Adventures in Gluten-Free Baking

New to the world of gluten-free eating and my husband having a hankering for pie, I decided to try making one. My mother had previously made buckwheat pancakes, so I thought why not give that a go? Well, buckwheat has a very distinctive flavor. There is a reason the French use it for savory crepes, not sweet ones. This crust tasted like kitty litter. Not that I’ve ever eaten kitty litter, but if I ever did, I imagine it would taste like this piecrust. It definitely was the color of kitty litter.

For attempt number two, I got a gluten-free baking cookbook and followed the instructions, using corn and potato starch for the flours. The recipe also called for shortening instead of butter. When it came time to mix it all and roll it out, I could not make a lump of crust batter to save my life. It fell apart all over the bowl, countertop, and floor. I kept adding milk, which helped it to stick together but created a sticky mush. By the time I managed to roll it out, I had more on my hands and roller than in a crust. I pieced together the mush in the pie dish, poured in the cherry filling, and stuck it in the oven. This time the crust tasted decent, but was the consistency of solidified concrete. We used steak knives to cut pieces and spent a lot of time chewing.

The third time I tried to make a pie, I used butter. WOW! The dough stuck together, rolled out without too much fuss (although I did have to generously flour the roller and parchment paper,) and tasted like normal gluten filled piecrust. I added a note to the recipe, “BUTTER! $%*@ shortening.”

One day I decided to make a dairy-free piecrust. I discovered Earth Balance, which is a non-hydrogenated margarine-like spread and works decently well in holding together the dough. My mistake came when I used almond milk. Almond milk has a curious aftertaste. While not inedible, this pie had us looking at each other funny with each bite. Another time I tried hemp milk. It was kitty litter déjà vu, although not gray colored. I also experimented with more flours, because the potato and corn starches don’t give you a flaky crust.

This crust will not taste like kitty litter.

Having made a lot of awful pies, here is the recipe I finally settled on.

½ cup BUTTER (Or Earth Balance if you want dairy free)
½ cup rice or sorghum flour
½ cup cornstarch
1 tsp of sugar
1.5 tsps baking powder
3 tsp xantham gum
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ cup milk (only milk substitute worth trying is soy. Rice is too watery.)
Extra milk to help you roll the dough into a ball.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine all the ingredients and mix well to remove any lumps. You really have to use your hands, unless you want to lose half your dough to the mixer. Roll out the dough between two sheets of wax paper that have been generously floured. Make sure your dough is flattened to at least 2” more in diameter than your pie plate. I found 2” good for those of us that are a little clutzy. It allows room for error. Remove the top sheet of wax paper and put your pie dish face down on the dough. Keeping one hand on the bottom of the dish and another under the wax paper, flip that sucker right side up. Push the crust gently into the dish, allowing gravity to do most of the work. Slowly remove the wax paper so you don’t rip the dough. This is where the extra inch comes in handy. If it rips, you can squish it down further and mush the ripped part back together. Trim the excess and pinch the edges to form a nice border. If you are making a pie filling that needs to be baked, follow that recipe for oven temperature and time. Otherwise, prebake your crust until golden brown, about 12 minutes for my oven. Start with 10.

Happy baking!

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