  • 4 ½ cups Corn Chex
  • 1 cup gluten-free snack chips , Snikidinks work well or find a dairy-free snack chip
  • 1 cup gluten-free lentil crackers, pepper flavor is good, broken into bite size pieces
  • 1 cup peanuts, optional
  • 6 tablespoons butter or canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ¾ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
Preheat oven to 250.
2.Combine Chex, chips, crackers and peanuts in a 13×9 pan and set aside.
3.If using butter, melt and add the Worcestershire sauce and spices to the butter or oil. Stir until well combined.
4.Pour the seasoning mixture over the Chex mixture and toss until everything is coated.
5.Bake for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

There you have it.  Christmas baking here I come!

What was your Thanksgiving success story?  If you have a great recipe share it in the comments section.


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Pie, Pie, in July- and that’s no lie

The days have been busy here!  But, I have made a new discoveries lately in the pie and ice cream departments.  Both make me very happy!

First on deck was the great pie crust discovery.   Since going gluten-free we have struggled and struggled to find a good pie crust recipe.  I have one now.  It works like wheat flour crust, but it is gluten-free.  We’ve made several pies, and they all come out flaky and light, like real pie crust.  My grandma even liked it, and she makes the best pie crust in the world.

How did I do it?  The flour blend did it.  Otherwise I followed regular pie crust making protocol, like you might find in Elizabeth Gordon’s Allergy-Free Deserts, or even from Alton Brown’s method.  Honestly, I find the two of them to be quite similar, and in the end I blended the two sets of directions.  If I understand copyright correctly, I can give you my list of ingredients, which is different from either of the above sources.  To get the directions on what to do with the ingredients, follow the link or go get the book.  Either way, you’ll be happy- I promise.

Ingredients for a perfect gluten-free pie crust:

Makes 1 1/3 crusts and the left over freeze, thaw, and roll well.

  • 6 tablespoons butter, place in freezer while assembling the rest of the ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons palm shortening, place in freezer while assembling the rest of the ingredients
  • ** if you are dairy-free, use 6 tablespoons palm shortening and 2 tablespoons coconut oil**
  • 1 cup flour blend, plus extra tapioca starch for rolling dough
    • 1/4 cup sorghum flour
    • 1/4 cup sweet rice flour
    • 1/2 tapioca starch
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ cup ice water, approximate, will depend on the day

Follow basic pie crust directions, and I tell you, you have pie.  I pulse it in the food processor, drizzling in water as I go, until a ball forms and sticks together.  If you add too much water, just add a bit more tapioca starch.  I find this rolls like a dream.

Rolled Out Pie Crust- hard to see since it is the same color as the counter top

“Well thanks for the crust recipe, but in case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a heat wave.  No way I’m turning my oven on.”

Funny you should say that.  You don’t have to turn the oven on.  You can grill this pie!

All you have to do is place the dough in the bottom of a cast iron dutch oven.

Bottom Crust Ready for Filling

Fill with the fruit or whatever of your choice and put top crust on. Then cover with the lid. Place on tops of dying coals after say, a nice dinner grilled out. Put a 1/2 batch of freshly lit coals on top of the lid. Cover the grill and cook for about 40 minutes to 1 hour. depending on how hot your coals are.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Grilled Pie

Now what could be finer than a little pie a la mode?  I just read through Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, yes, read it like a book.  It is that good.  The ice creams are mostly all egg and gluten-free (yay!) and the macaroons are gluten-free as well- BUT they are nut and egg based.  She also gives recipes for ice cream cones and fortune cookies- two recipes that should be easy to adapt to gluten-free flours.

I have made several of her sorbets and have her beet ice cream freezing in my freezer as I type.  Everything has tasted great so far!  The big bonus being that her ice creams actually scoop unlike all the other homemade ice cream recipes I’ve tried.  I’m not even using an ice cream maker.  I’m doing it the lazy way- putting it in a container, and stir every hour for three hours.  It doesn’t get as much air that way, but it will work if you don’t have a maker.

One last summer thought.  Have you found a good gluten-free ice cream sandwich recipe?  If not, check this link out.  When I make it, I use flax steeped in water for the eggs and sweet rice flour for where she calls for “rice flour”.  They come out great.  Rather than cut them by hand, I roll them like pie dough and use a biscuit cutter to cut uniform circles out of the dough.  They freeze well.

Enjoy summer!  I hope you’ve got a great link to fresh produce and that you can enjoy the flavors of summer!


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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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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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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!

Samosas:

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!