New Adventures in Sourdough: Piecrust.

Several months ago, I wrote an article for the Daring Kitchen website on uses for discard sourdough starter. After that article, I was contacted by fellow Daring Baker, Shelly, about a new baking group that was forming. A monthly, no pressure challenge to bake up something using sourdough starter and then link up to each other to compare, contrast and congratulate. I was really excited, and then - sadly - I totally forgot about it.

Fortunately, Shelly sent me another reminder email. And also fortunately, the item this month was pie crust!

sourdough pie crust

When I clicked through to the link on Sourdough Surprises for a recipe suggested as a starting point for sourdough pie crusts, I was so happy to see Alanna's (the Bojon Gourmet) site pop up. The Bojon Gourmet has been one of my longtime favorite baking sites, and I also know from experience that her recipes are usually very reliable. In fact, I really thought that her all-butter pie crust was my favorite!

bojon piecrust.
Alanna's All-Butter Pie Crust.

I wondered if sourdough fortified pie crust would remind me of the fermented yogurt dough crust I've made from Sally Fallon's recipe. I actually thought about letting the butter come to room temperature and then mixing the crust more like a dough, and allowing it to fully culture (7 hours or longer) before refrigerating and continuing. Then, I decided that I would take a shortcut and just process everything in the food processor.

That choice eliminated the messy work of fraisage, or using the heel of your hand to scrape bits of the dough across the work surface to enhance flakiness. I used the food processor to first aerate the flours with the salt and sugar, then to cut in the butter, and finally to pulse in the sourdough starter. Then, I transferred the whole mess into a plastic bag, where I gently kneaded it into a ball. I let it sit for several hours in the fridge before taking it out to bake into a shell to house a banana cream pie.

banana cream pie layer

I'm certain that using the fraisage method to work the dough would have contributed to a more tender, flaky crust - but I actually really liked the quick, no mess version as well. It made a very stable crust for a baked shell. For the pre-baked shell, I preheated the oven to 350, rolled, crimped and then docked the crust with a fork thoroughly. Then, I lined it with parchment and filled with my pie weights: a few cups of red and white beans. Bake for about 20 minutes with the pie weights in place, then remove the weights and continue baking until lightly browned, another 10-15 minutes or so. Cool on a wire rack until room temperature and then fill with your choice of icebox pie favorites. This crust is substantial, nutty tasting and crisp - a great choice for a refrigerator pie.

To make my banana cream pie, I used a lighter pastry cream that I snagged a while back from a disappointing Epicurious recipe. It was billed as a light version of Boston Cream Pie, and let's face it, if you are making a Boston Cream Pie, don't go for a light version. This pastry cream has only 2 egg yolks per cup of milk (by contrast, I think Dorie Greenspan's has 6), making it a good, not-too-sweet layer to complement sliced, ripe banana.

There is no way I would use skim milk in a pastry cream recipe(I have to draw the line somewhere). I also doubled the volume, which is the perfect amount for a 9 inch pie.

Vanilla Pastry Cream - Light Version for Pie (adapted from epicurious)
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 6 T. sugar
  • 4 T. cornstarch (I would suspect arrowroot would also work well)
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 2 c. whole milk
  • 2 t. butter (I eyeball this, just add a little butter)
  • 1 t. vanilla extract

Whisk yolks, sugar, cornstarch, salt and 2 T. of the milk together in a small bowl or measuring cup. Bring remaining milk to a bare simmer in a saucepan, and add the yolk mixture, stirring constantly. Boil until thickened nicely, about 2 minutes, but maybe not quite that long. Remove from the heat and add the butter and vanilla extract, whisking well to combine (and make sure the butter is fully melted in). Transfer to a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, letting the wrap rest directly on the surface so that a skin doesn't form. Cool to room temperature.

banana cream pie

When both the pastry cream and the pie crusts are cool, spoon the pastry cream into the shell, and smooth gently with a knife. Slice bananas, (I used almost 2 for this pie), arrange them on top of the pastry cream so that they sit shoulder to shoulder and then top with lightly sweetened, whipped heavy cream. Stash in the fridge for a few hours prior to eating.

So, now for the links:

I hope to be able to make a better commitment to this baking group, and it shouldn't be too difficult since sourdough starter is always plentiful around my house!

Gluten-Free Chocolate Banana Bread.

It almost felt too good to be true, when I woke up this morning two hours before anyone else even started to stir. Even the accidental clanging of loaf pans as I tried to quietly dislodge them from their slumbering place didn't bring any little feet running to see what the noise was. Better still was the cool breeze blowing in the windows, gorgeous dark grey storm clouds ominously layered across the sky, just waiting for the cue to empty themselves over my depressed and wilty tomato plants.

Yesterday, the new King Arthur Flour catalog came in the mail. I perused it before bed, as I always do when a new one comes. Rarely do I order, but there is some solid information in the King Arthur catalog, and they always include a few recipes that are worth the time and effort. One for Chocolate Chip Banana Bread caught my eye, and I started to scheme in my dreams of a gluten-free version. When I bounced from my bed, I got right to work - happy with my end result and feeling quite productive all before 7 a.m.

GF chocolate banana bread

The last GF quick bread I made was so delicious it was difficult to keep around more than 2 days. This one will also meet that same fate. My loaf pans are wider, leaving me with (in my opinion, not as attractive loaves) a shallower bread, but the texture and flavor is so wonderful it's hard for that visual afterthought to matter. It's a deep chocolate flavor, not too sweet because I slashed the sugar content and didn't add any chocolate chips, but fully ripe with banana and a touch of cinnamon. A future note will be to add a little espresso powder or perhaps even ground coffee. A java jolt may be a very good addition.

I always feel the need to stress that I am not gluten-free myself, or in need of keeping to a gluten-free diet. But more often than not, I wish I was. Everything baking experiment ends up enchanting me far more than the conventional glutened counterpart. Maybe it's the thrill of a new challenge, or the appreciation of a tender crumb. Maybe, it's because it is a truly healthful alternative to traditional baked goods. This bread just feels healthy, like you are doing yourself a favor by enjoying a slice.

GF chocolate banana bread

You may wish to up the sugar content. I am fully reformed in my sugar consumptions for the most part, and have taken to preferring things decidedly unsweet. I tested this out on the Kiddo, who loved it as it was. I also ate a slice augmented by soft butter and sprinkled with additional cinnamon sugar, which wasn't a bad way to go either. I have a feeling the texture of this bread gained some density as the day wore on. I'll know for certain tomorrow, but either way I don't think a bit of fudge-like intensity is a bad thing.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Banana Bread (adapted from King Arthur Flour's August 2012 catalog)
  • 2 c. gluten-free all purpose flour (I used this method and mixed my own)
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. xanthan gum
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/4 c. cocoa powder
  • 3 1/2 oz. coconut oil (I used room temp, just softened oil, not melted)
  • 1/4 c. sugar (up this to 1/2 c. if you prefer it sweeter)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 bananas (8 oz.)
  • 1/2 c. plain yogurt (4 oz.)
  • up to 1 c. or so of optionals (nuts, chocolate chips, seeds, etc.)

Preheat the oven to 330. (Yes, it's lower than 350 and not a typo. I read here that perhaps baking at a slightly lower temperature is good for helping maintain the integrity of the loaf. That link is also a great resource template for vegan GF quick bread baking!) Line a loaf pan with a crumpled sheet of parchment paper. (You can use reused parchment for this, and may be able to get a couple of bakings out of the sheet you crumble as well.)

In a medium bowl, combine flour, soda, xanthan gum, salt, cinnamon, and cocoa powder.

In a larger bowl, mash bananas and add the coconut oil, sugar, egg, and yogurt. Mix well to combine thoroughly.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and use a spatula to make sure everything is well mixed. Add in any optionals, and spread evenly into prepared loaf pan. (I sprinkled the parchment lined pan first with cinnamon sugar, and then sprinkled a little more on top of the unbaked batter as well. It adds a little extra sweetness and crunch.)

Bake for 45-55 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.

GF chocolate banana bread

Today was such a departure, weatherwise, from the whole of our Summer that I finally cleaned my oven. The little bit of residual warmth actually felt good in context of the cool breeze and overcast sky. Just like that, I felt the pang of Autumn, the way I do every year and somehow still feel surprised by it. Just a few weeks remain until the calendar turns and school begins for an eager 1st grader, and I gain an official year on my life. Just this evening, I was considering that my birthday is the perfect excuse to make whatever sweet I desire, and I wonder if this year it may just be gluten free? We'll all have to wait until September to find out.

GF chocolate banana bread

Just so you know, King Arthur is a deep love of mine. Their website and on-demand staff is just plain amazing, and they never would ask me to tell you so. I am able to find their flour locally, and it consistently performs so well and tastes so good that I make excuses that I don't source more local or organic flour. I haven't yet tried their gluten-free flour, but I'm sure it is also consistently good.

Quickbread (part one.)

Yesterday, I searched for a better Banana Bread recipe. This happens a lot, since I have all the intentions of eating bananas, then before I know it - they are spotty and black and begging for a new life in quick breads. Last week though, I made them into Nikki's Healthy Cookies, from food blogger 101 cookbooks. I have them frozen for moments of cookie needs... and they are users of 3 bananas, and no refined sugar. See? I really am trying to be better.

So, after much searching, I finally found this recipe for Whole Wheat Banana Bread: and I came across it in a strange manner. Every recipe I perused up to this point had lots of butter. I love butter, but I was searching for healthier options. All recipes also seemed to have way too much sugar as well, which I don't normally have a problem with, but you know, I'm trying to be Better.

It helps too that my Mom is looking for baking recipes that are using less or no refined sugars. I have a task, and I am up to it! I found a forum of people discussing healthier banana bread options at A commenter included a link for the following recipe. I did alter it slightly, so I am posting my version below. My little picky boy-o loved it, and I loved it. Better yet, absolutely no guilt is involved.

Healthy Whole Wheat Banana Bread

1 loaf

  • 1/3 c. oil (part can be converted to applesauce,according to a poster at serious eats, but I used canola oil)
  • 1/2 c. brown rice syrup
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 mashed bananas
  • 1 3/4 c. whole wheat flour (King Arthur, of course)
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1 t. baking soda dissolved in 1/4 c. hot water
  • 1/2 c. chopped walnuts.

Preheat oven to 325.

Beat oil and honey together in a large bowl. Add eggs and mix well, then stir in bananas and vanilla. Stir in flour and salt, then add baking soda to hot water and stir into batter. Fold in chopped nuts.

Spread batter into "prepared" pan (I opt always for cooking spray with flour. Normally, I am against such things, but it really does make life so much easier.)

Bake for 55-65 minutes, until tester comes out clean. Try to wait at least a half hour before cutting into it.

I think in the next occasion of overripe bananas, I will tweak this recipe using my two favorite additions from the Alton Brown banana bread recipe. To date, his is by far my favorite. (All about Alton has the recipe by weight: Bread of Life has it listed by measure.) He uses oat flour in his, which is a miracle, I think, for adding softness. But the true marvel is that he also adds almonds and almond extract which is seriously my favorite flavor ever. If you are looking to impress, and not eat healthy in the privacy of your own home...make Alton's banana bread.

I think the whole wheat version is really delicious however, and the brown rice syrup is the key I think. If you were to use honey, as the original recipe wished, I think it would be too sweet. I love honey, but if I was going through the trouble to make a healthier recipe, I figured why not try the brown rice syrup? It is made (according to the Lundberg Farms label) by simply boiling down brown rice. It is great, and really does taste a little like sweet, nutty brown rice.

I originally bought it for making Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Peanut Granola, which is very tasty and perhaps my third batch after watching that episode is happily residing in my freezer.

I hope you have luck with this healthy version of banana bread. I am actually going against all my personal thoughts on cake and bread storage and storing this, wrapped in foil, in the refrigerator. It is just so moist, that I can't see getting my normal 6-7 days out of it! I'm also planning to toast some, since I think that the almost pudding like interior will stand up to it.