Sweets never used to be my specialty, since to me a recipe was just a guideline. A dash of this, a slap of that, substitute black beans for eggs? Sure, why not! But after more flat cookies than I could count and a very sad, bloated gingerbread beast, I realized that cooking and baking were two very different things. The chemistry of baking has to be taken into account when changing up a recipe; something I’d never have to deal with when making soup for a crowd. Science, you know. And for those people who like to cook by the seat of their pants, like me, that was a hard pill to swallow. Yet after a lot of practice, research, and a humbling experience with an angel food cake, I found my groove.
Learning to bake gluten-free is no different. It just takes some patience. Whether you decide to do it for yourself, for medical reasons, or to make your gluten-avoidant friend more comfortable at a dinner party, baking without gluten often means busting out your creativity. But crafting your own flours and measuring and weighing strange starches doesn’t have to be intimidating. With all the resources at our disposal it should be more of an adventure than anything else, and one where we can learn a lot along the way. Here are three good thoughts that kept me grounded through the re-learning process.
Let go of your expectations.
Sure, we’ve baked bread before—but never this bread. Gluten-free foods don’t behave the same way that gluten-filled ones do, so learning to accept that sometimes things won’t go your way is part of the experience. Expect to learn, don’t always expect to succeed. I found this out the hard way with my first batch of pizza dough. Since gluten is the stretchy protein that gives bread its elastic give, crumbly and dry are the two most commonly encountered problems. Take notes and move forward. Dwell on the good things.
Embrace the unexpected.
While looking for a good egg replacer in my gluten-free brown bread, I stumbled upon the miracle of Aquafaba, the leftover brine from cooked or canned beans like garbanzos or black beans. Recently discovered by Joël Roessel, a tenor singer from France, Aquafaba acts as a one-to-one egg replacer in baked goods and even whips up like an egg white meringue. It’s protein rich and generally amazing. Look no further for vegan macarons and pavlovas.
Accept that failure and success are two sides of the same coin.
Some days are going to be better than others. Sometimes a little pastry must burn in order for the lesson to be learned. Take it with a grain of salt, that learning to bake gluten-free isn’t always a picnic. It’s like starting over from scratch and re-learning how to ride a bike. There are ups and downs and no lack of frustration, but once you pull out that perfect gluten-free pie, it’s all worth it.
And never underestimate the power of chocolate.
Gluten-free Vegan Chocolate S’mores Pie
For the filling:
12 oz of semi sweet, dairy free-chocolate chips
2 tsp cocoa powder
¼ cup coffee liqueur or extra strong coffee
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 lb organic silken tofu, drained
1 tbsp agave nectar
2 tbsp non-dairy milk (almond, coconut, etc)
*For the crust:
1 ⅔ cup gluten-free graham crackers, crushed
¼ cup natural cane sugar
4-5 tbsp non-dairy butter, melted
For the topping:
½ cup aquafaba, chickpea brine
2 cups organic powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp cream of tartar or squeeze of lemon juice
⅛ tsp salt
*Feel free to use a store bought gluten-free graham cracker crust if available. In the spirit of efficiency, sometimes a little shortcut here and there can be a real time saver.
For a homemade crust, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In the bowl of a food processor, pulverize the graham crackers into fine crumbs. Add the sugar and pulse until combined. With the processor running, stream in the 4 tbsp melted non-dairy butter until the crumbs begin to hold together. If they are a little dry, add in an additional tablespoon. (Alternatively, this can also be done in a large bowl using a fork to crush and mix the crackers.)
Once everything is combined, evenly press crumb mixture into the bottom of a 12-inch pie plate and bake at 350 degrees F for about 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool until the pie filling is prepared
For the filling, combine the chocolate chips, vanilla, and non-dairy milk in a conductive bowl and melt over a sauce pan of simmering water. Combine the melted chocolate, tofu, coffee, and agave in a blender or food processor until smooth. Whirl for 1 minute. Pour the filling into the cooled crust and refrigerate for 2-4 hours until firm.
Now for the fun part!
When it’s almost time to serve the pie, make the meringue. In a large bowl, beat the chickpea brine with a hand mixer on high, until white and fluffy. This may take a minute or so, usually longer than it would if you were using egg whites. Add the cream of tartar, or lemon juice, vanilla, and salt and keep whipping until medium peaks form.
A ¼ cup at a time, add in the powdered sugar, beating after each addition. Spread the meringue on the top of the pie in billowy peaks and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Right before serving, place pie under broiler on highest rack and watch as the topping is caramelized.
Serve immediately and marvel at your creation.
Nicole Gurney is a freelance writer living and working in San Diego. She focuses on healthy living, recipe development and exploring the role mindfulness plays in leading a balanced life. Sea salt and chocolate are her weaknesses, as is the promise of a good time. Eclectic and creative, she seeks new opportunities to grow her talents as a young professional, while remaining calm and level in an ever more demanding world.