Recipe Revamping: Coffee Cake

“It’s different but also the same.”

We were fortunate this past weekend to attend the world premiere of an orchestral piece by a composer from Singapore. My oldest was playing her French horn in the orchestra so my other daughter and my son drove with me to watch the performance.

For the selection, the composer began with an opera by Beethoven and imagined a different way of composing the piece. As the orchestra played his version, speakers placed at the four corners of the the building piped singing from the original opera piece. The conductor invited the audience to experience the “difference” and “sameness” by moving around the room. The conductor also asked the audience to add to the entire experience by downloading different variations of Beethoven’s work onto our phones and to play those, too, as we listened and walked around.

One would imagine this would be cacophonous but it was not, and in fact, the experience was quite pleasing and delightful; and we were glad we had been able to attend and participate.

As I thought about what the composer did – taking something known and creating something different, all the while keeping the essence of the original – I realized that this is precisely what I did when I set about perfecting a healthier and allergy friendly coffee cake. I wanted to create a coffee cake which I could eat but also which was better than traditional coffee cake.

Coffee cake is one of those foods which everyone enjoys but which truly is quite awful for your body, because it’s mostly white flour, butter and sugar. To create a coffee cake which kept the essence of what folks liked about it but which was allergy friendly and healthy was a very tall order.

But I like a challenge, so I created a recipe the other day which hit a home run the first time out….

Revamping Coffee Cake:

1. The butter: With a dairy allergy I obviously wanted to substitute the butter with a vegan version, but I also wanted to cut how much butter is usually in a coffee cake. I thought about what makes coffee cake most appealing and realized it’s really that streusel topping. As such, I didn’t want to get rid of the butter in topping which meant I needed to get rid of it in the cake part.

To substitute for the butter, though, I needed to find a perfect substitute which would mimic what butter does for the flavor and texture of coffee cake.  Simply substituting a healthy plant oil wouldn’t work. Neither would using mashed fruit or vegetables. I finally decided to use a combination of tofu sour cream and frozen bananas. The tofu sour cream would add some fat without adding as significant an amount as butter, especially if I used half the amount I might otherwise have by mixing it with bananas. I wanted something which had the texture of butter, though, so I froze the bananas and pureed it with the tofu sour cream which mimicked the texture of soft butter.

2. The flour: Besides having gluten which I can’t have, white flour also adds nothing nutritionally to one’s body. I needed to substitute a gluten free flour, but I also wanted to use flours which protein and fiber. This meant foregoing the usual gluten free blends which use rice flours which are just carbs. I didn’t want to use the heavier blends, either, though, with the garbanzo and fava bean flours because the texture would be compromised.

In the end I made my own blend which was a mixture of 1/2 cup quinoa flour, 1 1/2 cup gluten free oat flour, 1/4 cup coconut flour, 1 1/4 cup sorghum flour, 1 cup potato starch, and 2 tsp xanthan gum. The oat and sorghum flours have low glycemic indexes with high fiber. The oat and quinoa flour have a good amount of protein, and the quinoa and coconut flours add nutty lightness to the heavier oat and sorghum flours. The potato starch is necessary for binding and adds smoothness to the flour blend.

3. The sugar: Since refined sugar is poison to one’s body, I wanted to get rid of it altogether in the coffee cake. Agave would affect the texture of the coffeecake, and Stevia would affect the flavor. So, I opted to use coconut sugar which has a very low glycemic index and which would not affect the texture of the cake.

4. The eggs: Coffee cake usually utilizes a generous amount of whole eggs. To keep the cake healthier, I used liquid egg whites instead.

5. The cake pan: Since I wanted the cake to be healthier, I wanted to use less streusel topping than regular coffee cake recipes call for, but I still wanted a nice topping to cake ratio. As such, I opted to put my coffee cake batter into a larger 11 x 15 pan instead of the usual 9 x 13. This made for a slightly thinner coffee cake which meant the thinner layer of streusel was perfect.

6. The additions: One of the fun things about coffee cake is that there’s a variety one can purchase or make, so I wanted to experience with flavor. What I found worked well was to drop small dollops of Polaner’s All Fruit on top of the batter before I sprinkled on the streusel topping. The all fruit would melt while cooking and spread but then re-solidify with the streusel when cooling to mix the flavors.

7. The streusel: To make the streusel topping I decided to use garbanzo bean flour because it would add protein and fiber. Also, it is a heavier, denser flour which would make for a thicker streusel topping. I blended the flour with coconut sugar and added some cinnamon and nutmeg for flavoring. For the butter, I substituted a vegan butter which worked really well.

Allergy Friendly Coffee Cake


1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour

1 cup coconut sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 cup vegan butter

3 cups Paula’s flour blend**

2 cups coconut sugar

4 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup vegan tofu sour cream

2 frozen bananas (medium 5-6 inch in length)

1/2 cup soy milk mixed with 1/2 tbsp lemon juice

3/4 cup liquid egg whites

1/2 cup Polaner All Fruit

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 11 x 15 pan with favorite method or line with parchment paper.

2. Combine the garbanzo bean flour with the coconut sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Using a pastry knife cut the vegan butter into the flour mixture until coarse crumbs form. Set the streusel topping aside.

3. Mix the gluten free flour blend with the coconut sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.

4. In a food processor or blender, blend the tofu sour cream with the frozen bananas until thick and creamy. You should have 1 1/4 cup yield to use for the recipe.

5. Mix the sour cream-banana mixture with the soy milk mixed with lemon juice. Blend well, and then add the liquid egg whites.

6. Quickly mix the liquid ingredients with the dry ingredients and spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.

7. Drop small dollops of the Polaner All Fruit onto the cake batter so they’re evenly spaced on the surface. You won’t cover the entire surface of the cake.

8. Evenly distribute the streusel topping over the cake batter.

9. Bake in the preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. The cake will puff and be golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean.

10. The cake is delicious warm. It’s also good at room temperature after it’s cooled a little bit.

** Paula’s coffee cake gluten free flour blend: 1/2 cup quinoa flour, 1 1/2 cup gluten free oat flour, 1/4 cup coconut flour, 1 1/4 cup sorghum flour, 1 cup potato starch, and 2 tsp xanthan gum. You’ll only use 3 cups of this which will leave you with some leftover flour which you can use for something else.






Cooking Techniques: Allergy Friendly Pie Crusts

website crusts

“Yay! Thanksgiving in October!”

My ninth grade daughter is taking French this year for the first time, and the high school she is at hosts an exchange program with another high school in France. We were asked to host a French student for two weeks, and one of the suggestions for entertainment was to have a Thanksgiving meal with them, since that would be a different experience for them.

We were happy to oblige, as you can tell by my son’s response above.

As we prepared, we explained to our French student that no matter what people say about the Turkey and the side dishes and the rolls, that Thanksgiving really is all about the pies: apple pie, pumpkin pie, mincemeat pie, cranberry pie, pecan pie, sweet potato pie, pear pie, buttermilk pie, and every possible variation of these pies which exist.

For folks with food allergies, though, pies can be tricky. May people struggle with pie-making in general, even when you’re able to use white flour, butter, and salt. The thought of trying to make a pie crust with substitutions is something a lot of folks simply just don’t want to consider.

The good news, though, is that making a gluten, dairy, soy, salt free pie crust is actually easier than making a traditional pie crust. You just need to know a few things, and you’ll be on your way to a great Thanksgiving dessert buffet!

Tips for Allergy Friendly Pie Crusts:

1. It’s just a simple swap: Because pie crusts don’t need to rise the way breads and cakes do, you can simply substitute your favorite gluten free flour for the all purpose flour. No need to make up any special flour blends at all. If you want a flakier, crispier, closer to traditional pie crust, opt for flours like brown rice or sorghum. If you want a more substantive crust with flavor, protein and fiber, try garbanzo bean or gluten free oat flour. If you have a gluten free flour blend sitting around in your closet, you can by all means use, too.

2. Cold is best all the way around: All pie crust recipes call for cold butter or shortening, cold ice water, and to put the made crust in the fridge for a little while. Why? Because warm pie crust dough sticks and won’t roll very well. Warm pie crust dough makes for a denser, less flaky crust.

What I find works wonderfully is to stick your measured butter and/or shortening into the freezer for five 10 minutes or so before using, to put ice cubes into your water, and to put your prepared pie crust dough into the fridge for a minimum of thirty minutes, an hour at the most.

3. “Fat” substitutions work: I use soy free vegan butter and shortening in my pie crusts all the time without any difference. So you can simply use what works for you without worry. It’s a straight one to one substitution ratio. What you should know, though, is that the allergy friendly versions tend to be softer than regular butter and shortening so sometimes I freeze them a little longer more like 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Work around and with the rolling: When it comes to pie crusts, the rolling out of the dough is what usually causes issues for people. I’ve learned a couple of things:

One, you don’t have to roll the bottom crust. I shape my dough into a slightly flattened disk (about an inch high) which I cool in the fridge for my 30-60 minutes, and then I simply use my fingers to push the dough outward from the center to the edges. It takes less than five minutes and actually makes for a more even crust.

Two, when I do have to roll the crust for the top part of a pie, I’ve found that putting the dough between two pieces of wax paper which I’ve also lightly greased is the best approach. The dough rolls easily, doesn’t stick, and comes off when I go to put it on top of the pie.

5. Be creative with the flavoring: Salt is the go-to for pie crusts, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re making an apple pie, add some cardamom to complement the cinnamon in the pie. If you’re making a pumpkin pie, add grated orange peel as a contrast to the pumpkin. If you’re making a sweet potato pie, add grated nutmeg to intensify the sweet potato taste. You simply add the spices to the dry ingredients of the pie dough before cutting in the fat.

6. Know the effects of the process: Another issue people often have problems with is making their dough too dry or too wet. It’s important to understand the dynamics of the different ways you process the dough:

If you use a food processor which is what many recipes say to do nowadays, the dynamics of the food processing blade means the water is incorporated quickly and efficiently. If you have cut the fat in yourself with a hand pastry blender of two knives and are adding the water by stirring the dough with a fork, the water will drain into different parts of your dough more quickly than you can stir it. As a result you will often need more water for hand processing than when using a food processor.

Also, a food processor will draw the dough naturally into a ball which makes it easy for you to see that you have enough water. When you stir the dough by hand, the dough will usually not form a ball unless you’ve added too much water.

So, a tip: If a recipe calls for a certain tbsp amount of ice water for use in a food processor, it will normally mean you’ll need about two tablespoons more for hand stirring, so if my dough looks dry after the amount specified, I will go ahead and add two more tablespoons, and then even if it looks dry still, I will push the dough together with my hands to form two disks. If the dough will stick together, it’s fine, if there are dry pieces falling off, I simply wet my hands with the ice water and incorporate those dry pieces into the disks.

Struesel Pear Cranberry Pie

(This recipe makes two pies)


Pie crust, prepare enough for two bottoms only

1 cup agave

1/4 cup water

one 12 oz package of fresh cranberries (be sure to check for stems)

8 pears, washed, cored and sliced into 12-16 slices each

3 tbsp cornstarch

3 tbsp water

2 cups gluten free whole oats

1/2 cup sorghum flour

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/2 cup vegan soy free butter*

Baking Instructions:

1. Prepare your favorite pie crust recipe. If you don’t have one, Bob’s Red Mill pie crust mix works very well. Would recommend adding some spices to jazz it up a bit, though.  Line the bottoms of two 9.5 inch pie pans with the crusts.

2. Mix agave with water and put into a stove top pan large enough to hold all the pears.

3. Add the cranberries and bring to a boil. Cook for a minute or two until the cranberries begin to pop.

4. When the majority of cranberries have popped, add the pears, stirring to coat with the cranberries. Cook for 3-5 minutes until pears have softened.

5. Mix the cornstarch with the water, and making a well in the center of the pear mixtures, slowly add the cornstarch, stirring continually. Mix the cornstarch syrup thoroughly with the pear-cranberry mixture, cooking for a minute or two to make sure the syrup has thickened.

6. Evenly divide the pear-cranberry mixture between the two pie crusts.

7. In a food processor, add the oats, sorghum flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and butter.  Process until the mixture is a nice crumbly topping.

8. Evenly distribute the topping over both pies to completely cover them.

9. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 40-45 minutes until the pie is bubbling and the streusel is golden brown.

10.  Cool completely before serving.

* This makes for a savory topping which contrasts with the sweetness of the pear-cranberry mixture. If you happen to like your toppings sweet, you should add a tbsp or two of Agave with the butter.