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Part two of my KCRW’s 5th Annual Pie Contest experience! In which I will describe the many trials of starching up a gluten-free pie crust – with pictures! (Did you miss the beginning? Check it out here.)

The first crust test has begun:

After a previous failure a few years ago with Bob’s Red Mill GF Baking Flour, I thought I’d try a different brand as my starting flour. Normally, I love his stuff, but it was too coarsely ground for this project and it did not use enough starch. And if worse came to worst, I’d make my own flour mix from scratch.

While at the store buying my fruits for the filling, I found Pamela’s GF flour mix. I checked the ingredients and not only did it have two types of starch, it also included a pie crust recipe on the bag. So I thought, “Why not?”

When I got home, I opened the bag and took a little in my hand. It was reeeally soft. I could tell that it was high quality and so finely sifted that it would work well for delicate pastry. I was, however, skeptical of the bag recipe (I’m skeptical in nature). I decided to give it a shot and then modify it if it didn’t work. Well I already had to modify it because the recipe called for vegetable shortening AND butter, which is clearly not vegan. SO I used some of that EarthBalance butter substitute and reduced the added salt (since EB butter spread has salt already).

Picture time! This is the progression of the very first test pie. Click a photo for full view!

Well it didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. It was just too crumbly when cut into, but the flavor wasn’t terrible (though it didn’t have enough sweetness for my taste) and the quality of the flour still held up, so I decided I would try different combos of starches to fix it. And instead of the EB butter, I just used all veg shortening and went back to the prescribed amount of salt (1 teaspoon).

I did not want to thin the flavor too much with a bland starch powder, but I had to put enough for it to actually work. So I put in a few tablespoons of potato starch. Oops. Too much. It was too hard. So I shifted to tapioca starch (it has a slightly sweeter flavor) mixed with mushed banana. Banana is a great starch substitute for many reasons:

  1. It provides moisture and is often used as an oil replacer.
  2. It is a starch and works well for binding.
  3. It is naturally sweet, perfect for a sweet pastry like pie crust!

However, because it wasn’t purified to its starch form, I mixed it with some water and about one and a half tablespoons of tapioca starch for good measure. (I also didn’t want the pie crust to have a banana flavor.)

Success! The crust did not crumble and did not break my jaw when I bit into it! (This was test #3. At this point I’d made two pies and 6 little tartlets in three days… I was exhausted!)

Picture Time! Test #2 – Cherry tartlets! Click on photos for full view.

So, having fixed that pesky starch problem the night before I had to bake my final submissions, I went with that recipe #3 for the contest.

I made two types of pie:  The first was a nice orchard fruit pie filled with nectarines, peaches, and pears, plus a little honey and lavender to bring out the floral sweetness. I submitted this one into the “Vegan” category. Pretty straightforward.

For the second, I made a pie for the “LACMA Art Inspired” category. I found this small Japanese ceramic piece that depicted an owl and a bat. A bit dark, perfect for fall and Halloween. This led to my spicy ginger cherry pie – not for the faint of heart! The cherry for the color — and the famous Japanese cherry blossoms — and the ginger for the signature Japanese spice kick! I also added cinnamon and ginger to the crust, while the filling was an intense black cherry compote with fresh ginger, valencia orange juice, cinnamon, cloves, and a bit of lemon for balance. Oh and Xylitol** for sweetness!

We were required to make two pies per entry (one for the judges and one for the public). Since I was entering two categories, that meant I had to make 4 pies. FOUR PIES. BY HAND. Soooo I did that. Started around 4 PM the day before and finished at around 2 AM. Yeah that seems a bit crazy to me too. But something went wrong with my first batch of crust dough and I had to redo it. Luckily, the recipe was enough for two pie bottoms, or one bottom and one top.

With my recipe set and my fillings delicious, I put the final products in the refrigerator and went to sleep hoping the judges – and public – would enjoy them!

Picture Time! Final Pies submitted to the public. Click on photos for full view!

~ I just want to mention that I did not have a food processor or a working blender, so when I say “by hand,” I mean literally by hand. None of this machine mixing all your ingredients perfectly togehter in seconds. No. I mashed up the banana in a bowl with a fork until there were no pieces left (my mom did this for me for the final pie). I cut the vegetable shortening into the dry flour until it was pea-sized with a dinner knife, and I used my hands to squish and squeeze that dough to perfect prefection before putting it in the fridge to cool down and set up before rolling it out.~

Check back next week for Part 3 – in which you will find fun contest photos and, finally, my recipes!!

**Info on Xylitol here and here (and I suggest you do your own research if you have health issues). Another alternative is coconut sugar.

Your turn!
Do you love or hate ginger?
My dad and ex really dislike ginger and I’ve found that people who dislike ginger, tend to also dislike wasabi spice, while really liking chile-type spicy food. I’m a ginger-wasabi person myself. Let me know what you are in the comments! :)

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