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Gluten-Free Peach Pie Tips and Preferred Thickeners

You’re a peach.” “Peachy-keen.” “Peaches-and-cream complexion.” These sayings have been around forever and have one thing in common: they all refer to peaches in a delightfully positive way. And why not? Peaches are gorgeous and one of the most delicious fruits on earth. This week’s CSA delivery contained a dozen lovely peaches picked on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains here in Colorado.  So, what should I do with them?

Carol Fenster's Gluten-Free Peach Pie

Carol Fenster's Gluten-Free Peach Pie

How About Peach Pie?

With my no-fail pie crust recipe from 125 Gluten-Free Vegetarian Recipes this pie goes together easily and bakes up so beautifully.  There are also pie crust recipes in Gluten-Free 101 and 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes and 100 Best Gluten-Free Recipes.

Tips for Great Pies

[1] After making the crust (a food processor works great), chill it (tightly wrapped) for an hour to let the ingredients meld together. Then knead the dough in your hands until it feels as warm as your skin. It needs to be this warm to roll out smoothly (unlike wheat-flour pie crust which should be somewhat cold).

[2] I prefer Spectrum shortening because it is non-hydrogenated but you can use regular shortening (butter flavor produces a great taste).

[3] Roll the dough out between sheets of heavy-duty/premium plastic wrap, rather than regular plastic wrap. The premium versions are a bit sturdier and won’t tear. I don’t recommend using parchment paper or waxed paper because they don’t drape well while you transferring the dough to the pan and the crust can tear.

[4] Limit the juices in fruit pies to no more than ¼ cup to prevent sogginess. The fruit usually releases more juices from the heat of the oven as it bakes so don’t worry, the pie will be juicy enough.

Carol Fenster's Gluten-Free Peach Pie on bottom rack of oven.

Carol Fenster's Gluten-Free Peach Pie on bottom rack of oven.

[5]Bake the pie on the bottom rack of the oven for the first 15 minutes to brown the bottom crust well and reduce sogginess, then move it to the middle rack to complete baking.

[6] Non-stick pie pans brown the crust better than glass or ceramic versions. Find them in the baking aisles of grocery stores.

[7] Gluten-free pies are best eaten on the same day they’re baked.

What Thickener is Best?

I receive many questions about making pies, but aside from using a good pie crust recipe the biggest issue is what thickener to use.  After all, you don’t want to go to all that work making a pie and then have the slices fall apart because it wasn’t thickened properly. So, I did some research on thickeners to see what works best with different types of fruit fillings.

Certain fruits have more pectin, a polysaccharide in plant cells that acts as a “setting” agent. For example, apples have the most pectin so they require less thickener than strawberries, berries, and rhubarb. The reason is that they release more liquid when cooked so they need more thickening.

The thickeners we can use in gluten-free cooking are arrowroot, cornstarch, potato starch, potato flour, and tapioca. Each produces a different result in terms of taste and appearance. Which one should I use for the most attractive, best-tasting peach pie? Here are the results I would get with each thickener and how much to use. For each thickener, it is important to thoroughly whisk it into the sugar and spices (like cinnamon) before adding it to the fruit to make sure it is evenly distributed.

Thickeners for Peach Pie

Fresh peaches from Grant Family Farms

Fresh peaches from Grant Family Farms

Arrowroot: produces a clear, translucent filling and has more holding power than tapioca flour, but less than potato starch (which is the strongest of the three). It is tasteless.  Use 1 tablespoon for each cup of fruit.

Cornstarch: has good holding powder, but produces an unattractive, cloudy, opaque filling that looks “gluey” and detracts from the lovely peaches. Some people think the taste of the cornstarch can be detected, so I would not use cornstarch for this pie. But if that is all you have, use 2 teaspoons per cup of fruit.

Potato flour: produces an unattractive, cloudy, opaque filling and because it is a less-powerful thickener it takes a lot to thicken the filling so the strong potato flavor is noticeable. I would not use potato flour for this pie, but if that’s all you have use 1 ½ tablespoons per cup of fruit.

Potato starch: produces a clear, translucent filling that works well for this pie. Potato starch has more holding power than arrowroot or tapioca flour, so I would use 2 teaspoons per cup of fruit.

Tapioca: tapioca is available in two forms: quick-cooking tapioca granules and tapioca flour. Tapioca flour is a fine powder and produces a clear, translucent filling that works well for peaches and its neutral taste won’t affect the fruit’s flavor. I would use 1 ½ tablespoons per cup of fruit. Quick-cooking tapioca is granular and has slightly more thickening power than tapioca flour but leaves little beads in the filling (sort of like tapioca pudding) that I find unattractive and slightly annoying. Plus, the filling has to sit for awhile to soften the granules. I would not use quick-cooking tapioca in this pie, but 1 tablespoon per cup of fruit would be sufficient if you choose to use it.

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