Sunday, March 6, 2011

Challenge Accepted!

Gluten free pie crust is intimidating. No one says they have an "easy" way to make it. If you read a lot of GF blogs, or if you've ever tried it yourself, you know that gluten free pie crust is a beast to handle. It sticks, it crumbles, it breaks, and cracks, and you have to keep it really cold, and roll it out between parchment paper or plastic wrap. And after all that, you cross your fingers and hope it turned out. 

I experienced that madness once. That was enough. I used the Gluten Free Pantry pie crust mix, and it was a challenge. It was not a total failure, but I haven't really made a really good pie since going GF... UNTIL TONIGHT!

Ben and I watch a lot of cooking shows on PBS. We don't have cable (who needs cable when the rabbit ears give you 3 whole channels of PBS?) so we don't watch the food network or any of those "fancy" cooking shows. One of our favorite shows is America's Test Kitchen. A few weeks ago we were watching them make a pastry style dough. They said to use alcohol (vodka or tequila) as part of the liquid to get a flaky crust. The alcohol helps moisten the dough, but evaporates at a lower temperature than water. They also cautioned that over working the dough could activate too much of the gluten and make it tough and not light and flaky.

All of this congealed in my brain over the past few weeks, and I had an idea. Part of the reason GF pie crust is hard is because it is crumbly. Also, there seems to be this general idea that you should treat it more or less like regular pastry dough. I threw the ideas that you shouldn't handle the dough too much and that adding liquid was bad out the window. I mixed up a batch of the Gluten Free Pantry pie crust mix as directed and threw it in the fridge to chill.

When I pulled it out it was unmanageable as expected. I broke off a chunk that was rock hard and crumbly at the same time. I started kneading it on my pastry mat and sprinkled in some vodka. I added vodka and dusted the mat with sweet rice flour and corn starch as needed until I had a dough I could work with. I rolled it out with my rolling pin on the mat and after finessing it onto the rolling pin for transfer, got it into the pie pan. I had to patch up some holes, but so far this is going much better that I had anticipated.

Pie #1 was going to be a single-crust chocolate pie. I put the crust in the oven and it baked up beautifully. I used the following recipe (adapted from homesicktexan). I imagine this is pretty close to my grandma's chocolate pie. 

Chocolate Pie Filling
4 heaping tablespoons of Hershey's cocoa 
2/3 cups of sugar
5 tablespoons of corn starch
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 cups of milk (I used 2%)
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 tablespoon of butter

Put everything through the egg yolks into a sauce pan and wisk until there are no lumps (this gave my arm a workout). Once it is blended, heat over med-low heat until it begins to simmer and thicken. Mine thickened in a hurry once it warmed up. Once it is thick, remove from heat and add the butter and vanilla. stir periodically as it is cooling. While it's cooling, make a meringue. I used 3 egg whites in my meringue. Once the crust and the filling were mostly cooled, I assembled the pie and popped it in the hot oven for 10 minutes to brown the meringue. 

Isn't it pretty?!

Pie #2 is a double crust blueberry pie. It's not as picture perfect, but it's pretty for a double crust gluten free pie.

The top crust was a little tricky, but the cornstarch and vodka made it much more manageable. I used the filling recipe from the Joy of Baking web site: blueberries, cornstarch, sugar, and lemon juice. 

I had enough dough left over for a small cinnamon roll that is tucked away in the freezer for an easy treat another day.

So, it looks good. Does it taste good? Yes. I am saving the chocolate pie for a get together tomorrow, but I dug into the blueberry pie. Delish. The crust was buttery and flaky and light. The filling was not too sweet and bursting with blueberries. 

I don't think it will be so many months before my next GF pie this time. Thanks, America's Test Kitchen!

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