Friday, August 14, 2009

Getting closer

Friday, 14 August

You have to understand, good pie crust is in my genes and is part of my heritage. My mother and my grandmother made such fantastic pie pastry that, as a child (and even to this day), I preferred pie crust to pie filling. They taught me well, and I can make a flaky, wondrous delight with flour, shortening, water, and a few grains of salt. But then shortening was condemned as the root of a lot of evil, so I substituted canola oil. Definitely not the same, but passable, and more work. Then my husband gave up wheat, which cuts out the whole flour thing. But apple tart is his dessert of choice, and it's gravenstein apple season, so I must bravely go forth and try to learn new pie-making skills.

The first recipe I found was a flop. It basically said you could substitute rice flour for wheat flour, and butter for shortening, and you'd be happy with the result. NOT. If you're not a pastry maker, it's hard to explain, but gluten is the thing that's in flour that makes a pie pastry too heavy and ugh-ly if you work the pastry too hard and beat down the gluten. So, if you start with gluten-free flour, it's pretty much a no-brainer that you've got a headstart to heavy and ugh. It came out like rich (that's the butter), dense, chewy pastry instead of a light flaky wonder.

Then I got some sound advice from a true pastry chef (thanks, Laura!) and inspiration from a county-fair, blue-ribbon pie making queen (that's you, Judy)--both of 'em bike racers. And did some more research in that giant cookbook called the internet. I narrowed my choices down to two recipes. Both called for weird things not in my cupboards (potato starch, xanthan gum, sorghum flour), so I had to go shopping.

I have to digress here. I have a "thing" about trying to make foods into things they're not just so they look like other foods. Tofurkey comes to mind. There are so many good foods out there that if you choose not to eat one (turkey, in this case), why not just admit you don't eat turkey and not pretend to yourself that you're eating dead poultry when you pretend to others that you don't eat dead poultry? I'm a vegetarian, but I try not to eat overprocessed foods--and most of those tofu-derived, fake meats fall into the category of things I don't buy. What's this got to do with pie crust? Well, maybe pie crust is meant to be just shortening, flour, salt, and water, and if you choose not to eat one of those ingredients, maybe you should just be content to eat apple crumble instead of having your pie and eating it too.

But I had to try. So this afternoon I stood (in my helmet and cleats) in the "natural foods" section of my supermarket (what are all the other foods they sell--"unnatural"?), pondering sorghum flour and other things I'd only seen as so many words on nutrition labels. I thought the recipe calling for xanthan gum would be the way to go because it only called for two things I didn't already have. But xanthan gum is $13 for a little package, and really what was I going to do with a pound of xanthan gum? So I opted for the white rice flour, sorghum flour, and potato starch recipe because those three items together cost less than xanthan. Not cheap, but not $13. Oh, and I also bought some shortening, on a tip from Laura.

My recipe rubbed against my pie sensibilities. Adding an egg is cheating! And no thanks, I don't want cinnamon in my pie crust. I'm not sure about vinegar, but I know a lot of people use it. Basically, though, I followed the recipe, substituting shortening for some of the butter. It rolled out better than my previous GF attempt and it hung together better in the pan. It smelled good while it baked (that was the apples, though), and it got nicely brown and a little crispy on the edges. Then we had to wait for it to cool.

I think I'd rate this attempt at a B+. It is definitely better than store-bought pie crust. I had more pastry than pie, so it was maybe a little thicker than it should have been, and thus a little heavier. The bits of the rolled edges were close to the "real thing." One noticeable difference is that rice flour is grainier than wheat flour, so at first bite the pastry is toothier. But when you eat the crust with the filling (like most pie eaters do, I suppose), it's really really close to a wheat flour crust. With some tweaks, I think this recipe will be a keeper. Maybe I'll have to let the PruPieMaster be teh judge....

BTW potato starch is pretty cool stuff. It's kind of like cornstarch, but heavier and not as...flighty. I'm looking forward to working with it some more.