Monday, October 24, 2011

Gluten-Free Goodies

I am somewhat relieved that no-one in my household requires a special diet. We have no allergies to contend with - just the usual aversions and picky palates, which are easily (generally) dealt with. I know if I had to, I could cope with peanut-free or gluten-free but it's so nice to be able to cook with whatever ingredients happen to strike my fancy.

I didn't set out for this to be a gluten-free baking kind of weekend but that's how it ended up. I baked a gluten-free chocolate cake for a potluck and then on Sunday tried my hand at making a gluten-free apple pie. Here are the recipes, both of which I would recommend whether you are gluten-free by necessity or just curious to try something different.

First the cake. I found this recipe on a blog called Home to Heather. I was intrigued by the use of quinoa which I've just discovered and have managed to feed my family several times without incident, despite not having disguised it as chocolate. Here, quinoa is used in place of flour to make a fudgy chocolate cake that is super moist. All you need to do is make up a batch of quinoa (much like cooking rice) then wait for it to cool. Into the blender it goes with water, milk, eggs, vanilla and vegetable oil. Once you blend it together you really can't tell that the thick batter you've created  is mostly quinoa! Once you add the dry ingredients (including sugar and cocoa powder) it looks like regular ol' cake batter.

I quite liked the taste of this cake which I didn't ice or embellish in any way (and forgot to photograph...which is very unlike me, but there you go). Some powdered sugar or cut-up fruit would be great alongside. I used Trader Joe's organic quinoa which seemed to give the cake a somewhat nutty taste. Not unpleasant, just different from your usual chocolate cake flavour. Overall - a success. I would - and did - eat a piece even with 'regular' chocolate cake on offer.

On to the apple pie. Last October I saw a recipe in the Saturday Globe & Mail for a gluten-free (whole grain crusted) apple pie created by Michael Smith, a chef I quite enjoy, having used one of his cookbooks on several occasions. So last October, feeling very ambitious, I bought a bag of ground almond meal and rice flour to give this pie a go. Then things happened. Halloween. Snow. More snow. Snow that wouldn't stop. Spring finally came. And the gluten-free apple pie project kind of got forgotten. Fast forward to this October and I'm cleaning my pantry. I've glanced up at my (expensive) bags of ground almond meal and rice flour a few times this past year but never felt inspired enough to see things through. This Sunday I decided to make the pie. (I may have taken my inspiration from the fact that my almond meal and rice flour were drawing close to their expiry dates.)

I am not a big pastry fan, but I actually liked this crust:

See how oatmeal-y it us? It made the pie taste kind of like a crisp. I filled the shell with lots of Macintosh apples, which were abundant in our fruit cellar (another big part of the reason I became inspired to make this pie..someone overbought apples last week):

I can't forget to mention the cinnamon, which you can see liberally applied (along with sugar) to my apples. I was gifted some Spice Trader Ceylon Cinnamon by friends a few weeks ago. I use a lot of cinnamon at my house but it is generally of the Clubhouse variety. Ceylon Cinnamon is in a whole other league. Incredibly fragrant and obviously fresh. I'm so glad I remembered I had it on hand.

Now I'm not going to lie to you. This whole grain crust is a huge pain in the butt to place in the pie plate. The bottom crust wasn't so bad. I rolled it out on my trusty Tupperware pastry mat (circa 1977) then put my pie plate over-top and used the mat to turn the whole works upside down, so the crust made its way into the pie plate relatively intact. I still had to patch the crust a bit, but it came out looking pretty decent, as above. The top crust was not quite as easy. I finally just resigned myself to the fact that it wasn't going to be a pretty pie and into the oven she went, hoping for at least the Miss Congeniality prize, since 'Most Attractive' was not in the cards. And you know what? She didn't come out too badly:

As far as taste goes, this pie can totally compete with regular apple pie. Or at least I think it can. I'm not a huge pie fan / freak so maybe my taste buds shouldn't be your guide in this particular case. The crust is, as you might expect, quite nutty but also buttery which is a combination I can get behind. It is definitely heavier than regular pie crust but I think that works with the apples.

So that's my brief foray into gluten-free baking. A whirlwind weekend of cake and pie. Who says we don't know how to have fun around here?

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