Monday 11 April 2016

Of crusts and crumbs

I first developed this crust when I wanted to try this pie filling, which originally calls for a saltine-cracker crumb crust. Mine doesn’t taste like saltines, of course, but it works great anyway - it’s exactly the right amount of crumbliness and has the right salty-sweet flavor to complement the tart, rich lemon filling. I took the above pie to a gathering of non-GF people and it disappeared pretty fast! Proof that despite being different than the original, this crust does exactly what it’s supposed to. I’ve since used the same crust successfully in layer bar cookies that normally use a graham cracker crust, and most recently in this lighter lemon-lime pie I’m sharing with you now.

But, you may be wondering, why not just use GF crumbs? Well:

First, let’s take a look at why crumb crusts are used in the context of wheat based baking. For one thing, crumbs provide an alternative to both the tougher flaky pie crust or the denser, more solid shortcrust pastry made of wheat flour. The latter types require some liquid to mobilize and develop a little gluten and allow some starch to gelatinize during baking (among other reasons), whereas crumb crusts are made with cookies or crackers that have already taken care of that step, and so can be made with just fat and sugar.

The second thing to consider, though, is far more utilitarian: graham crackers/cookies/etc are convenient - they’re cheap and something most people would already have on hand. When adapting to gluten free, then, this convenience ingredient starts to look less and less convenient! It’s both expensive and time consuming to hunt down GF graham crackers - or worse, make them from scratch - just to turn around and pulverize them into crumbs.

So, when neither of the two main reasons crumbs are used in this recipe apply to GF suddenly makes sense to look for another approach! Because we have such a diverse array of GF ingredients available, it’s possible to make a crust with similar texture and flavor from scratch, in one step, no crumbs needed. I find this approach more elegant and far simpler, on top of being delicious. This particular recipe is just one way to do this, but I like it a lot.

This is a nice uncomplicated formula - just rolled oats (half ground into flour), coconut flour, brown sugar, salt, and melted butter (or equivalent). A crumb crust doesn’t need to hold together on its own beyond the most basic level: there’s no dough to roll out, and after baking it’s attached to a stiff, sliceable filling/topping such as cheesecake or key lime pie - the filling supports itself. As a result, this recipe doesn’t need any added binder - the slight binding ability of the oat flour is enough. Coconut flour is unusual amongst flours, as it’s made from the fibrous pulp that is left after fresh coconut has been pressed for oil or grated for milk. As a result, it’s much better at absorbing both moisture and oil than nut meal, almost like a starchy flour in that regard, yet its texture and properties are unlike any other flour. A crust made with starchy flour would be more of a shortbread texture, while coconut flour instead contributes a pleasant crumbliness and unique mouthfeel along with a nice toasty taste (surprisingly enough, the flavor is not particularly coconut-y).
Press and bake the crust...

Lemon-Lime Pie

120 g (heaping cup) rolled oats, divided (see note below)
45 g coconut flour
36 g (3 T) brown sugar
½ tsp salt (or less, to taste)
65 g butter, melted (see note below)

Put half of the oats into a food processor or blender and grind into flour. Combine remaining oat flakes, oat flour, coconut flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Stir in melted butter - mixture will still seem dry and floury, but will cling together a bit. Press the mixture evenly into a 9” round glass pie plate, making sure to come up the sides to contain the filling. Put the plate in the fridge to chill about 15 minutes, then bake 15 minutes at 350º F and let cool.

Meanwhile, make the filling:

250 g coconut milk (the kind in a can, not the thin drink)
150 g sugar
2 eggs, separated
60 g (¼ c) lemon juice
60 g (¼ c) lime juice
15 g arrowroot starch

...and it will hold together nicely once the filling has set.
Put the egg whites in the bowl of a mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Put egg yolks in a small dish. Combine coconut milk, sugar, and starch in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently with a silicone spatula, until smooth - it will start to feel slick/slippery when you run the spatula along the bottom of the pan. Carefully whisk some of the warm liquid into the egg yolks, then add that mixture back to the pan (this prevents the yolks from curdling) and continue stirring over low heat until it thickens to the consistency of a thin custard. Remove from heat. Gradually stir in the lemon and lime juice, then turn the mixer on at low speed and with mixer running, slowly pour the whole mixture into the egg whites and mix until smooth.

Pour the filling into the cooled pie crust (it’s OK if it’s not totally cold) and bake the pie until filling is no longer liquidy, about 25-30 minutes.

Chill pie in fridge several hours before cutting. Serve with coconut cream or whipped cream, if desired.

Recipe notes:
  1. I personally like the textural contrast of the oat flakes, but if you don’t want such obvious bits in your crust, you could replace the rolled oat flakes with instant oats, or possibly even just grind them all into oat flour. I haven’t tried an oat-free variation yet - if you do, please let me know how it turns out!
  2. I imagine coconut oil would probably work just fine instead of butter. That said, keep in mind the fact that butter contains a little water (around 14%), while coconut oil is pure fat. I’m not sure whether that little bit makes a difference in this particular recipe, but to be on the safe side, if using coconut oil you might want to sprinkle in about a teaspoon of water. Any dairy-free butter equivalent should work as written.

Monday 4 April 2016

Charlotte GFAF Event

The Charlotte GFAF Event was this past Saturday. Events like this one are a great opportunity to try new GF foods from both local bakeries/restaurants and big-name companies alike, to hear helpful info from bloggers, authors, and medical professionals, and also to meet other people who are living with food sensitivities. If you were there, you already know it was a lot of fun; if not, I'm here to share a few of the highlights! 

My favorite new find was these potato & veggie fries (center picture above). The inside is light like fluffy mashed potatoes, the outside has the crispness of a lightly floured/battered fry, and all four flavors are pleasantly savory. I think I like the chickpea & red pepper ones best of all, but all four are tasty. 

Caly's Kitchen (top right picture), a local NC-based bakery, offers baking mixes, granola, and - if you're in the Waxhaw, NC area - some very tasty cookies and other treats. They use pea starch rather than potato or corn, and they are also the only source I know of for home bakers to buy pea starch in small quantities - it's a useful ingredient.

Nourish is an entirely GF & vegan delivery food service in Charlotte. They were sampling butternut macaroni (right center picture) and a tasty pimiento spread with hearty seed crackers (bottom left picture), among other things. They deliver weekly in the Charlotte area, and they also ship throughout NC.

Aleia's almond horns (top left picture) are a traditionally-GF style of cookie, as these are made with almond paste instead of flour, similar to some types of amaretti, almond rings, etc. They also have several more kinds of cookies and other things.

Pure Pizza in Charlotte offers a sprouted-grain GF crust (left center picture). It's not leavened/fermented, but the sprouted ingredients give it a very pleasant soft flatbread texture. 

Fields of Gold Farm was sampling goat milk gelato (bottom right picture). I tried the pistachio macaron flavor - it was delicious and rich. They also sell goat-milk soaps. 

Lenny Boy Brewing was there with some kombucha, a fizzy fermented non-alcoholic tea beverage brewed with a complex community of bacteria and yeasts. It's kind of polarizing as to whether or not people care for the flavor of the drink, but I'm firmly on the "love it" side. I especially like their "Elite Beet" flavor, which is gingery, earthy, and a little bit sweet. 

A couple of cider companies were there with drier (as in less-sweet) cider varieties, which I like a lot. Bold Rock is a Virginia-based cidery that just recently expanded into NC. They were sampling a green apple variety and a lovely new dry-hopped cider (cleverly called IPA, for "India Pressed Apple"). Hopped ciders are sometimes way too sweet, way too bitter, or both, but this one was just right - light, aromatic, and refreshing. I will definitely be looking for this at the store. Red Clay Ciderworks brought a classic dry cider and a tart cherry cider. They also make a herbal hopped cider which I'd like to try. Red Clay is just in the western part of the state for now. I hope they will make it up to the Triangle before too long, but if you're in Charlotte, stop by their taproom! 
New Udi's bread & Glutino toaster pastries.

There was more than just food and drink too - I found some really nice lotion (sadly I forgot to take a picture, and can't remember the brand!) and other skincare products. (FYI, skin products frequently contain wheat derived ingredients and/or conventional oats - not good to be slathering on your hands if gluten makes you sick!) 

In between all the snacking, I also managed to catch some of the presentations from the other speakers - there was some great info on living with food sensitivities, including tips for meal planning, current issues with the FDA's GF labeling guidelines, and good nutrition with dietary restrictions. 

These are just a few of the highlights. You can see lots more about the day from other bloggers and attendees by searching tags on Twitter - look for Charlotte #GFAFEvent and #GFAF tags. To see if there are any upcoming GFAF events near you, check out the schedule here - I will be at the events in Raleigh in August and Greensboro in September, hope to see some of you there! There is also a separate GFAF Expo which will be in several bigger cities this year.  

As you may know if you've ever been to one of these events, there were plenty of freebies to take home, too. So many snacks and coupons! The Milton's products were new to me - the crackers taste a bit like pita chips, and the baked chips are a nice salty crunchy regular chip style.

And, last but certainly not least, the surprises in my Blogger Bag! There was a lovely gift box from Caly's Kitchen, including a chocolate cookie mix and a bag of their tasty granola. I like to mix it with some plain oats, seeds, etc. for muesli. Also a bottle of spiced elderberry syrup from Norm's Farms, a local company specializing in elderberry jam and other products. (I know it's totally not the intended purpose, but I'm seriously considering using it in cocktails! Or macarons. Or both.)

Caly's Kitchen granola, two ways: mixed into muesli, or straight up w/ fruit. 
As always, all these opinions and statements are completely my own; as an event blogger I received the items provided by vendors and sponsors, but I was not otherwise compensated and I was not obligated to write about or feature any specific product(s) or vendor(s).