Thursday, June 30, 2011

Gluten-Free, Vegan Melktert (Milk Tart)

Remember how I told you I'd share the results of my first attempt at making a gluten-free, vegan version of our beloved melktert, provided it wasn't a disaster?

Well, it wasn't a disaster! It needs some further refinement, but it's not bad.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more pleased I am with the results. It's one thing to adapt a recipe to be gluten-free or vegan, and another thing entirely to tackle both at the same time. My two biggest fears -- that the custard wouldn't set and the crust would shatter and crumble -- didn't happen. A small victory in my gluten- (and mostly dairy-) free baking journey.

The crust -- made with King Arthur All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour, Earth Balance Buttery Sticks, and a bit of sugar -- held together, but it's fragile for sure. The brown rice in the flour contributed a nice crunch, but there was a slight bitter aftertaste. There's no bean flour in the King Arthur blend, so I think the odd flavor might be from the Earth Balance. Earth Balance is also quite watery, so next time I'll use vegetable shortening.

As for the custard filling, to be honest it tastes more like coconut tapioca pudding than a milky cinnamon custard, but it's a start. I happen to love coconut tapioca pudding -- and spooned some of the filling, still warm from the saucepan, into a small bowl to enjoy with a sprinkle of cinnamon -- but the tapioca probably isn't necessary. I added it at the last minute out of fear that the custard wouldn't set without eggs (which you certainly don't have to omit if you're avoiding dairy but aren't vegan).

Lest I ramble on any more than I already have, my recipe and notes are after the photo...

Gluten-Free, Vegan Melktert (Milk Tart)
Serves 8

Unlike traditional melktert made with egg, in this version the custard isn't baked after being poured into the pre-baked crust.

For the crust:
1 1/4 cups gluten-free flour (I used a packaged blend as noted above, but plan to experiment with my own blends. I think teff and almond flours would contribute to a nice crust, and ground flax would help hold the dough together.)
1/2 cup vegetable shortening or 1 stick Earth Balance Buttery Sticks
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Ice water (If needed; Earth Balance is so moist, I didn't need to add water.)
Additional gluten-free flour for rolling the dough
Vegetable cooking spray

1. In the bowl of a food processor (or in a medium bowl using a pastry cutter), combine the flour, shortening or Earth Balance, sugar and salt. Pulse until the mixture comes together in large clumps and holds together when you press it between your fingers. Add ice water, a tablespoon at a time, if needed.

2. Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap or lightly greased parchment paper, cover with another sheet of plastic wrap or paper, and press it together to form a disc. Refrigerate, tightly wrapped, for at least an hour.

3. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Unwrap the dough and place it on a floured work surface. Roll it out into a circle to fit an 8- or 9-inch pie or tart pan, dusting the rolling pin and dough with additional flour as needed. Transfer the dough to the pie or tart pan and press it evenly into the bottom, edges and sides. (My dough tended to crack and split at the edges and when I rolled it and when I transferred it to the tart pan, but you can press the pieces back together much more easily than when working with dough containing gluten.)

4. Bake the tart shell until golden brown, about 20 minutes, turning it as needed to ensure even browning if your oven has hot spots like mine. (You won't need to use pie weights, nor prick the dough with a fork to prevent it from bubbling up. It also doesn't shrink like many doughs that contain gluten.)

5. When done, remove the tart shell from the oven to a rack to cool while you make the custard filling.

For the custard:
3 cups coconut milk (I used "full fat," not lite, coconut milk, figuring the fat would make the custard more creamy and thick.)
3 sticks cinnamon, broken into pieces
1 whole nutmeg
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup granulated tapioca (optional)
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or extract
Ground cinnamon for sprinkling over finished tart

1. In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan set over medium heat, bring 2 1/2 cups of the coconut milk, the cinnamon sticks and nutmeg almost to a boil. Remove from heat to cool for about 10-15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, whisk the cornstarch, sugar, salt and tapioca (if using) in a medium bowl. Add the remaining 1/2 cup coconut milk and whisk or stir until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

3. Remove the cinnamon sticks and nutmeg from the warmed coconut milk, set the saucepan over medium low heat, and slowly whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Cook, stirring constantly (and scraping the sides, corners and bottom of saucepan to prevent clumping), until the mixture is thickened, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the vanilla, and set aside to cool for about 30 minutes, until warm (you can speed this process by transferring the custard to a clean bowl and stirring it at regular intervals).

Pour the warm custard into the prepared tart shell, sprinkle with ground cinnamon to taste, and refrigerate, uncovered, until set. Slice carefully and serve.

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