Monday, January 4, 2010

Pear Pies and Apricot Poodles

Family holidays are some of my favorite activities. Mum's family is huge and, when we all gather, the noise and laughter fills the room. It's uplifting. It also makes dinner interesting. With about forty people to feed, the choices available are overwhelming. Family holidays are the ultimate potluck dinner. And like with any potluck, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Ever since my diagnosis, I've taken to building a little insurance into the dinners by making my own desserts and at least one side dish. The family's excellent about making sure the main dishes are free of all gluten for me, but the details sometimes get lost. Not because they don't love me and want me to eat, but because it can be too difficult for them to cater to one person's dietary needs or tastes with so many of us eating. I try to take some of that worry away by providing something that I know is gluten free, but also delicious and easy to share. Especially when it comes to dessert, since finding available, pre-made, gluten free options is expensive and not always easy. It's much easier for me to just make something. On the menu this year: pear pie.

I looked over a bunch of crust recipes and filling recipes for weeks. Having never made a pie, gluten free or otherwise, from scratch, I was a bit overwhelmed at first. Thankfully, I found a straightforward crust recipe in my Williams Sonoma Pies and Tarts cookbook. I was only concerned because, as with most recipes without egg, I knew my flour base would turn out crumbly, not tender, if I followed it exactly. The recipe called for the dough to be worked as little as possible so as not to melt the butter and toughen the crust. I ignored this advice. The reason the crust gets tough in regular recipes is because working the dough forms networks of gluten. Not a problem I encounter with my flours. In fact, I actually need the butter pieces to melt through the dough a bit more than usual to counter act the tendency of my dough to crumble rather than flake. I also added two egg yolks to the dough I made for the top of the pie to help hold it together and to assist with browning.

For the filling, I looked to the apple pie filling recipe listed in the cookbook, but I made a few modifications. My pears were sweeter than cooking apples, so I reduced the sugar by half. I added a little orange juice and zest for acid and flavor and a touch of ginger to spice it up. Here's the final recipe:

7 Bosc pears, peeled, cored and sliced thick
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp gluten free flour (like Pamela's Pancake and Baking mix, or your own)
the zest and juice of one orange
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

The final pie was actually kind of pretty, for a first attempt. I forgot to shield it with foil when I saw the edges getting darker, and the crust needs some work and practice, but I was happy just to have something pie-shaped that smelled good to serve.

Ever the obsessive and proud parent of such a creation, I charged mum with the heavy responsibility of wrapping the pie in aluminum foil and putting it in an insulated food bag. I also insisted that the pie ride shotgun in my lap for the entire trip to avoid overturning it or jarring it. In theory, it was a sensible idea. In practice, what actually happened went a little differently. My treasured pie rode happily in my lap for about an hour and a half. Then we stopped for breakfast. I placed to pie on the backseat of the car where, I assumed, it would remain safe until my return. My aunt placed her apricot poodle on the front seat where, I assumed, she would remain until we finished eating. We arrived at the car after breakfast to find my aunt's apricot poodle standing on my pear pie wagging her happy tail. I stood numbly staring at the bag while my aunt scolded the dog and mum opened the bag to check the pie. My face fell to see the hole in the aluminum foil and the crater of mushy crust and pear the dog made in my masterpiece. Right about then, I burst into tears. Weeks of planning, and days of execution literally got stomped on. Later, when I calmed down a bit of course, the situation seemed much funnier. And the pie was still every bit as delicious as I hoped. From now on, the pie rides shotgun on my lap and then gets placed in the trunk during pit stops if I want it to look as fantastic as it tastes.

Even though the pie wasn't pretty, it was gluten free, and very good, so I'll call this attempt a draw. One failure, one success, but at least I had dessert. And it went perfectly with the laughter and noise of the holidays.

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