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Adventures in Pie

Today I made my first foray into the realm of gluten-free baking. My sister recently developed some food sensitivities including gluten and when she heard I was making pumpkin pie from fresh pumpkins for (Canadian) Thanksgiving, she asked if I could make the pie crust gluten-free. Not wanting to dive head first into experimentation when the whole family’s dessert was on the line, I agreed to make a tiny pie just for her.

For the gluten-free pastry I followed a pie crust recipe I found at gluten-free-girl. Well… Sort-of.

After doing some reading on xanthan gum (which I was able to find) and guar gum (which I was not), I was a little bit skeptical of including these gums in the pastry. I read mixed reviews of recipes that include xanthan gum, the main complaint being texture. I decided to split the recipe in half and make one tiny pie with xanthan gum and one tiny pie without. Good thing I decided to cut the recipes in half since the recipe turned out to be sized for two crusts.

I used a different mix of flours to those called for in the recipe, basically using what flours I found in the organics section of my local grocery store. The mix I chose was:

  • 5 oz almond flour
  • 3 1/2 oz tapioca flour
  • 5 oz rice flour
  • 2 1/2 oz quinoa

Mixing

Almond flour is my new nemesis. It might just be the brand of almond flour but my flour was a really, really inconsistent grind. Some of it was extremely fine (as it should be) but there were also relatively large chunks of almond in it. I ended up running the whole bag of flour through my sifter. My sifter now has almond flour stuck in between the two meshes and I just barely made it to 5 oz of sifted flour — the rest was almond chunks.

Nobody has had a chance to try the finished pies yet but I have to say quinoa flour just does not smell very nice, at least not as an ingredient in a pie crust for sweet pie.

The non-xanthan batch mixed up reasonably well and I was able to form it into a ball and get it wrapped and into the fridge with no trouble.

I had a little bit of trouble while mixing up the xanthan batch. The texture seemed all wrong while I was mixing it and it refused to stick together properly even when I reached the maximum amount of water the recipe calls for. I eventually managed to coax it into a ball, wrapped it and stuffed it into the fridge.

Filling

Once I was finished with the dough I moved onto baking up the pumpkins (remove stem, cut in half vertically, clean guts, rub cut with butter, bake face down on a baking sheet for an hour). I found an excellent post in /r/cooking that gave instructions on roasting pumpkins — with pictures! — so I followed that. Due to poor (excellent?) planning, I ended up with almost three full pies’ worth of pumpkin puree and enough pastry in the fridge for three full pies so I decided to bake up everything into full-sized pies.

Rule of thumb for pie pumpkins / sugar pumpkins: one whole pumpkin per pie.

Rolling

When it came time to roll, I started with the non-xanthan batch. It was a bit troublesome to roll out because it kept breaking apart but it wasn’t catastrophic. I managed to get it into the pie plate mostly whole and I spent a few minutes patching up cracks and broken bits.

Next I rolled out the xanthan batch. What a catastrophe. I don’t know what happened. It might’ve been my fault, I freely admit. Either way though, I rolled out the dough, lifted my silicon baking mat off the top and the crust was a spiderweb of cracks. Turns out it was even worse than it looked — when I lifted the parchment paper under the crust to put the crust into the pie plate, the whole thing crumbled to dust. That batch went in the garbage. I just could not get it to hold together.

I’ll get a verdict on how the non-xanthan batch turned out tomorrow. In the meantime, I think I’m going to stick to glutenous pie crust unless I’m baking for somebody who explicitly needs their treats gluten-free — my regular crust went off without a hitch. Going to have to see about whipping up another batch of dough so I can use up the filling that went with the aborted xanthan-gum crust and I’ll probably make it regular glutenous dough.

Oh, and one more thing. If you make pie and you don’t own a silicon baking mat you need to go out and get one. This is the first chance I’ve had to test-drive the one I picked up a few months ago and it’s amazing. A layer of parchment paper on the bottom, the baking mat on the top and the crust in the middle makes rolling a snap. I may pick up a second, larger mat for underneath.

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Pie, pie, pie!

This might seem a little out of character for the site but rest assured, it is not out of character for me (as any of my friends will attest); eating is one of my three favorite activities.

Things I learned today while making pie crust:
1. A pastry cloth is a fantastic asset for keeping your pie crust from sticking to whatever you’re rolling it on. Sadly, it is very difficult to find a pastry cloth in a department store these days.
2.5 Two is not the same as two and a half. Read your recipe carefully!
3. In place of a pastry cloth, you can use a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. If your parchment paper starts to slide around on the counter, put a damp cloth underneath and it will stay put as you roll.
4. Pastry does not slide well on parchment paper (though it doesn’t stick, either). To overcome this problem, you can slide a cookie sheet under the parchment paper and flip the pastry into the pie plate (or onto the filled pie if it’s the upper crust). If you’re putting the lower crust into the pie plate, it’s easier and more precise to put the empty pie plate on top of the pastry and flip the whole thing over.

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