The holidays just aren’t the same without pie, right? Apple pie, pecan pie, Grandma’s chiffon pie all sing special songs of the season. Unless you are gluten-sensitive, in which case, the holidays are a minefield of tempting, but often inedible treats. Perhaps even more so for the bewildered families and friends who have to host gluten-sensitive guests during holiday parties.
I’m all too familiar with this tricky territory, because I have celiac disease. My friends tease me, they are also quite caring and sensitive about my condition. They keep rice crackers on hand, serve polenta instead of bread and even convert favorite recipes when I join them for dinner. Some have even gone so far as to construct completely gluten-free meals, just so that my sensitivity can be accommodated, and I can enjoy a normal meal with everyone else.
I am a forager by trade and hobby. Most of my meals are built around wild vegetables, fruits and game meats. This means that on a day-to-day basis, being gluten-sensitive isn’t a problem. In fact, it’s something I rarely think about.
Doing without, and packing nuts
This hasn’t always been the case. When I was first diagnosed, I went through a mourning period. I missed my black pepper asiago sourdough loaf. I yearned for normal things like dinner rolls and breakfast cereal. I sulked when my friends visited an Asian buffet and I couldn’t come along (soy sauce contains gluten-containing wheat). I learned to travel with a bag of nuts in my purse to keep from going hungry at meal times.
There were several occasions when I had to reach for that bag of nuts. I attended more than one dinner where a dry salad mix was the only thing safe to eat. One time, a family member ended up in the hospital for an emergency and I was stuck there with nothing at the hospital safe for me to eat. I cried that night when my aunt ate doughnuts in front of me.
As the years went on, I missed these foods less. I learned to happily take my meals with a side of potatoes or other starchy vegetables. I know that every celiac is different, but I came to a point of peace. And when I reached that point, I decided that gluten-free replacement foods, such as gluten-free breads, pastas and cakes, were no longer important to me. In my mind, I had tasted breads and pastries at their finest, and those memories held a special place in my heart. Also, gluten-free replacement foods either didn’t measure up, or were too much trouble to make, often requiring blends of four or more unusual flours, and other strange ingredients.
Holidays are different
For the most part, I can do without breads and muffins and desserts entirely. But the holidays are different. Eating at the holidays is about so much more than just nutrition. During the holiday season, meals and feasts center on family and communion and nostalgia. I want to share in the tastes that have made each reunion special throughout the years.
I know others feel the same, both those with celiac disease and the people who cook for them. But gluten-free recipes and their complicated lists of ingredients can be daunting and may prevent people from diving in and creating treats every guest can enjoy.
I tried very hard to develop a recipe that used only ingredients that could be found in a major grocery store. Unfortunately, I failed. In fact, those attempts nearly had me in tears, and I’m usually a fairly calm and confident cook.
Instead, I’ve come up with this recipe, which contains only two specialty gluten-free ingredients: millet flour and xanthan gum. Millet flour is ground from millet seed and adds a delicate texture, flavor and color to the crust. If you can’t find millet flour, rice flour can be substituted. Xanthan gum is used to replace the elastic quality of gluten in regular wheat flour. If you are new to gluten-free baking, try to find the millet flour and xanthan gum in a health food store or co-op. The prices in those types of shops tend to be good, and you may even be able to purchase the items in bulk.
Because gluten-sensitive families are now so common, another good idea would be to find a friend or family member who already have millet flour and xanthan gum and purchase the necessary amounts from them.
One last important tip is to make certain the cornstarch and baking powder you use for the recipe are marked gluten-free on their label. Several major labels carried in grocery stores fit the bill.
This gluten-free pie crust comes out perfectly, time and again. I’ve used it as a crust for sweet pies, as tart shells, for turnovers, and for pot pie (omitting the sugar). It is my attempt to simplify gluten-free holiday baking for everyone. This recipe makes enough dough for either an 8- or 9-inch single crust pie.
Gluten-free pie crust
- Stir together dry ingredients.
- Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut in the cold butter. Stop short of creating a uniform sandy texture. Instead, aim to have some butter pieces the size of small peas, because these are what create a flaky crust.
- In a cup, whisk together the egg, vinegar, and water. Add these wet ingredients to the flour and butter mixture, and gently stir to combine. If the mixture appears to be too dry, keep adding cold water by the teaspoonful until the mixture starts to come together and form a ball of dough.
- Place the ball of dough in plastic wrap, and flatten it into a circle approximately 1-inch thick. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
- Dust your counter and the pie dough with millet flour. Roll the dough to ⅛-inch thick, which is an approximately 12-inch circle.
- Transfer to pie plate, crimp edges, and prick the bottom with a fork. Bake in a 425 F oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the crust is slightly puffed and very slightly golden along the edges.
Zester Daily contributor Wendy Petty lives in the Rocky Mountains, where she is a forager, photographer and wild foods consultant. She writes about her adventures with mountain food on her blog, Hunger and Thirst.
Photo: Gluten-free pie crust treat for the holidays. Photo and slideshow credit: Wendy Petty