Recipes

Boxed Gluten-Free Cake Mix – Taste Test

My how the world has changed in the 17 years I’ve been gluten-free. Back in those days a girl couldn’t get a cookie or a decent piece of bread, let alone make a cake from a Betty Crocker gluten-free mix. This absence perpetuated the need for me to learn how to bake for myself, as it has for thousands upon thousands of us.

But now we have the gift of being able to make a cake just as swiftly as our glutenous counterparts through several brands of cake-in-a-box. And a new friend’s birthday party this weekend gave me the opportunity to test a few brands out.

I chose to use both Betty Crocker’s Devil’s Food and Glutino’s Gluten-Free Pantry Old Fashioned Cake and Cookie Mix, since both only make one round cake and a bit of chocolate and vanilla layered in one cake never hurt anyone.

I must confess, I had my doubts. Both mixes use rice as their only flour, and sugar bulks up the flavor content. The mixes felt grainy between my fingers, and the vanilla one sort of went flying in the air when I poured it into the bowl.  Here’s the nutritional content of both:

For the Betty Crocker chocolate layer:

  • one cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk rather than the one cup water in the recipe.
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (not in recipe)
  • 2 tablespoons of instant coffee (not in recipe)

I baked it according to the instructions at 350 degrees for 43 minutes in a lightly greased 9″ round pan, and cooled it for about 15 minutes in the pan before inverting it to a cooling rack.

For the Gluten-Free Pantry Vanilla layer:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk

And baked it for 28 minutes in a lightly greased 9″ round pan, and cooled it for 15 minutes before inverting it onto a cooling rack.

The frosting:

I made Williams-Sonoma’s Quick Buttercream Frosting, using unsweetened almond milk instead of cow’s milk.

The result:

The cake went over far better at the party than I had expected, and many were shocked to find it was gluten-free.  I was told it was actually a bit denser than a normal boxed cake, which people seemed to prefer.  The payoff for this was that I thought it was a bit dry.  No one could tell the difference between the two brands, neither being particularly more or less sweet than the other.

I was particularly shocked that it wasn’t grainy, but think the cakes would have benefited from the addition of another flour such as amaranth to both moisten and naturally sweeten.  While I could respect that they tasted like traditional boxed cake mixes, I’d still rather make my own cakes from scratch so that I could use more natural forms of sweetener and bulk up the flavor content with a few different flours.  But I was impressed.

Several people said they’d pick up the brands to make for an event where a gluten-free guest was in attendance, knowing that other guests would still enjoy it.

Two thumbs up.  That’s really all I have to say about that.    In a pinch, these cakes are nutcrackers.

Coming up, one more boxed cake-test using canned pumpkin instead of the butter/eggs to make a vegan version!

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Gluten-Dairy-Free Blueberry Cornbread

In general, I can be a bit of a dusty snob when it comes to using gluten-free flour mixes instead of blending my own flours.  The same blends don’t work as well for piecrusts as they do for pancakes, for example.  But when I’m in the throws of entertaining and trying to impress with a delicious and usually ambitious brunch, I’m all for breaking out a shortcut or two.

So when marketing I threw in a Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Cornbread Mix into the basket along with the sun-dried tomatoes and thick-cut bacon to make for some friends at my family’s house in Connecticut.

This easy and delicious gluten-free cornbread is perfect for a late summer or early autumn morning breakfast.  I had it done from start to finish in 40 minutes – with plenty of time to whip up a frittata and breakfast potatoes.  As I retype this recipe I can almost smell the changing of the seasons in the air, the warm sun on our backs as we celebrated on the porch, knowing that summer was coming to an end.

Ingredients (all at room temperature please)

  • 1 package of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Cornbread Mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled a bit. Or 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1 ½ cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 2 pints blueberries, rinsed, sorted and patted dry
  • 1/3 cup toasted, chopped hazelnuts

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees and generously grease an 8.5 x 11inch pan (a 9×9 also works)
  • Place entire bag of cornbread mix in the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment and add the eggs, milk and butter.
  • Mix on low for about 30 seconds until just incorporated, then increase to high for another 30 seconds.
  • Remove from the mixer and gently fold in the nuts.
  • Fold in about ¾ of the blueberries, being gentle not to break their skins.
  • Gently pour the batter into the pan and smooth out the top.
  • Sprinkle with the remaining blueberries
  • Bake for 28 minutes or until firm to the touch.

** Substitutions: You can easily make this recipe completely dairy-free by substituting the butter with Earth Balance butter flavored vegetable blend, and replace the eggs with powdered egg replacer.  Soy, skim cow or rice milk can be used instead of almond milk – just use an unsweetened milk so as not to alter the sweetness of the bread.

Blueberry on FoodistaBlueberry

Gluten-Free Easy Banana Nut Muffin Recipe

I don’t normally bake with bananas.  My mother has a delectable recipe for banana bread, but these deliciously sweet fruits have been forbidden since hypoglycemia reared its ugly head.

But sometimes opportunity is the mother of invention, and I inherited four very ripe bananas from a friend with little time to utilize them.  The same person who passed them on was also a bit under the weather.  Time to get baking!

One thing I love about making muffins is how you can just sort of throw in whatever you have around to make them as simple or complex as your mood is flowing.  I had some pecans around that were ready for toasting and was trying to use the rest of my agave syrup (I won’t be baking with it soon – more to come on that).  Tossing stuff into a bowl with gusto, I’ve got a decent recipe going here.  The challenge was using the agave syrup instead of sugar: in most muffin recipes, sugar and butter are beaten until fluffy so that the moisture of the banana doesn’t soup the batter.  But with agave, which is liquid, there is no such dry and sweet combination.  So I added cormeal, increased the amount of baking soda to give it a little extra lift, and threw in the pecans that I had toasted ever so slightly for some texture.

The result?  They came out light and fluffy while still being dense, and the cornmeal gave them a scrumptious, ever-so-slightly crumbly texture that I love.  The amount of sweetness was perfect for me.

Because I was staying with friends at the time I made these get-better muffins, my full flour-arsenal wasn’t at my fingertips, so I used Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose gluten-free flour mix.  In a recipe with this complexity, it blended just dandily.

As always with my recipes, you can always substitute the butter with butter flavored Earth Balance and the eggs with powdered egg replacer to make them vegan, gluten-free banana bread muffins.  They may lack a little heft, but they’ll still be delicious.

Ingredients:

Yields one loaf or 16 muffins

  • 2 cups gluten-free flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Baking Mix)
  • ½ cup ground cornmeal
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 ½ tsp xantham gum
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 stick (8 tbsps) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup light agave syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 1/3 cups)
  • ½ cup toasted pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts (optional)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Grease and flour (preferably with rice flour, as it’s grainy and helps the bread release) a loaf pan or muffin tins
  • If you have raw nuts, spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake them while the oven preheats.  Check on them regularly to make sure they don’t burn – this should take no longer than 10 minutes and they’ll brown quickly once brought to heat.
  • In a small bowl combine flour, cornmeal, baking soda, xantham gum and salt
  • In a large bowl, beat butter with a hand mixer until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes
  • Add agave syrup and beat to combine
  • Add eggs one at a time and beat to incorporate
  • With a wooden spoon or spatula, stir in mashed bananas
  • Add the dry ingredients and stir to combine
  • Fold in toasted nuts
  • Bake for 1 hour for a loaf pan or 18 minutes for muffins
  • Cool completely before removing from pan

Corn-and-Dairy-Free Apple Pie

 

Dusty Dan - the Brother

My brother Dan’s friend Matt’s fiance Marissa can’t eat corn or dairy.  Dan is spending New Year’s Eve with them and some friends in Vermont.  I owe Dan a baking session as part of his Christmas gift.  On a snowy, cold evening in Washington Heights at the late hour of 11pm, we head into my kitchen to develop a recipe for a corn-and-dairy-free apple pie all the revelers will enjoy.

I must admit, I’m a little concerned about this assignment.  Butter is the one thing I can count on in baking when my sugar and flour sources are limited.  I completely avoid milk, cream, cheese and the like, but the minimal presence of protein in butter somehow makes it easy enough for me to digest without too much disturbance.  Especially clarified butter, where more protein has been removed.  So no matter the flour combination or inclusion/lack thereof of sweetener, I’ve always been able to rely on butter to add complexity and flavor.

Technically, butter also acts as the fat that binds the flour together in a crust.

Now, while I generally don’t use corn flour or products when I bake, I also haven’t been particularly attentive to it being in products I use.  So when Dan said Melissa uses Smart Balance Light as her “butter”, I stick to it.  I’m a bit confused about it’s being made with canola oil, which I assume is from corn.  Or if there’s a specific reason she doesn’t use Crisco shortening, which is made from palm and soybean oils.

After some quick googling I realize that canola isn’t made from corn but from rapeseed – who knew?!?

These are all questions to ask her at another time when we make “Melissa’s Apple Pie Take Two”.

For now, here’s how this basically plays out:  I use regular flour so that the gluten binds and develops the pie dough.  Other than replacing the butter with the Smart Balance and only using 1 tablespoon of water, we make the Williams-Sonoma Basic Pie Crust.  I also use white sugar in the dough and the filling, which I don’t usually do.  I figure this pie needs to be a gentle step for those who don’t have food allergies.

So – this pie is NOT gluten-free nor sugar-free.  Not a particularly alternative recipe, it just lacks corn and dairy together.  For tips on making the best of your apple pie, check out my posts on Apple Pie Filling and The Best Basic Pie Crust.

Ingredients: Apples

  • 12-16 hard, ripe apples, of three different varieties.
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon, two varieties if possible (one sweet, one spicy)
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (preferably ground fresh)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves

Directions: Apples

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Peel, core and slice your apples, and spread them equally on two rimmed cookie sheets.
  • Sprinkle 1/4 cup white sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon cloves on EACH of the sheets.
  • Mix with your hands until all apples are coated.
  • Bake for about 15-20 minutes while you prepare your crust, turning the apples once, until softened.
  • Remove from oven and let cool before filling.

Ingredients: Crust

  • 2.5 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 16 tablespoons cold Smart Balance Lite
  • 1 tablespoon ice cold water
  • 1 egg (for washing on top)

Directions: Crust

  • Fix a standing mixer with a paddle attachment and pour in flour, sugar and salt.  Whisk together.
  • Add the Smart Balance in little chunks and start mixer on low.  Mix until the dough just starts to pull together.
  • Add the 1 tablespoon ice water and mix until the dough forms a ball, being careful not to over mix.
  • Separate dough into two balls, flatten into disks, wrap in wax paper and refrigerate until a bit harder.

Directions: Assembling and Baking the Pie

  • Turn the oven down to 375 degrees when the apples are done baking.

  • Flour your workspace and rolling pin, and place one disk of dough in the center (an option is rolling between two pieces of parchment paper).
  • Start rolling from the center out, in one direction, to stretch dough.  Because we used Lite Smart Balance, which I assume means the water content is higher and fat content lower, this dough has much more of an elastic pull and a bit more oil to it.  Rolling away from the center in one direction with a good amount of weight seems to help it extend.
  • Gently place the crust into the plate.
  • Fill with apples, pressing down slightly and roll the top crust.
  • Place the top crust gently on the filled pie and crimp edges with a fork.  This won’t crimp as easily as other crusts, but as long as the edges are together, the filling will steam nicely.
  • Wash the crust with the egg, slightly beaten, and dust with sugar.
  • Bake on a cookie sheet or “pizza” stone for 40 minutes at 350 degrees or until apples are fully tender and crust lightly browned, covering edge of crust halfway through with tin foil or a pie lip.
  • Cool before serving and, if you can wait, don’t eat until the next day! Enjoy!


Notes:  This crust doesn’t taste like much on its own.  But paired with lots of apples sweetened with white sugar and scented with cinnamon and nutmeg, it’s a hearty compliment.  The crust softened the day after it was baked, and continued softening so that it was still tasty (I’m told) days later, and somewhat even more so.

Easy Mochi Waffles and Tempeh “Bacon” Recipe

I cannot take full credit for this glorious gluten-free-vegan brunch creation – many thanks go to Rae and Robbie for playing in the kitchen with me while I was paying Cincinnati a holiday visit.  Armed with nothing but a waffle maker, frying pan and one spatula, we set out to coax tempeh into something that slightly resembled bacon and form gluten-free waffles from mochi.  And the results were deliciously delicious!

And yes, I truly mean that grammatically incorrect tasty bit of hyperbole.  They were dusty delicious.  They were amazing. They were phe-nom-en-al.

And easy.

I’ve heard that in Japan they’re starting to use the term “moffle” to refer to mochi waffles.  I’ve never been a fan of Branjelina or romcoms, so I’ll take the extra sixteenth of a second to continue to type the two words out.

Mochi Waffles

What is Mochi? Mochi is glutinous sweet rice that is pounded into a paste and molded into a hard shape.  Many Japanese traditional desserts utilize mochi is a base ingredient, and when dyed with bright greens and pinks add a bit of festivity to the simple dessert.

I am not a particular fan of those forms of mochi, but LOVE the bricks you can buy and cook yourself.  When mochi bakes it fills with air creating a beautiful crusty exterior that houses chewy goodness. I love to toast it, slice it and fill it with almond butter.  Friends drop it into soup or grill it and douse it with tamari for a savory treat.

Nutritionally, plain mochi is made only with sweet rice and filtered water, making it easily digestible and naturally low in fat and calories. Despite being “glutinous”, mochi is GLUTEN-FREE, the term instead referring to it being “sticky”.

Keep in mind that mochi waffles are not light and fluffy like wheat waffles, so indulge in a little creativity with your toppings.  We went fairly simple with real maple syrup and brown rice syrup, plus some fresh black and blueberries.  Nut butters add some protein (if you’re not accompanying your waffles with tempeh bacon), and provide a creamy kick.

Ingredients / Directions

  • Choose your mochi.  Grainassance brand is sold at most health food stores in several flavors, most commonly plain and cinnamon raisin.  Either make great mochi waffles.
  • Cut mochi into 16 pieces.
  • Spray waffle maker with non-stick cooking spray, or grease with butter or oil.
  • For square waffles such as in the picture above, use 4 pieces of mochi evenly spaced.
  • Close griddle and bake for approximately 4-6 minutes, until mochi is puffed and steamy.
  • Serve immediately.

Tempeh Bacon

Rae is vegan and while I love tempeh I also love the crap out of meat, so it was an exciting challenge she gave me in making tempeh taste like bacon.  Especially as we were dining in “Porkopolis”, the nickname lovingly given to Cincinnati for the copious amount of pork bred and consumed there.

While I was unsure of succeeding in this task, especially in someone else’s kitchen, we were all pretty satisfied with the results.  I tried to encapsulate the sweet and smokey aspects of bacon.  And, once again, the recipe is shockingly easy.

Note: make sure both your tempeh and tamari are marked gluten-free if you follow such a diet.  Many tempeh’s are bulked up with grains to increase the flavor and nutritional content and therefore are not guaranteed to be free of gluten.  And while tamari is noted for being the gluten-free version of soy sauce, some versions do contain gluten.

Ingredients / Directions:

  • Pick up one brick of tempeh, cut into 8 strips and place in a medium bowl.
  • Pour 1/3 a cup of tamari and 1/4 cup maple syrup over tempeh, toss to marinate and let sit for about a half hour.
  • Set a medium frying pan on medium-high heat and spray lightly with cooking spray.
  • When hot, place tempeh in pan, reserving liquid to baste.
  • Cook thoroughly, turning tempeh in quarter turns until all sides are brown, basting with reserved liquid with ever turn.
  • Taste sauce and adjust syrup and tamari as needed.
  • Tempeh is ready when the liquid has caramelized and tempeh is dark.

Gluten-free Whole Grain Waffle Recipe

Waffles are the new muffin.  You heard it here first, Dusty Baker style.

Last weekend I was bequeathed with a waffle iron, that I dutifully packed into my carry-on and brought back to NYC from Cincinnati (thanks, Rae!).  This morning I had guests to prepare breakfast for, and was frustrated with my lack of muffin options – I had no nuts, berries, raisins, fruit, nothing to put into a muffin!  I had thoroughly explored the gluten-free muffin world last year in Cincinnati, and now that trip inspired what will surely be one of many gluten-free waffle recipes to grace this site.  I popped out all the flours I had open in the fridge, consulted classic waffle recipes, and got to work.

The result: these waffles are deliciously whole-grain and sweet because of the use of amaranth and quinoa flours.  I used two different types of cinnamon to give them bite.  And 6 tablespoons of butter gave a perfectly creamy balance to the grains.

If you don’t have all of these ingredients, substitute with what you have.  Cow’s or soy milk can be substituted for the almond milk, as can a soy/vegetable alternative to butter and egg replacer for the eggs easily makes them a gluten-free vegan waffle recipe that holds its own comparatively.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup amaranth flour (provides sweetness and a soft texture)
  • 1/2 cup quinoa flour (provides a bit of protein and aids digestibility)
  • 1/2 cup brown rice flour (provides body and heft)
  • 1/2 cup tapioca starch / flour (binds the flours together)
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seeds (provides fiber for digestibility)
  • 1/4 cup sweet sorghum flour (it’s sweet and I’d never used it before!)
  • 3 tsps baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp xantham gum
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (I used half Chinese and half Indonesian cinnamon)
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter (or soy butter)
  • 1 1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or cow’s, soy or rice milk, just try to use unsweetened)

Directions:

  • Mix the dry ingredients together in a medium sized bowl
  • Melt the butter and set aside to cool
  • Heat your waffle iron
  • Beat the eggs in a small bowl and slowly add the milk
  • Add the melted butter, stiring to combine
  • Pour liquid ingredients into dry and stir with a fork or spatula to combine
  • Use 1/4-1/2 cup batter per waffle, cook until toasted

Makes 8 waffles.

Punch Yo Mama Kentucky Apple Pie – Take One

“Bourbon Bacon Molasses Apple Pie”.

Until today, nothing would come up in a search engine with those five beautiful words strung together.

Now, this is not a healthy pie.  Nor a medicinal pie, except in that it may have magical qualities when trying to lure lovers or tame unruly children.  It blends those delirious tongue-teasers of savory and sweet, the unsuspected crunch of candied bacon embedded in folds of apples both sweet and tart.  A blend of spicy and soothing cinnamon and a dash of fresh nutmeg fuse them together and they sleep contented in a flaky, free-0f-the-demon-gluten crust.  This pie is work, but so worth it.

In making this recipe I combined techniques I’d learned from other kitchen explorations – par-baking apples, candying bacon, blending healthy flours for a gluten-free crust – and am very pleased with the first incarnation.  But this recipe still has further to go; it’s delicious on day one but the bacon sags into an unappetizing texture if you keep eating it on successive days (but if it’s more than you and a roommate trying to wipe it out of existence and you can eat it in one go, bake on).  The bourbon gives a delightfully oak-y slight to the senses, but hasn’t packed a wallop yet.

If you’re looking for a comforting, complex apple pie recipe with a twist, check this recipe out.  It’s fuller-bodied than your traditional American pie, and the flavors round themselves out very well.

This recipe requires three steps: 1. Candying bacon. 2. Preparing your apples. 3. Preparing and filling crust.  Refer to my BAKING BASICS posts for recipes on both filling and a variety of pie crusts.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons GOOD Kentucky bourbon (I used Blantons, one of my favorites)
  • 3 tablespoons organic blackstrap molasses
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar plus more as desired
  • six strips very thin bacon (from a butcher)
  • About 18 apples, prepared (CLICK HERE for page on apple pie filling)
  • Unbaked pie crust, enough for bottom and top.

Directions: Bourbon Blackstrap Bacon

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Lay a baking rack over a cookie sheet with high rims and spray the rack with non-stick cooking spray.
  • Heat small saucepan over medium/low heat.  Once hot, pour in 2 tablespoons bourbon and heat until it just gets bubbly.
  • Add 2 tablespoons molasses and stir with spatula until the mixture starts to bubble and expand.
  • Add 1/2 cup light brown sugar, mixing in, and bring to heat until the mixture expands again.
  • Turn off heat and let cool slightly.
  • Prepare to get sticky: using your hands, rub each piece of bacon in the bourbon mixture until coated.  By the 3rd or 4th piece the sugar mixture will be cooling and drying out a bit – don’t worry! Just drudge it as much as you can to coat the bacon.
  • Coat entirely with extra brown sugar until completely covered.
  • Lay on sprayed rack and bake in preheated oven for approximately 30 minutes, or until bacon is crispy.  Set aside and cool completely.

Directions: Apple Filling. On EACH tray sprinkle:

  • For this recipe, I used 2 kinds of cinnamon, 1 very spicy and one mild and sweet. I love cinnamon, so I used 2 tsps. of each.  Vary this to your tastes.
  • Sprinkle on each trap 1/4 tsp of ground cloves and 1 tablespoon sugar, preferably something light like palm sugar over regular white sugar.
  • Toss the apples thoroughly.
  • Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the apples are slightly softened.
  • Remove from heat and let cool.

Directions:  Let’s Fill This Thing

  • Use a deep-dish 9″ pie plate (my favorite pie dish is my Emile Henry 9″. It’s wonderfully deep and the ceramic bakes to perfection) and fill it with your bottom crust.
  • Layer the apples in and pack them tightly – the apple should be piled into a very hefty dome.
  • In a small dish, combine remaining tablespoon bourbon and molasses, and drizzle completely over the top of the apples.
  • Place second crust on top, and pinch to close.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 45 minutes, covering the edges halfway through baking so they don’t burn.

This pie is best eaten the same day it’s made, but should be cooled completely before cutting if using a gluten-free crust (they crumble very easily).

The Best Basic Pie Crust

In my early baking days, I explored many pie crust recipes of staggering variety: blends of butter and shortening, sugar and salt, refrigeration or immediate rolling, standing mixer or food processor.  I’ve rolled with traditional American and French pins and tried buffering on the board with wax and parchment papers.  Recipes from mothers, aunts, grandmothers and cookbooks have all made their ways through my fingers.  But I’ve found the most delicious and easiest pie crust recipe to be an incredibly simple one from one of the loves of my Dusty Baking life, Williams-Sonoma.

This crust does not need to be refrigerated, saving time and the wretched skinny window of cold-enough-but-not-too-cold.  It only uses butter, so the crust is flaky and tender.  And it’s guaranteed to have its praises sung – everyone I’ve recommended it to has only returned their highest compliments.

Dusty Pie Crust Form:

  • Butter Temperature is Important! Make sure your butter is COLD, and handle it as little as possible.  When butter melts its moisture is released, which can develop the gluten in flour and causes it to be more tough than flaky.  Little pads of cold butter in your crust will melt and release steam while baking, creating delicious little pockets of air flaky-ness.
  • Salted Versus Unsalted Butter: Use unsalted butter, preferably organic.  Organic butter simply tastes better.  Salt pulls the water out of (any) food, so salted butter has a different moisture content to begin with and makes you have to vary the amount of salt you add to your crust.
  • Use ice-water: If your crust is dry and you need to add water, make sure it’s ice-cold.  Literally place a cube of ice in a small glass, add some filtered water and add one tablespoon at a time until your crust pulls together.
  • Handle with care: The more you mix your dough, the more the gluten will develop and the less flaky the crust will be.  The same goes with handling – try to keep your hands off the dough as much as possible to keep the ingredients cool.
  • When in doubt, roll with protection: Using wax or parchment paper can help your dough not stick to your rolling pin and flip easily into your pie dish.  Wooden rolling boards also help absorb excess moisture.
  • Play with your pie plate: Different types of plates yield slightly different crusts.  I love my Emile Henri 9″ pie dish.  It’s pretty much the only one I use now.  It’s extra deep so my pies are loaded with filling.  It heats evenly and the fluted rim contributes to gorgeous crusts.  And at $45, it’s an amazing investment.  When baking thinner pies, a basic Pyrex can’t be beat for heat distribution and ease of lifting slices out.  When doing a gluten-free tart, I go for tart pans with removable bottoms.
  • Experiment With Your Pin: I used to use my mother’s marble rolling pin until I realized I like the lighter weight of a traditional wooden pin.  Then, after a phenomenal gluten-free pastry course, I decided I also like the dexterous manageability of a French pin (a long, dowel-like pin with no handles/rolling on its own).  The weight and shape of a pin is up to the preference of the Dusty Baker, so have fun exploring.  NOT recommended are plastic pins, which stick more readily to any sort of dough.
  • Wash and Sprinkle: There are many options for topping your crust.  Washing with melted butter adds a bit more flavor and a golden color.  Egg whites or yolks give a shiny sheen.  Water does the trick for helping a sprinkle of sugar stick adequately.  Whichever you choose, wash lightly with a clean pastry brush and only add enough sugar for some added texture and shine.  Don’t forget to cut slits for steam to escape when necessary.

Basic Williams-Sonoma Pie Crust Recipe: (enough for 2 crusts)

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached flour
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 16 Tbsp. (2 sticks) unsalted, organic butter, cold
  • 6 Tbsp. ice-water, as necessary

Directions:

  1. If using a standing mixer, use the paddle attachment.
  2. Place flour, sugar and salt in bowl and toss to combine.
  3. Cut butter into small cubes and toss into dry mixture.
  4. Start the mixer on medium-low and combine until the flour resembles cornmeal-like crumbs.
  5. Add ice-water one tablespoon at a time until the dough just pulls together. Do not over-mix.  Divide dough in two.
  6. Lightly flour your rolling surface, and place half of dough on surface. With a rolling pin, tap the dough until it’s a relatively flat disk.  Turn dough over and roll out to a 12″ circle, adding flour as necessary to your rolling pin.
  7. Place in plate and fill, then repeat with top crust.

CLICK HERE for the recipe on Williams-Sonoma

Apple Pie Filling

Creating your apple pie filling should be a personal quest that requires little more than a keen sense of taste, an imagination, the internet, and a little voodoo.  Almost like magic, blending apples with sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg becomes a little bit like your holiday calling card – it may vary a bit from year to year, but it should always be true to your sense of originality and flair.  Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  And her name is Dusty Baker. (Or his name, if you’re a man…)

So, from one Dusty Baker to another, here are some tricks for coming up with your own apple pie filling that will wipe out memories of pies of old and create new mainstays on your holiday table.

  1. Peeling/Coring/Slicing: If you bake apple pie at least once a year and aren’t too strapped for space, consider purchasing an apple peeler/corer/slicer.  You can get them for about $20 (Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Tabla, and most stores like T.J. Maxx and Home Goods and discount stores all carry them) and they save you SO much time, especially when slicing enough apples for a deep apple pie.
  2. Pick at least two kinds of apples. There are no best apples for apple pie, but blending a variety and knowing what you’re putting in there definitely helps.  Have fun exploring what is local and seasonal so that your pie is unique to the hills and plains of wherever you’re camping out during the autumn season, and try to blend three kinds together: an apple pie mainstay like Granny Smith or Golden Delicious, something tart like Empire or Cortland, and something that’s sweet and refreshing like Mutsu or Honeycrisp.  No matter the apple, if it’s local, try it.  Look for apples that are firm and as consistent in shape as possible, which makes them easier to peel (if they’re too soft they’ll fall apart when being sliced, and if they’re lumpy the peel will come off unevenly).
  3. Par-bake your apples before filling: Par-baking the apples helps them soften and become more infused with flavor.  It also shrinks them so that, after they’ve been placed in a pie shell, there’s less collapsing and the crust isn’t suspended in mid-pie-air.  AND it helps to reduce some of the liquid that could potentially puddle inside a pie.  To par-bake apples, prepare them by peeling, coring and slicing them thinly.  Lay them out on 2 cookie sheets with deep rims, sprinkle with your blend of sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and toss to combine.  Then place them in an oven preheated to 350 degrees and bake for about 15 minutes, until they’re just soft.  Let them cool while you prepare your crust.
  4. Not all cinnamon is created equal. In fact, what is commonly sold in the market in the United States is not cinnamon at all, but rather Vietnamese cassia, one of the many kinds of Cinnamomum but not true cinnamon itself.  One day I grabbed several types of cinnamon from Penzeys and went to work tasting them purely and blindly to pick what I felt would be best for my personal apple pie blend.  For mellower pies, I choose mellower cinnamon.  For the Punch Yo Mama Kentucky Apple pie, I chose a blend of mild Ceylon cinnamon (the only true cinnamon, evidently) and Tung Hing China cinnamon, which is darker and packs the punch delivered in the title of said Kentucky pie.  As cinnamon is very good for you (it aids digestion and circulation and helps regulate blood sugar levels ), I’d say have fun and explore.  CLICK HERE for a nifty article from my favorite food mag, Saveur, who devoted a gorgeous spread last year to the spice.
  5. Use whole nutmeg: When possible, have a nutmeg or two on hand and grind yourself right onto the apples.  They’re not expensive and easily found in grocery stores, and the flavor will be much more full.  In general, ground spices have released the oils original to the spice and lose flavor rather quickly.  Buying your baking spices in the fall is a great way to make sure they’ll be fresh through the holiday season.
  6. Be creative with your sugar: In general, I suggest finding an alternate sugar that you’ll use when baking instead of white cane sugar; it obviously requires a good deal of insulin to process and wreaks havoc for those with blood sugar problems such as diabetes and hypoglycemia.  Alternatives such as palm sugar, date sugar, xylitol or maple sugar will be enough to sweeten your apples.  Or go completely au-natural and omit sugar altogether.  I drizzle molasses onto my apples when they’re filled in the crust to add some complexity, and don’t add any additional sweetener as a result.  If you are going to add sugar, add as little as possible.  This will also let the true nature of your apple blend shine forth!
  7. Play with the amount of spice: The amount of cinnamon and sugar needed to best season your filling depends on what kind you use.  Consider tasting your sweeteners and spices, then your kinds of apples, and estimate the amount you’ll need from there.  2 teaspoons of cinnamon may be adequate for a mild pie with many apples, but 1 tablespoon may make it zing.  Nutmeg and clove are easy to overdo, so go sparingly and maybe add more after the apples are par-baked.

Easy Gluten-Free Pie Crust

This is my favorite gluten-free crust so far out of those I’ve been playing with / creating.  Here’s why, health-wise:

  • Brown rice flour offers some body to the crust
  • Quinoa flour pumps up the protein value and also is a healthy source of magnesium and vitamins B12 and E
  • Amaranth gives a bit of sweetness and the soft texture blends well
  • Flax seed offers the fiber we all need, and a bit of nuttiness
  • Real butter – now and then you need some fat, and organic butter is always better than margarine (horror!)

It’s also easy in that you don’t NEED to refrigerate the dough, like you do with many standard recipes. I recommend dusting a piece of parchment paper set on your rolling board with rice flour, and doing the same with your rolling pin.  Roll halfway, then flip the dough and roll to size.  Use the parchment paper to flip the dough into your pie plate.

Ingredients: This makes enough for a bottom and top crust

  • 3/4 cup brown rice flour
  • 3/4 cup quinoa flour
  • 1/4 cup amaranth flour
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseeds
  • 1/3 cup tapioca starch
  • 2 tsps xantham gum
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tablespoons date or palm sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 sticks unsalted organic butter, cubed small

All dry ingredients in the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment.  Cut butter in small cubes and toss into flours.  Start mixing the dough on low, until the butter starts to cut into the flours.  Kick the speed up a step or two, and watch the bowl to see how the butter cuts in.  If not pulling together, add ice-water one tablespoon at a time – you should only need one to get the dough into a ball.  As soon as it pulls, stop!  Divide the dough in two and roll out.

With this crust, I prefer to par-bake the filling so that the crust itself doesn’t spend as much time in the oven.

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