Because of my pastry background, I am often asked for baking advice and, lately, more and more of such requests have had to do with gluten-free baking. Whether intolerance to gluten has really increased over the last few years or whether this has become a bit of a trend, I couldn’t say. Once the domain of celiac sufferers, now gluten-free products abound – it is true that gluten can be hard to digest and laying off of it, from time to time, is not a bad idea.
My friend Lin, who needs to follow a gluten and sugar-free diet, asked me for tips for making a strawberry pie. Unlike other gluten-free products, such as cakes, muffins, cupcakes etc which require alchemic combinations of different flours (none of them excellent tastings), pies are an easier proposition, especially when vegan needn’t be a recipe’s component.
Lin had purchased a crust starter that required butter or shortening added to it. My preference would be for a nut crust, with almonds being the cheapest. Alternatively, gluten-free frozen crusts are available at specialty stores, such as Wholefoods, and all you have to do is slide them in the oven.
Even without sugar, with berries coming into season, it’s possible to achieve a great tasting filling. For this recipe, I am recommending agave syrup, but stevia or honey (not my favourite) will work too.
Agave syrup – it’s the nectar of the agave plant and, for North America, it is mainly sourced from Mexico. It’s become very popular in vegan cooking circles as a sugar substitute. More mildly flavored than sugar or maple syrup, it’s mostly sold as light or amber agave, with amber having more of a caramel-y taste. Raw and dark agave are also available but harder to come by. Nutritionally, agave is 92% fructose and 8% glucose.
Stevia – Extracted from the stevia plant, it’s available in liquid or granular form. Despite some controversies, mainly stemming from the lack of available studies, the FDA finally approved it as a dietary supplement after many years of wrangling. Stevia has been known to be 300 times sweeter than sugar for a long time. It has no calories or carbohydrates and it is safe for diabetics. It can be used in baking in either form although it’s hard to give a conversion chart when used to substitute sugar. Tasting as you go along is the only rule of thumb I can suggest. Although it is much sweeter than sugar, its sweetness is a lot less cloying.
For the crust
1 1/4 C Almond Meal
1/3 C Butter, melted
1 ts Ginger, ground
- Combine all ingredients with your hands. The melted butted will bind the almond flour into a paste. Spread it into a 9” pie pan, pressing firmly with your fingers.
- Bake at 350F for 5 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Let cool.
For the filling
1 pint Strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 ts Cornstarch
1/4 C Agave syrup (more or less depending on taste and strawberries‘ sweetness)
1/4 C Apple juice
- Place the strawberries (reserving 1/3 cup), apple juice and cornstarch in a pot. Over medium heat, stir gently until the strawberries start to soften and the juices thicken. Remove from heat and let cool.
- Add the agave syrup and the spices, stirring to combine. Add the reserved fresh strawberries.
- Pour the filling into the cooled crust and serve. May decorate with some chopped mint leaves.