Friday, August 26, 2011

Gluten-Free Peach Pie

Easy as Pie?

Who ever came up with this saying obviously has never made a gluten-free pie.

Pie is something that can undeniably fail. Cookies can burn. Cakes can fall. 

Pies fail. 

The bottom crust is soggy. The filling didn't set up properly. The top crust is burned. The crust is tasteless. The filling is too tart. The crust isn't flakey.

Did I mention that the crust can be a problem?

The crust is the most crucial part of a pie.  And the most difficult.

When I was eating gluten, I baked a few pies. And they were good. And not difficult. Pies have never been my favorite, but I made some now and then and they all turned out fine. Nothing glorious. Nothing divine.  But also none of them failed.

Then I went gluten-free. And then I tried gluten-free pies. Particularly, gluten-free pecan pie.

My first gluten-free pecan pie failed.  My second gluten-free pecan pie failed.

Clearly, it is time to re-evalutate what I am doing with my gluten-free pecan pie.

I've volunteered, actually I'm eager, to cook a full gluten-free Thanksgiving dinner.  With the works.  All gluten-free.  We did it last year, and it was fabulous!

But I want a successful gluten-free pecan pie this time! So...

I'm going to practice!

Practice making pies. It is now August and I have all of September and October and most of November to make pies and figure out how to get that gluten-free pecan pie to behave!  I want to practice making gluten-free fruit pies, gluten-free lemon meringue pies, gluten-free key lime pies, gluten-free apple pies, gluten-free pecan pies.

When I announced this to my family, no one looked worried.  My daughter started grinning from ear to ear.  They liked the sound of making practice pies.  How bad could they be? Even if the practice pies failed, the filling would still be good enough to eat, right?

Well, let's hope so.

Since it is still August, I would like to practice fruit pies first and take advantage of the late summer fruit. At the farmer's market, I looked over the available fruit and decided I would like to get the peaches for pie practice.

That's what this is. It's not soccer practice or trombone practice. It is not even baking practice. This is pie practice.

And this time it will be peach pie practice. But the peaches were still too firm. I needed to wait. I put them in a brown paper bag to help the ripening. That was Saturday. Sunday came along and they were still firm. Then Monday arrived and I headed off to work.

When I got home from work Monday evening, my husband informed me that I need to make that peach pie right away, since the peaches had gotten soft.

He was right. I needed to make peach pie on Monday night.

Mondays are not good for making pie. Or for pie practice. Mondays are Mondays.

But the peaches won. It was time to practice.

Gluten-Free Peach Pie

I wanted to try making a gluten-free double crust pie, and now was as good a time as any.

I started with the crust.  First the dry ingredients:

1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup garfava flour (mixture of garbanzo and fava bean flours)
1/3 cup potato flour
2 Tbsp + 2 tsp tapioca starch
3 Tbsp sweet rice flour
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt

I used a whisk to mix them completely.

Cutting in the margarine was next.  I used 8 tablespoons of margarine and 1 tablespoon of butter, since that is what I had on hand.  I have since come to the conclusion that pie crust should only be made with butter.  More on that in a bit.  I cut the margarine in with a pastry blender until I had coarse crumbs.

Then the wet ingredients:

1 large egg + 2 Tbsp egg white
1.5 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice

You might be able to get away with substituting a bottled version of lemon juice, but when it comes to lemon zest, there is not substitute. None. And if you have a lemon to zest, you might as well juice it.

I gently stirred all the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients using a fork. I don't know why I chose a fork. I guess I just figured it was going to be sticky. And it was. I covered the bowl of dough with a towel and put it in the refrigerator while I prepared the peaches.

These are the soft peaches.

It turned out that some of them were so soft because they had bruised spots. There's no avoiding that.  Bruises must be dealt with harshly. Show no mercy. By cutting them out.

I peeled and coarsely sliced the peaches.  In retrospect, they could have been sliced thinner, but those suckers are slippery once they are peeled!

No more bruises.

Into the peeled, sliced peaches, I added:

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1.5 Tbsp cornstarch

I stirred it all together and let it sit while I rolled out the crusts.

Chilling the gluten-free crust dough is helpful, since the dough is so incredibly sticky.  And it firms up the margarine a bit, keeping it from incorporating completely with the flours.  This all works better with butter.  Butter is what makes pastries flakey.  Margarine?  Not so much.  It melts at a much lower temperature, so just working with it a little bit will melt it.  Getting a flakey crust means small bits of butter need to be intact.  This time, we had mostly margarine.

Rolling out gluten-free dough of any kind is different than gluten dough. Remember that stickiness I mentioned? Well, it is so sticky, you can't get it to come off the rolling pin. Gluten-free doughs need a trick or two. Parchment paper for one, and sometimes either oil or more gluten-free flour for two.

I've made several gluten-free pizzas and have had very good luck with oiling one side of each of two pieces of parchment paper.  The gluten-free pizza dough goes between the oiled sides of the papers and rolling commences.  It's a breeze. The dough isn't stiff. The dough doesn't stick. That pizza dough is rolled out in no time flat.  No pun intended.

But it was apropos.

For the bottom of my gluten-free peach pie crust, I started the same way as for my gluten-free pizza dough.  Oiled parchment paper.  And I rolled out half of the gluten-free crust dough.  And then I tried to peel off one of the pieces of paper.

Not happening.  Stuck.  Stuck like peanut butter on the roof of your mouth.

I ever so patiently and gently and painfully pulled the paper as I kept pushing the dough back in place. This took me about ten slow and deliberate minutes. Painful!

Finally, with the first piece of paper off, I flipped the dough (still on one piece of paper) over into the buttered pie plate.  I adjusted a bit and then began the excruciating task of ever so gently pulling off the second piece of paper.

That was obviously not the way to work with this crust.  Next up:  the top crust and this time I was going to try flouring the paper with rice flour.

The rice flour readily stuck to the oiled parchment paper and I even added a bit more rice flour for good measure.  I definitely didn't want a repeat of that first crust.

I put the second half of the crust dough between the floured paper and rolled it out. The top paper came off easily. This was going to be far better than the bottom crust.

Why did I forget to take pictures of the crusts? Ah, maybe I was so flustered with that sticky bottom crust that I forgot.  Yeah, that's it.

I put the sugared peaches in the bottom crust and smoothed them out, making sure the large pieces were right up against the edge so the top crust wouldn't sag.  Then I sprinkled the zest across the top of the peaches.

Then it was time to flip the top crust onto the filled bottom crust.  My husband grabbed the other edges of the parchment paper, we aimed carefully... and then flipped!

Just the crust, people.  Just the crust.

The second paper came off effortlessly and I smoothed the top crust out, pinching the edges.  Since fruit pies like to bubble, fruit pies need holes in the top crust to release steam.  If you don't give the pie places to release the steam, they will explode. Be kind to your oven and don't let your pie explode. This is also your opportunity to create edible art. Who said playing with food isn't allowed?

But this is pie practice. This requires fine, surgical skill.

Or not. At first, I was going to stop with just the four cuts in the center of the pie.  But then I thought that it needed more room to breathe, so I added more holes.

After preheating the oven to 400 degrees, I slid the pie onto the bottom rack and baked it for 15 minutes. Then I lowered the temperature to 350 degrees and moved the pie up to the middle rack.  I baked it there for an additional 25 minutes.

It's a good thing I added those extra holes.

This pie needed to breathe. Can you see all that pale, cooked peach juice that bubbled out of those outside holes?

By the time the pie came out of the oven, we were all ready to eat it.  But we couldn't, since it was too hot. I couldn't even wait for it to cool to take a picture. We needed to serve this pie. It was Monday night after all. And getting late.

So, we served it.  It was more than just warm.  It was a bit too warm.  Look how it sagged on the plate.

That didn't deter us one pit.  We dug in.

But this didn't turn out to be a great pie.  It was okay.  It was good.  It was edible.

It was not a failure.

It was not a huge success either.  No one in the family was over the moon for this pie.  I've got work to do.

Oh, darn.

The filling turned out to be a bit tart.  I don't like overly sweet pies, but this one could have used a bit more sweetening. Maybe it was the lemon zest. Maybe there wasn't enough sugar. Maybe it was the peaches. I'm not sure.

The crust was done on the bottom and the top and was browned nicely. That was good. But the crusts were rather tasteless. And not flakey.  This is where the issue of the butter comes in.

From now on, I'm using butter exclusively in my gluten-free pie crusts.

And practice makes perfect.  Or so they say.

Just remember, whether you eat gluten or not...

... butter is butter is butter.

Nobody said eating gluten-free is low fat.

I'll have to wait a bit before I resume practicing....

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