Each month FBC member and nutritionist, Sondi Bruner, takes a favourite recipe and shows you how to adapt it to be allergen-friendly, as well as delicious and healthy. This month she’s got tips for gluten free and vegan pie crusts just in time for the upcoming holiday season.
I've been blogging for nearly six years, and on my website you'll find a whopping zero recipes for pies and two for tarts. I have very strong feelings about pies and tarts (read: I don't like them), and would never choose a slice if I have the option of eating a chocolate bar, cookie, muffin, ice cream, brownie, slice of cake, dairy-free milkshake, or a pile of dirt instead. Mainly, I eschew the pie/tart family because they often feature fruits. I'm not a fan of fruity desserts; I much prefer to eat fruit on its own.
When the FBC team requested an allergen-friendly remix column about pies and tarts, I accepted the challenge with a mixture of excitement and stomach-seizing trepidation. As many of you know, I have a rather unscientific approach to baking in that I tend to throw ingredients into a bowl, troubleshoot by adding a pinch of this or that, then nudge the batter into the oven and expect that everything will work out deliciously in the end. The majority of the time, I'm not disappointed.
So did this combination of fearless experimentation and hope work in the case of tarts and pies? Yes, and also no.
The Making of a Gluten-Free and Vegan Tart
Pies and tarts without gluten, dairy or eggs are a tricky part of the alternative baking realm. Without the binding, sticky qualities of gluten and eggs, it can be much more difficult to bring everything together. In other kinds of baked goods like cookies, muffins, cupcakes or loaves, there are more options you can use to bind such as flax, chia, applesauce, bananas and tofu. Also, you don't need to roll out muffin or cookie dough — you can just plop the mixture on a baking sheet or in a tin and you're off.
I decided to attempt an easy tart crust that you could simply press into the pie plate, eliminating the struggle of rolling it out (press-in crusts are also a timesaver!). I had a strong hunch that adapting this simple recipe for sunflower double chocolate chip cookies would yield an incredibly versatile pie crust, and I was totally right.
By swapping the typical glutenous flour for sunflower seed meal, this crust is not only gluten-free but grain-free and nut-free as well, making it a good choice for Paleo and autoimmune-style diets. If nut allergies aren't an issue in your home, you could also make this crust with almonds, pecans or walnuts, too.
Instead of butter or margarine, I used my ultimate favourite saturated fat: coconut oil. This lends moisture and helps to bring the crust together, just as if you were using dairy-based butter.
The lovely part about this crust is that it isn't very sweet. If you omit the cinnamon and vanilla, it could easily become the vessel for savory dishes like quiche or pot pie.
When it came time to fill the tart, I thought, 'Why does this filling need to be fruity? It's my recipe and I'll make what I like.' Instead of fruit, I created the most luxurious dairy-free, vegan chocolate mousse. You may want to double the batch so there's enough to go on the crust, too, as your mouth will intercept a few spoonfuls. (I made the filling several times, you know, juuuust to be sure it was good.)
Of course, if you have a favourite tart or pie filling, feel free to pour it on in here instead.
- 1½ cups sunflower seeds
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- Pinch of salt
- The cream from 1 can of coconut milk
- 1 100g dark chocolate bar
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- ¼ cup toasted unsweetened coconut, (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350℉.
- In a spice grinder, food processor or blender, grind the sunflower seeds into a meal. Dump it into a bowl.
- Add the coconut oil, and begin to work it in with the back of a fork until it's incorporated. This might take a few minutes.
- Add the maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Mix well.
- Grease an 8-inch pie plate with coconut oil. Press the crust mixture into the pan as evenly as possible.
- Bake for 13-15 minutes, until the crust is lightly golden. It will seem soft to the touch, but will harden as it cools.
- While the crust cools, make the filling.
- Open the can of coconut milk and scoop out the thick, creamy top. Save the water for another use, like a smoothie.
- Place the cream in a pot, along with the maple syrup and coconut oil. Chop up the chocolate and add it to the pot.
- Gently melt the ingredients over low heat, until they're fully incorporated.
- When the crust has cooled, pour in the filling.
- Chill until set, at least 4 hours.
- If using toasted coconut, sprinkle it over the tart and serve.
The Making of a Gluten-Free and Vegan Pie
It's not just that I don't have a pie recipe on my blog, I've never even made a pie at all, gluten-free or glutenous. I'm simply too lazy to make a dessert that involves using a rolling pin.
After glancing at a couple of gluten-free and vegan pie recipes on the internet, I figured I had it all in the bag. I mean, I scored big my first time around, so why not the second? My pie crust, surprisingly, rolled quite well, and the filling was tasty. But when I took the pie out of the oven, I had a feeling it wouldn't taste great.
I didn't like it at all. I don't know much about pie, but I do know that pie crust shouldn't be tasteless and rock hard and make you wonder if you'll need to visit the dentist to fix a cracked tooth. My husband is a pie-lover and basically my complete dessert opposite. When I gave him a slice he said, 'It tastes like apple pie!' and ate several pieces.
After some further internet probing (there's a good tutorial on Food 52), I realized I had made some crucial pie mistakes. On my second attempt, I added more fat, less water, and let the crust rest to distribute the moisture. The result? A flaky, tasty crust; it almost had a shortbread quality to it. I even ate a slice of pie! After a side-by-side comparison, my husband revised his opinion and said the second was far and above the best, particularly in regards to the tastiness of the crust.
I think the keys to my success were:
- A lighter blend of gluten-free flours. Usually, I like to use dense whole grain gluten-free flours in my baking to make them as health-promoting as possible. With a gluten-free pie crust, though, you need flours that are lighter and more airy. I used a higher percentage of arrowroot flour, as this has a fine, powdery texture as well as binding properties. If you can't find arrowroot, try tapioca starch instead. Many bloggers report that the gluten-free flour blend from Bob's Red Mill works like a charm, and this is an option too.
- Lots of coconut oil. Don't be afraid of fat! Coconut oil is rich in healthy saturated fats that are easily digested and provide us with loads of energy. If you consume animal products, you could probably swap ghee or lard in here.
- Limit liquids. In my first attempt, I kept adding water to the bowl to help bring the crust together, as that is my typical troubleshooting method with gluten-free baking. But, as I learned, more water produces a harder crust. And, since I added more fat, I didn't need a lot of water.
- Accept the rustic look. Gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan pie crusts are not going to look as perfect as a glutenous one. Does my pie look like I made it while wearing a blindfold? Sure. But it tastes yummy, and that's important.
- 1 cup brown rice flour
- ½ cup millet flour
- ½ cup arrowroot flour
- ½ cup coconut oil
- 1 tbsp coconut sugar
- 5 to 6 tbsp cold water
- 3 small apples, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- In a large bowl, mix the flours and sugar. Add the coconut oil and using a fork, begin to work the coconut oil into the flours. The mixture should become crumbly, with little pea-sized pieces. Add 5 tbsp of water and incorporate into the dough. At this point, you might need to get in there with your hands.
- Put the dough in the fridge for 15 minutes.
- While the dough chills, make your filling. Slice your apples and put them in a bowl. Toss with maple syrup, lemon juice, and cinnamon.
- Remove the dough and check to see if it needs another tbsp of water. If the dough is too hard when it comes out of the fridge, let it warm up for a bit.
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Pull off about half a cup’s worth of dough for the top crust and set it aside.
- Grease an 8-inch pie plate with coconut oil.
- Place the larger piece of dough on a large sheet of parchment paper, then gently flatten it slightly into a disk with your hands. Place another sheet of parchment paper on top, then roll the dough out. Peel off the parchment.
- Place your pie plate over the dough, then slide your hand under the bottom piece of parchment and flip the pan over. Gently press the dough into the pan and remove the parchment.
- Some of the dough may split, and that’s okay. Patch it up with some of the extra bits of dough that are hanging off the edge of the pie plate. If there is any extra dough, add it to your second ball of dough. Save the parchment pieces for rolling the top.
- Layer the apples into the pie.
- Take your smaller piece of dough and place it on the parchment, then gently flatten it slightly into a disk with your hands. Put the other piece of parchment on top and roll out the dough. You can use this to cover the pie entirely, or slice it into thin strips, then place them in a criss-cross pattern over the pie filling. If you cover the pie entirely, remember to cut out a little hole and make slits in the top so steam can escape.
- Bake for 30 minutes.
Check out more of Sondi’s Allergen-Friendly Remixes for great ideas on revamping your favourite recipes to make them allergen friendly! Here are a few to check out:
- How To Make Creamy Non-Dairy Pasta Sauces
- Allergen Friendly Recipe Remix: The Granola Bar
- Creating Hearty, Filling Allergen Friendly Salads For Fall
Got a favourite recipe you’d like to see get an Allergen-Friendly Makeover? Let us know in the comments...
Sondi Bruner is a holistic nutritionist, freelance writer and food blogger. She educates people who follow allergen-friendly diets about how to eat simply, deliciously and safely, allowing them to rediscover the pleasure of food. When she’s wearing her writer’s hat, she works with natural health brands to create content that will help their customers live fulfilling, healthful lives. Find out more at www.sondibruner.com. Or you can follow Sondi on Facebook or Twitter.