Sunday, September 12, 2010

A No-Fail Gluten Free Pie (Part II, The Apple Pie)

Preschool apple-picking circa 1995
Alex has always found great delight in the story of Johnny Appleseed. As the Vermont nights turn cooler, and apples begin appearing at road side stands and the Brattleboro Farmer’s Market, it triggers Alex’s preschool memories of apple-picking for the Annual Cider Sale. First he tells and retells to almost anyone who will listen, the story of Johnny Appleseed. Then, I know what is coming next, “Mom, can we bake an apple pie?”

Two years ago, Alex had accumulated a little money from birthdays, recycling cans, and doing household chores. One day, when discussing what he might want to buy with his money, I suggested that maybe he would like to buy an apple tree. He jumped right on that one, and pretty soon, we had two fledgling apple trees (a Paula Red and an Empire for pollination reasons.) We planted them side by side in the backyard, not far from the garden. The first year, the Empire tree had barely any blossoms and zero apples. The Paula Red was a bit more successful. It blossomed out, bees pollinated it, and while a dozen or so nascent apples began to form, only three made it to adulthood. Alex would go out and delight at the sight of the growing and reddening apples on his tree. Actually, the apples almost made it to adulthood because, although we enclosed the tree in the electric fence, it was a tad too close to the edge. We neglected to take into account that deer necks can extend a long ways, and that people sometimes forget to turn back on the electric fence. Not only did Bambi pluck the forbidden apples, but he or she ate half of the upper tree, trunk, branches, leaves and all.

Our entire 2010 crop!
This past year, we moved the electric fence back (and lowered Alex’s expectations) given that we now had an amputee tree. Both trees blossomed out, and again, the Empire’s apples fizzled. But the Paula Red formed four promising apples. Alex was delighted and announced that we were going to make those apples into a pie. One day while checking the progress of his apples, he reached up to look closer at an apple. Plop, it detached and fell to the ground. With it went 25% of our apple crop. I’m happy to say that the remaining three apples made it to picking time, and guess what was on the Alex’s docket today? Making an apple pie.

Peeling with precision
It turns out that making the apple pie is only the side show to using that “clever device” (in Alex words) the apple peeler. My brother Geoff gave it to us for Christmas just after we moved to Vermont, and Alex considers it among the family’s crown jewels. Three apples didn’t quite make a pie, so we added to it a few wild apples we picked on the side of the road and a few from an orchard. The pie has just come out of the oven, and I wish there were a scent-equivalent of a web-cam. It smells just like Fall in here. Thanks, Alex.

Gluten Free Apple Pie

2 Never-Fail GF Pie Crusts
About 8-9 medium size crisp apples
2 Tbsp sugar+ sugar to sprinkle on baked crust
1 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp GF flour
1Tbsp cider vinegar
2 Tbsp milk (optional, to brush on crust)

1. Preheat Oven to 450 degrees.
2. Peel, core, and slice apples, and then toss with sugar, cinnamon, and apple cider vinegar.
3. Prepare and roll out two gluten free pie crusts.
4. Peel the top layer of plastic wrap off the rolled-out GF pie crusts.
5. Line pie plate with GF crust, peeling off the plastic wrap. Trim the shell edges.
6. Fill pie shell with apples, and moisten the rim with water (this makes the upper crust bond with the lower crust.)
7. Drape second CF crust over top, peeling off the plastic wrap. Flute edges by hand, trim excess, and cut vents in the top. (Alex is always partial to an “A” because it not only signifies “apple” but “Alex.”)
8. Bake pie on medium rack for 10 minutes.
9. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake approximately 1 hour. Brush lightly with milk and sprinkle with sugar midway through bake time.

A No-Fail Gluten Free Pie (Part I, The Crust)

Perhaps the question that I am most asked at Fall gluten free vendor fairs, apart from questions about our products, is “How do you make a pie crust?” Yesterday was no exception at the Amherst, MA Atkins Farm Country Market’s Food Allergy and Awareness Sampling Fair. As always, I found myself saying “I only wish tasty gluten free breads were as easy as pie crust.” Before I knew it, the customer had pulled out a pen and a tiny spiral notebook and had me repeating the steps.

Truth be told, I have a LONG history with pie crust. I remember coming home in 2nd grade and telling my dad (he was the principal baker and cook in my family) that I needed to bring a cherry pie for a PTA Cake Walk fundraiser the next day. (I guess I’m dating myself here since I haven’t heard of one of those in over 50 years.)

“Sure, you can bring a cherry pie, and I’ll tell you how to make it.” I was stunned. Me, make a pie? I was eight years old, and that was they very first thing I ever baked. I was one proud 2nd grader when I took the pie to school the next day and announced that I had made it all by myself.

So, you think I’d be an expert at pie crust after starting out so young? Well, believe me, I was not a prodigy. Fast forward to our first winter in Vermont in 1992. We had just moved to Vermont from New York City, and we had enrolled Alex in a wonderful country preschool in Marlboro, VT. Very quickly, I learned that fundraising is an important part of country preschools, and we had a very small window in the Fall to attempt to unload the pockets of leaf-peepers travelling through our beautiful state. The Annual Columbus Day Cider Sale was a Meetinghouse School Tradition. It was a family event where we set up tents and pressed cider the old-fashioned way on the side of Route 9 (the major easy-west highway in southern Vermont.) We sold the cider and as many baked goods as the dozen or so parents could possibly bake.

It was because of the Cider Sale that I found myself at Andrea’s house with a half-dozen of so other moms in a marathon baking session in which our goal was to produce 55 apple pies during the three hours our kids were in school. Our directives were to show up and bring a rolling pin and a pastry cutter, if we had one. Hey, I’m on top of this, I thought. At least know what a pastry cutter is, since I had inherited a pastry cutter from my dad (and it probably was the same one I used for my first cherry pie.) Andrea, as accomplished a task master as one could imagine, demonstrated how to mix the dough and roll out the crust. In seconds she had whipped up the dough, rolled out a perfect crust, and filled the shell with apple slices. That looked really easy so I rolled up my sleeves and went to work. Actually, it wasn’t so easy. I rolled the dough, it sprang back like a rubber band. I mashed it down again, and it coated my rolling pin like a “pig-in-a-blanket.” I scraped it off and started again. At that point, Andrea came over and took over my crust saying, “You can’t keep rolling it; it will make it tough.” I was given the task of filling the pie shells with apple slices. Man did I feel like a “flatlander.” I had failed at the most basic task of making a country apple pie.

Then one day, someone told me how to make a fool-proof pie crust. The directions were so simple, I could actually remember them:
1 C flour
1/3 C salted butter
Up to 1/3 C cold water, as needed.

With that recipe, I started making pecan pies that became legendary among my friends and family. When we gave up gluten, we weren’t about to give up holiday pecan pies, so I decided to see how fool-proof the pie crust recipe was, and I was amazed at how I could make it with most any gluten free flour blend. And, it didn’t require the use of xanthan gum, which I really dislike. Made only with brown rice flour, it makes a tasty, delicate crust. Made with a blend of 1/3 rice, 1/3 cornstarch, and 1/3 tapioca flours, it is a bit more flexible for topped pies, like fruit-based pies.

There is one secret to this recipe, and it is an important one: although your mom (or in my case, my dad) may have taught you to roll out pie crust between two sheets of wax paper, USE PLASTIC WRAP INSTEAD. Gluten free pie dough is tender, and the plastic wrap gives you the flexibility to carefully peel it away.

Gluten free or not, my pecan pie is in high demand, just as always.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Early Bird Gluten Free Thanksgiving Planning

We spent Labor Day on the St. Lawrence River with friends. Since the weather looked iffy from the start, perhaps an indirect effect of Hurricane Earl, we decided to embrace the shift in temperature and plan a Thanksgiving-like Labor Day meal. After all, we still had a wonderful Stonewood Farms antibiotic- and hormone-free Vermont Turkey in our freezer, and Thanksgiving 2010 was just around the corner. We planned a simple meal based around the turkey, stuffed with Rosemary Baguette stuffing… and tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes. Our garden back in Vermont was bursting with tomatoes, as was our friend’s. Thus, tomatoes had to be on the menu in some way as well.

The weather turned out far better than we expected, but it was a weekend of violent fronts moving in across the River, white caps, and some of the most spectacular sunsets.

 At times, it seemed as though we went through three seasons in an hour. In the end, it was perfect roasted turkey weather, complete with a fire in the woodstove. So, in time for early-bird Thanksgiving planning, here is our recipe for awesome turkey stuffing—guaranteed to please the most gluten-free hostile relatives.

Gluten Free Rosemary Stuffing

Note: This recipe is based on the 13.5 pound turkey I happened to have. Stuffing amounts needed to be adjusted according to the size of your bird. This amount of stuffing was perfect for a turkey of this size; however, the next time I will double the recipe and bake some more stuffing separately. It disappeared on our table in nanoseconds!.


2 Against The Gain Rosemary Baguettes, sliced and lightly toasted
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 ribs celery, finely chopped
½ stick butter
1 large egg
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Toast rosemary baguette slices for approx 15-20 min @ 250-300, and dice in approx ½ inch cubes.
2. Melt butter in frying pan; add chopped celery, onion, salt, and pepper and sauté for approximately five minutes.
3. Toss butter and vegetable mix with bread crumbs; add raw egg until evenly moistened.
4. Stuff turkey cavity and place in preheated oven (I cook my turkey at 325, but follow directions on turkey packaging.)
5. Bake uncovered for 1 hour. After one hour, cover breast with a small piece of muslin, and baste as needed until done, pouring off juices as necessary. You don’t need to cover the exposed stuffing if you like the surface to be slightly crispy.

Original Rolls or Original Baguettes will work just as well for the stuffing recipe. If you specifically want rosemary stuffing, add a Tbsp of fresh chopped rosemary to your sautéed vegetables. Rosemary rolls may be substituted for rosemary baguettes.