December 1, 2011

Gluten-Free Pie Crust

I've had ups and downs with gluten-free pie crusts, but I've finally mastered them. The two tricks are: use less liquid than you think, and heat/warm/cook your filling part-way before putting it in the crust. GF crusts seem to bake and brown more quickly and thoroughly than wheat crusts; I've had a lot of crusts get very dark before the filling cooks the whole way through. If the filling is hot going in, it will cook faster and the crust won't have time to burn.

Also, using alcohol instead of water yields both a better texture and more flavor, and the alcohol itself bakes off. I like using a dry white wine in my savory crusts, and rum or a vanilla-infused vodka in my sweet crusts.

The flour combo can be varied as needed; swap out 1/4 cup of this or that in the recipe as needed. I would avoid soy & corn flours (too strong) and millet or arrowroot (too cakey/fluffy for a pie crust). Nut flours would work well, though baking times may vary.

Recipe can easily be made vegan.

Basic GF Pastry Crust

  • 1.5 cups total flours:
    • 1/2 cup white rice flour
    • 1/4 cup brown rice flour
    • 1/4 cup sweet rice flour
    • 1/4 cup sorghum flour
    • 1/4 cup potato starch or corn starch
  • 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 oz. fat:
    • 1 stick butter or
    • 4 oz. (1/2 cup) shortening or lard or
    • a mix of any of the above, totaling 4 oz.
  • 1 egg yolk
    • or 1 tbs. ground flaxseed mixed with 2 tbs. hot water
  • 1 tsp. brown sugar
    • Or up to 2 tbs. brown sugar for a sweet crust
  • 3-6 tbs. ice cold water or alcohol

  1. Dice butter/shortening/lard into small cubes and place in freezer while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Combine flours, xanthan gum, salt, and sugar in food processor. Pulse to combine.
  3. Add fat and pulse until crumbly and no large pieces of fat are visible.
  4. Add yolk or flax mixture.
  5. Drizzle in 3 tablespoons ice cold water/alcohol and pulse to combine. Check mixture: press it together with your fingertips. If it holds together, it's done. If not, add another tablespoon and pulse again. Mixture may seem a bit dry, but if it holds together, it's done.
  6. Refrigerate for 15-30 minutes. (Can make ahead; when doing so, let dough warm slightly at room temperature before rolling out, otherwise it will be too brittle.)
  7. Roll out for desired use. Place in pie/tart pan. Refrigerate another 15 minutes before baking.
Bake at 350-375.

For custard-type tarts and pies (including pumpkin pie and goat cheese tart), I like to blind-bake the crust (with foil and pie weights) for 15 minutes; remove foil and weights, prick bottom of crust with a fork, and bake again another 5 minutes.

For best results, heat filling beforehand. Do this by bringing eggs to room temperature. If there is milk or cream, heat that to a bare simmer, then whisk it into the remaining ingredients and pour into pie shell. A heated milk-egg custard mixture should only take 15-25 minutes more in the oven, and your crust shouldn't get too dark.

I've had great results recently with a pear tart, goat cheese & herb tart, and pumpkin pie. I'm working on some of my own ideas; I'll post pics once that happens.

October 9, 2011

Pumpkin Cake & Sage Ice Cream

I get really crazy for squashes and pumpkins in the fall: soups, cookies, pizza, ravioli, tacos, the list is endless. One of my all-time favorite flavor combos is pumpkin and sage, and I especially love using herbs in a dessert. The moist, spiced pumpkin cake is enhanced by the earthy, lemony sage ice cream.

You can use canned pumpkin or make your own pumpkin puree. The pumpkin is really just a round variety of winter squash, so any sweet, orange-fleshed winter squash works here. I prefer kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), kuri, hubbard, or buttercup squashes, but you can also use the more common butternut or acorn squashes or sugar (pie) pumpkins. Just don't use large pumpkins meant to be carved; they're tasteless!

If you don't have an ice cream maker, you could make sage whipped cream by simply heating the sage and lemon peel in cream, letting it infuse for half an hour, cooling it, and whipping it when cold, sweetening to taste with powdered sugar.

Pumpkin Crumble Cake

Cake Batter
  • 4oz. butter/margarine (1 stick) or shortening
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cups pumpkin puree (1 15oz. can)
  • 1 cup milk (skim through whole, or soy or almond)
  • 2 cups flour (all-purpose or whole wheat pastry, or GF blend)
    • Gluten-free flour blend
      • 1/2 cup cornstarch or potato starch
      • 1/2 cup brown rice flour
      • 1/2 cup white rice flour
      • 1/2 cup sorghum flour
      • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice blend or make your own:
    • Pumpkin spice blend:
      • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
      • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
      • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
      • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
      • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Streusel Topping
  • 1 cup flour (all-purpose or whole wheat pastry, or GF blend)
    • Gluten-free flour blend for streusel:
      • 1/2 cup sorghum flour
      • 1/2 cup brown rice flour
  • 1 cup (gluten-free) old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 4oz. butter/margarine (1 stick) or shortening
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9"x13" pan. (You may also halve the recipe and use an 8"x8" square pan.)
  2. Make cake batter: cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and mix until well blended.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together pumpkin, milk, and vanilla. Set aside.
  4. In a separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients (flours, baking powder, salt, spices). Set aside.
  5. Add a third of the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl and blend until smooth. Repeat process adding half the wet ingredients, a third of the dry, the rest of the wet, and the rest of the dry. Do not overmix.
  6. In another bowl, combine all streusel topping ingredients and blend with a fork until crumbly.
  7. Pour half the cake batter into the pan, followed by half the streusel, the remaining batter, and the remaining streusel. With a knife, carefully blend the streusel topping into the top of the cake batter a bit, but leave some of it dry. If you omit this step, the topping can get very dry and fall off the cake easily.
  8. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. The cake will pull away from the sides of the pan.
  9. Cool completely and serve at room temperature with sage ice cream or sage whipped cream.

Sage Ice Cream
  • 2 cups cream + 1 cup whole milk
    • OR, 1 cup cream + 2 cups half-and-half
  • 3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3-4 strips of lemon zest (use a vegetable peeler on a lemon)
  • 1 tablespoon apricot or peach preserves (optional)
  • 1 cup fresh sage leaves, brusied
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2-4 tablespoons alcohol like vodka (or vanilla vodka) or rum
    • (Optional, but the idea here is to lower the freezing point and prevent ice crystals rather than introduce flavor. I use vodka that I've soaked vanilla beans in.)
    • If you don't use vanilla vodka, add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or add a vanilla bean to the cream mixture.
  1. Combine dairy, 3/4 cups sugar, salt, lemon zest, preserves, and sage leaves in a pot. Bring just to a simmer and turn off the heat; let steep for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, beat or whisk egg yolks and 2 tablespoons sugar until extremely pale yellow in color (the "ribbon" stage).
  3. Bring cream mixture up to about 150 degrees. Temper up to a cup of this mixture into the egg yolks. Transfer mixture back to pot and bring to 180 degrees. Remove from heat immediately.
  4. Let cool to room temperature (at least below 80 degrees) and add alcohol or vanilla extract. Remove lemon peel (and vanilla beans if using).
  5. Puree mixture in a blender or with an immersion blender. Strain and place in a quart container. I like to add about a teaspoon of the pureed sage leaves back into the mixture.
  6. Chill thoroughly, at least 4 hours but preferably overnight. Freeze in an ice cream maker, place in a container and freeze at least 4 hours before serving.

July 17, 2011

Gluten-Free Burnt Almond Torte

I concocted this recipe from a few different sources, putting my own spin on things a bit. The Italian buttercream and pastry cream recipes are from Joe Pastry, who I trust in all things pastry-related. I cannot begin to express how amazing Italian buttercream is if you've never had it. It's simultaneously very light and very rich, and tastes like a cloud that just melts in your mouth. This frosting recipe makes a bit extra for this cake, although you could use it in place of pastry cream in one of the layers.

My recommendation is to make the pastry cream at least a day in advance, then the cakes (the day of, or the day before you plan to assemble the cake), toast the almonds after you've baked the cakes, cut the cakes after they've cooled, assemble them with the pastry cream, make the buttercream, frost the cake, then make the almond topping and put it on the cake. I know, it's a lot of steps, but the end result is certainly a show stopper! It is a massive cake meant for a crowd, for special occasions. (I made it for my partner's birthday.) Keep that in mind as you scroll through the ingredients and realize you need seven sticks of butter, ten eggs, and more than four cups of sugar!

By the way, if you don't need to bake gluten-free, you can make this recipe more easily (and cheaply) by simply using 3 cups of cake flour instead of a GF flour mix and xanthan gum.

Burnt Almond Torte
serves at least 16

Move over, Prantl's

There's a lot of things I have to say about gluten-free baking, but here's my main approach: use a tried-and-true flour-containing recipe, and replace the flour with a mix of gluten-free flours and xanthan gum. It works for me every time. Different baked goods require different combinations of starches and starchy flours and hearty flours. For cakes, I like the ratio of 2:1 starchy flours (rice, millet, corn) to starches (cornstarch, potato starch).

Anyway, this was my first attempt at making a big, layered, fancy-looking gluten-free cake. I wanted to do a gluten-free version of the Pittsburgh classic: burnt almond torte. I saw some "copycat" recipes online, but they didn't really looking authentic. I knew the components I needed: a white cake, custard, buttercream, and toasted almonds. I went to work and found my favorite versions of each one.

I'll post a full recipe soon, but basically I just replaced the 3 cups of flour the cake recipe called for with my 2:1 ratio. I used 1/2 cup each of: white rice flour, sweet rice flour, brown rice flour, millet flour, cornstarch, and potato starch, plus 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum. I hate the taste of tapioca starch, so I never use it. I think that it's what makes things have that funky "gluten-free" taste.

So don't throw out all your beloved family recipes that use wheat flour; just make a simple substitution! The resulting cake was slightly denser than your average layer cake, but it was moist and had a good crumb. Full recipe to come!

July 6, 2011

TVP Breakfast Sausage

I started eating vegetarian in January 2011, mostly because I think it's healthier and I don't really ever crave meat (except seafood, which I still occasionally eat). One thing I missed though was having a good breakfast sausage with my pancakes. Well, no more!
TVP (textured vegetable protein) is an amazing thing. It's soy protein that has had the fat removed (it's what's left when extracting soybean oil) and then they heat it and extrude it into various shapes. Most TVP you'll find is textured to simulate the consistency of ground meat. You just pour boiling water over the dried TVP, let it rehydrate, and it's ready to go. It's great to add protein and bulk to a vegetarian tomato sauce, and you can even use it to bulk up ground meat, making it both cheaper and healthier. You can make vegetarian meatloaf, burgers, meatballs, or my favorite, a savory and slightly sweet breakfast sausage. (Really, for me, this is a vehicle for sage, my favorite herb.)

TVP Breakfast Sausage
yield: 6-8 patties
prep/cook time: 20 minutes

  • 1 cup TVP
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed*
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • 1 egg*
  • Sausage herbs and spices (adjust per your preference)
    • 2 tablespoons fresh minced sage
    • 1 tablespoon fresh minced rosemary
    • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
    • 1 tablespoon molasses or honey
    • 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar or sugar substitute
*you can omit the flaxseed and add an extra egg yolk, or omit the eggs (to make it vegan) and add an extra tablespoon of ground flax. Both of these ingredients are binders that help the sausage hold its shape. If you make a substitution, you may need to adjust the liquid up or down so it's not too wet or dry.
  1. Combine TVP, flaxseed, and all herbs, spices, and sweeteners in a bowl. Pour over boiling water and let sit for 10 minutes (or cover and wait until ready to use).
  2. Transfer mixture to food processor. Add egg and pulse until combine. (You can just mix the egg in without a food processor, but processing it helps it have a homogeneous texture and makes it stick together better.)
  3. Form into 6-8 patties. Fry on a greased skillet or griddle over medium high heat until browned (about 3-5 minutes). Flip and brown on second side. (Patties have a tendency to fall apart when forming/placing on griddle, but just press them back together and they'll solidify together when cooked.)
This could easily be adjusted to make a more Italian-style sausage, with more fennel or anise, red pepper flakes, garlic, onion, etc., or even a chorizo-style sausage with smoked paprika and lots of heat. One of these days I'm going to experiment with gluten-free biscuits and TVP sausage gravy! Stay tuned for my infinitely modifiable pancake recipe.

Recipe is naturally vegetarian (vegan: replace egg with flaxseed) and gluten-free. Contains soy (TVP).

July 3, 2011

Vidalia Peach Salsa

A friend of mine recently brought me a jar of some small farm's vidalia peach salsa. I'm not really a huge salsa fan, but that jar was empty soon after we opened it. I looked for a recipe for it, but most of what I found was completely raw (which didn't sound like what I had, or what I wanted), or it used canned peaches, which didn't seem right. I came up with this version for a Fourth of July party, and it was a huge hit! This recipe makes about two quarts, which is a lot, but you can easily halve it.

Vidalia Peach Salsa
yield: 7-8 cups
prep/cook time: 30-40 minutes
ready in: 5 hours (with cooling time)

  • 4 cups finely chopped Vidalia onion (1-2 large onions)
  • 2 cups finely chopped orange and/or yellow bell peppers (2 medium peppers)
  • 2 cups diced, ripe peaches (3-4 peaches)
  • One 28-ounce can petite diced tomatoes
  • Juice of one lemon (or lime)
  • The following are all optional/adjustable to taste:
    • Salt (1-2 teaspoons)
    • Pepper (1/2-1 teaspoon)
    • Smoked paprika (1 teaspoon)
    • Chipotle powder (1/4 teaspoon)
    • Dried oregano (1/4 teaspoon)
    • Apple cider vinegar (1 tablespoon)
    • Honey, sugar, or other sweetener (I used 3 tablespoons; depends on sweetness of fruit and vegetables)
    • Fresh chopped cilantro
  1. Chop onions and peppers and set aside.
  2. Peel, pit, and chop peaches, catching all the juices.
  3. Drain tomatoes and peaches in a sieve, reserving liquid.
  4. On medium-high heat, heat a medium stockpot with a little non-stick spray or oil. Saute onions and peppers with some salt until starting to soften, about 5 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, place tomato/peach juices in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add dried spices, vinegar, and honey and bring to a rapid boil (being careful not to boil over). Boil until reduced and reaches a syrupy consistency, about 10 minutes.
  6. Add tomatoes to onions and peppers. Continue cooking for 5 minutes; remove from heat.
  7. Add reduced liquid, diced peaches, and lemon juice to the stockpot and stir to combine. Cool completely (4+ hours).
  8. When cool, transfer half of the mixture to a blender or food processor and blend until roughly smooth. (Or use an immersion blender and just blend half the mixture.) Stir smooth and chunky mixtures together. (If you prefer your salsa smoother or chunkier, adjust accordingly.)
  9. Add fresh cilantro (if using).
This turned out to be sweet, full-bodied, with a little smokiness from the paprika and a little kick from the chipotle. The vegetables are cooked and softened, but still retain a bit of bite. If you like it hotter, you could add some whole chipotles in adobo, or cut the bell peppers with some hotter peppers. You can also change up the type of onions and bell peppers, or even replace some/all of the peaches with mango.

Recipe is naturally vegetarian (vegan: replace honey with agave or other sweetener), gluten-free, allergen-free, and low-fat/fat-free (only fat is from nonstick spray or oil for sauteing the vegetables). Lower-sugar option: replace honey with no-calorie sweetener.