Sweet baked tarts and pies were not commonly available in most bakeries in India two decades ago. When I decided to give up eggs, all the bakeries decided to start stocking tarts made with eggs, and when I gave up milk, they seemed to have got the message right off, and everyone had cute eggless tarts and apple pies lining up the counters! And so, I do not have much experience tasting tarts. Does experience in baking tarts make up for that? I am not sure. I knew that the base had to be like a biscuit, crisp and not too sweet, just right to hold the filling and complement its taste. It was not difficult to achieve when we were all still gluten-lovers, but since the last one year, Jr.H’s condition forced me out of my comfort zone. I have been making pies, tarts and other versions to get the hang of working with gluten free flours and achieve the same biscuit like base.
The problem with gluten free flours is that they lack the elasticity and stretch that is characteristic of wheat, making it difficult to bind the flour in one piece. Last year a friend brought me xanthan gum to help me with the problem. I used it once or twice, before I learnt that xanthan gum is derived from a bacterial strain that causes various plant diseases. Isn’t that such a put off? I searched the web for any harm caused by this processed product but except for bloating I haven’t come across anything serious. Yet, I am not able to bring myself to use xanthan gum regularly. I might make bread one of these days but I will avoid it as much as possible otherwise.
About the alternatives used in this recipe:
After several failures, I found that I could handle tart dough better using a single type of flour, rather than a mixture of different flours. I also noticed that macadamia nuts are excellent for getting the crispiness and refrigerated coconut butter beat real butter any day. Macadamia nuts like all other plant products have no cholesterol, in fact they aid in reduction of cholesterol. In Mumbai, macadamia nuts are easily available at Crawford Market and cost about Rs.800/- a kilo – lesser than the cost of pine nuts.
The addition of gum is optional, though it helps in binding flours. Instead of xanthan, I use acacia gum ( gum Arabic / dink / gaund obtained from acacia tree) as it is also said to prevent back pain, and provides internal heat during winter. In Western India it is traditionally added to fenugreek laddoos (methi ladoo) and given to lactating mothers as well as part of post-pregnancy care. I feel this is a much healthier alternative to xanthan gum despite the fact that it is not as good a binder.
Virgin coconut oil, though expensive (available at Rs.550/- a litre in Mumbai), is very well suited for vegan baking. My children, however complain that it leaves a flavour. Instead I use organic, cold pressed neutral smelling oils like safflower oil, sunflower oil, canola oil etc., in combination or separately. I also use fresh, home made coconut butter and I think you must give this a shot. Home made coconut butter is way tastier than frozen off-the-shelf coconut cream/milk. It is worth the effort involved, and stays good for a week under refrigeration.
Using brown rice flour makes the tart more nutritious apart from adding nutty flavour and a grainy mouthfeel. I use organic brown rice flour by Conscious Foods (Rs.42/- per 500g). The organic range of Conscious Foods is available at Godrej Nature’s Basket outlets and at West Side, Kala Ghoda. I sometimes use sorghum flour with equally good results.
Tips and substitutes:
Break the macadamia nuts with a pestle before pounding as it will leave chunks otherwise.
Keep coconut butter refrigerated till required.
Mirin can be substituted by the same amount of white vinegar.
Brown rice flour can be substituted by sorghum flour (jowar atta).
I used coconut milk and soy milk as I had these two. Use any non-dairy milk of your choice.
A tablespoon of vegan cream used in the filling can be substituted by cashew cream or tahini.
Use a lightly floured silicon baking mat to roll the tart dough on. It helps prevent sticking.
This is the order in which I make tarts to prevent a messy kitchen, and manage time;
First make the base, refrigerate it. Get on to the filling. Do not chop the apples at this stage. When the tart pan has been lined with the dough, pre-heat the oven. Now, chop the apples and pour the filling. Prepare the crumble.
Dish: Vegan, gluten free, apple pie with crumb top
Yield: One 3 inch round tarts, and one 6 inch pie
Oven temperature : 150 deg. Celsius, with fan
Baking time: 30-40 minutes
For the base:
Brown rice flour – 115g / 1 cup (¼ cup extra if needed)
Macadamia nuts, broken – 34g / 10 nuts
Granulated sugar – 42g / 1 cup
Vanilla seeds from one pod, scraped and added to sugar
Non-dairy milk – 50g / did not measure in cup, probably 1/4th cup Mirin (or vinegar) – 7g / 1 tsp.
Oil (Safflower/ Sunflower/Canola/VCO) – 30g / 1tbsp. less ¼ cup
For the filling:
Brown rice flour – 32g / ¼ cup heaped
Baking powder – 1/8 tsp.
Sugar – 2 tbsp.
Vanilla – seeds scraped from one pod
Salt – 1 pinch
Non dairy milk – 60g / ¼ cup + a little more
Flax meal – 2 tsp.
Coconut butter – 50 g / did not measure in tbsp. but should be 2-2.5 tbsps. approximately
Vegan cream – 1 tbsp. (Optional but recommended)
Brown rice flour – ¾ cup
Sugar – 2 tsp. or as per taste (I am not fond of sweetness in crumbles)
Coconut butter – Just enough to mix
Blitz the flour, nuts, vanilla seeds and sugar together till well you get a uniform blend. Scrape flour from sides of the grinder in between. Set aside in a mixing bowl.
Heat milk and flax meal together till hot. The mixture will come to yolk consistency. Whisk well and let cool.
Blitz the oil, mirin and flax-milk mixture together and pour into the mixing bowl.
With your finger tips, work the wet ingredients into the dry till they come together. Form a rough dough using your fist to hold the crumbs together tightly. The dough will be soft but will have cracks. The fingers will be sticky because of the mirin and the oil. Divide into two discs. One big one for the 6 inch tart and one small one for the 3inch tart. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes or till the filling is made.
Blitz flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together till uniform. Set aside in a mixing bowl.
Heat milk with flax meal till yolky. It took me 20s at 600 power in the microwave. Add butter and whisk. Mix the wet ingredients with the dry, whisking well. Stir in vegan cream.
The filling should be of pouring, custard-like consistency. If needed add the extra reserved milk and stir.
Chop the apples into small cubes.
Assembling the tart:
Grease and dust tart pans.
Remove the chilled tart dough from the refrigerator. If too hard let it thaw till can be rolled.
I used a lightly dusted silicon mat for rolling. You can also roll between two thick plastic sheets. Since the dough is gluten free, do not apply much pressure while rolling. Instead pat the dough with your hands after dusting it lightly into a somewhat flat disc. If cracks appear, cup your palms and push the dough together. Now use the rolling pin and lightly roll the dough turning the sheet every now and then. It will not roll into a circle but that is fine.
Cut into four quarters. Lift one quarter with a pancake turner supporting the dough on the top with the other had and turn it over a portion of the prepared tart pan gently. Similary, repeat with the other pieces covering the tart pan completely. Now, patch the areas by pressing the dough together, where cracks appear. Using your knuckles, flatten the dough against the fluted rims of the pan. Trim the overhang around the edges.
Poke the base randomly with a fork.
Spread the apples all over the base, covering it completely.
Pour the filling on top without disturbing the apples. Level nicely.
Mix the ingredients of the crumble together lightly with finger tips to form bread crumbs.
Distribute the crumble uniformly over the pans to cover the surface completely.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 150 deg. Celsius, with fan for about 30-40 minutes or till the top turns golden brown, and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. I rotate the tarts by 90 degrees after the first 20 minutes and again after 10 minutes to ensure uniform browning.
Cool completely in pan. Refrigerate and serve chilled with vegan soy cream on the side.
This can be presented as a pie or a tart or a cake on a biscuit base.