Thursday, September 2, 2021

Celiac’s Delight

Have I ever mentioned that my second-born daughter has celiac disease?

It's true. She was diagnosed about ten years ago, after several years of frequent and painful stomach aches which she described as "stabbing knives" and many, many bottles of Tums. I'm not sure why it took me so long to put my foot down and insist that she see a doctor, but I'm glad our winding path eventually led us to a definitive test result.

In this day and age, it's trendy to swear off eating flours, or even to declare oneself gluten intolerant, which generally means that the body struggles to break down or digest gluten. 

But the celiac sufferer faces a more dire situation: the gluten triggers an immune response that produces toxins. And those toxins attack tiny little protrusions inside the small intestine, destroying these fragile fingers known as villi. This hurts very much but also leads to a long-term problem: damaged villi can't  properly absorb nutrients from food, which leads a shocking domino effect of bad things, including malnutrition or permanent damage to the intestines.

And there is one and only solution to this problem with the toxins and the broken villi and the stabbing knives and the long-term scary things: swear off gluten for the rest of your life.

So after quite a few years of trial and error, and maybe a wee bit of foot-stomping frustration, my daughter has accepted her fates and removed every last trace of gluten from her diet. 

Moving to Ohio and into her own place has been a huge help. Because even when stabbing knives are likely to be the end result, it's hard to sit by and watch your family chomp down gluten goodies without indulging just a bit yourself. Now she keeps her kitchen completely gluten free, and especially with a year and a half of Covid quarantine behind her, she has faced zero temptations dining out with friends, and has established a strong baseline of how she feels when she is completely gluten free.

And the word is that she feels pretty darn good.

However, there is still one small wrinkle in the plan.

Homemade baked goods.

Let's face it. This family is all about baking from scratch, and that almost always means wheat flour. 

Oh sure, we have some favorites that are naturally gluten free: we lean heavily into the Rice Krispie treats and Muddy Buddies (which we will forever call Puppy Chow.) And there have been a few versions of no-flour cookies that have gained favor around here. 

But every now and then, the siren call of a homemade carrot cake or chocolate chip cookie, or in the case of last week during her visit back home, wild blackberry pie, sounds so shrill and fierce in my daughter's ears that we simply must help her find satisfaction.

And the secret to scratching her itch comes in the form of a cute pink bag from Trader Joe's.

Gluten free flour.

Oh, I know. That's a no-brainer, and there are versions of gluten free flour aplenty on any grocery store shelves. But we have tried quite of a few of those products and found them wanting.

I suppose that different types of gluten free flour may work better for different uses, but for the homemade baked goods that my daughter craves, we've found this particular product to be highly satisfying. 

The taste is spot on. I'd never know it wasn't regular wheat flour.

The difference comes in the texture; the gluten free flour is made in large part from tapioca starch and potato starch, which contribute a very fine, soft powdery silt sensation in the mouth.

Not unpleasant. Just different. 

And as one who often bakes these gluten free desserts, it's worth noting that for some recipes - cakes, cookies, muffins - the lack of gluten does not affect the baking process. But for a concoction that relies on the chemical properties of gluten flour - such as a pie crust - I definitely need to break out a few workarounds.

For this pie, I improvised by rolling the bottom crust out between two a sheet of waxed paper, thwapping it upside down into the pie plate, and then patting and poking together all the cracks that resulted from my primitive technique. Much more civilized was the top crust. Forget about rolling that out in my conventional style; I used my waxed paper to roll out small sections of dough and cut the hearts for the top.

Does gluten free flour work just as well as wheat flour in a pie crust?

No. Most definitely it does not.

Does it produce a satisfying crunch and a flaky base for our bountiful harvest of blackberries? 

Heck, yes, it does. 

And any time my second-born celiac daughter wants me to bake her a pie that does not cause her to feel stabbing knives in her stomach, I am more than delighted to provide. 

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