The Great Gluten Free Tart Off

I often get asked for gluten free baked goods. I have a few in my repertoire that simply don’t require any flour at all, and one that uses so little, it can easily be replaced with a gluten free option. This weekend, since we were pretty much snowed in here on the east coast, it seemed as good a time as any to experiment with one of the gluten free flour blends that have cropped up in the marketplace. Touted as being a cup for cup replacement, I picked up Trader Joe’s blend of rice flours, enhanced with potato starch and tapioca flour.

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I made a basic tart crust, using one stick of butter, a pinch each of salt and sugar, a cup of flour and some filtered water. The good news: The dough came together beautifully, and had a silky texture to it. The not so good news: I found it almost impossible to work with.
I rolled it on a sheet of wax paper, which had been floured, and rolled it with a floured rolling pin. When I went to transfer it to the tart pan, it was completely stuck to the paper. Subsequent chilling, flouring and re-rolling didn’t seem to help. The only time I could get any significant portion off the paper was when I chilled it so much that it wasn’t pliable enough to put into the pan. I used a section of this, and “pinch potted” the rest. Not the most beautiful crust but there is still hope that when it is filled and baked it will recover.

I also made a classic crust using conventional flour, and  put them in the refrigerator to chill thoroughly before baking.

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Once filled, they looked almost identical going into the oven.

The conventional flour tart browned more quickly and more evenly than the gluten free crust, even though I rotated the pan mid-baking. The noticably more profound difference was suprisingly in the filling. The gluten free filling seemed dry, with bits of the flour sticking to some of the apples, while the conventional tart had an evenly dispersed thick, juicy filling with large chunks of apples. It seems that the gluten free flour used as a thickener in the filling absorbed, rather than thickened the natural apple juices. If that is the only issue, it can be rectified with corn starch instead of gluten free flour next time.

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Both got a drizzle of caramel, and were left to  cool a bit before the big taste testing.

The outcome: The gluten free tart was a bit crumbly. The texture of the crust was sandy, as opposed to the regular crust, which was flakey. It came out of the oven with a few cracks in it.

One tester stated: “the first crust looks flakey, but the second one tastes flakey.

Another felt the gluten free crust was more like a cookie crust, and remarked that it “turned to powder ” when eaten.

I felt as though I could taste “flour”in the gluten free crust, vs. the taste of butter in the conventional crust.

Despite the textural differences, the testers liked both tarts, yet at the end, both preferred the conventional version. They felt that if they only had the gluten free tart, they would have been ok with it, but when compared to the regular tart, it fell short.
The final verdict: Okay, but not great. I might try it again with a shortbread crust, rather than a rolled traditional pate brisee and see how it goes.
I will give the flour another chance, trying it in muffins or a cake, where it might be more successful. Even with a flour mixture that is developed to be a cup for cup replacement to conventional wheat flour, the results prove that they are not apples to apples comparable.

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