Violets and Amaranth

Eating weeds and gaining grains: an adventure in eating


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Happy Gluten-Free Birthday (part 1)

We have celebrated the birthdays of almost everyone in our families in the last couple of months.  It has been a great time of visiting and catching up with family after a long winter and spring.  All of this celebrating took place away from home, which meant a lot of thinking through food arrangements, and of course coming up with good treats that everyone could enjoy.  Today, I’m going to share a restaurant we found, and a treat I made, and in Part 2, I’ll share what my sister worked out for a quick, easy, and yummy set of birthday cakes.

For my birthday, we ate dinner out, and I did some research trying to find a restaurant in the Toledo area that we felt confident would work, and we were rewarded big time.  We used the Gluten Free Registry and discovered Biaggis Italian Restaurant in Perrysburg.  They’ve got a lengthy gluten-free menu (a full-page plus), which I did not expect from an Italian restaurant.  Their breads and pastas were also egg and soy-free.  I couldn’t believe it.  My husband ordered a pizza and a salad and was very pleased.  The food off the gluten menu was great too.  I will definitely go back there again.

For the next round of birthdays I was really in the mood for lemon bars.  It sort of snuck up on me, and I couldn’t get the thought of them out of my mind.  So I spent a couple of weeks trying to figure out how to make an egg-free, gluten-free, citrus-free version.  After a couple of attempts, I think I’ve finally figured it out.  I started by trying to modify an actual lemon bar recipe, but since those have something like 4 eggs minimum in them, it just seemed like too much substitution to work out.  Then I started to think about the texture and consistency of the lemon filling in a lemon meringue pie.  Obviously, this too is loaded with egg, but for different reasons than the lemon bars.  Ultimately, I crossed the lemon meringue filling with a panna cotta recipe, and found my pineapple bars!

A&V Pineapple Bars

Since GF cookie dough is often kind of crumbly, I used the sugar cookie recipe from Gluten Free Gourmet and pressed it into a 9×9 pan.

I baked it for 15 minutes at 350F.

A cookie crust

As the crust bakes and cools, heat:

  • 1 1/2 cups of pineapple juice
  • and dissolve in 1 1/2 envelopes of unflavored gelatin

Turn the heat to low and stir in:

  • 1/4 cup of agave syrup
  • 1/2 cup of white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup of corn starch
  • a pinch of salt (1/8 tsp)

Stir until the filling sets up into a uniform and light consistency.    Remove the pan from the heat and stir in:

  • 1 TBSP of butter

The Pineapple Filling

Spoon the filling over the crust.

Adding the filling to the crust

Bake at 400F for 40 minutes or until the filling looks slightly toasted.

Pineapple Bars

We liked these very much.  They aren’t exactly like lemon bars, but they are close.  Keep an eye out as I tweak this recipe more in the future!

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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!