Baking secrets: Nut flours swap in for gluten-free apple crisp

Posted9/10/2013 6:00 AM
  • Annie Overboe's gluten-free apple crisp relies on almond and coconut flours to give the topping structure.

      Annie Overboe's gluten-free apple crisp relies on almond and coconut flours to give the topping structure. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

In July I participated in the DuPage County Fair Association's Pop-Up Expo, programs designed to give fairgoers a bit of education along with all that summertime food and entertainment.

Judging from positive interactions with the crowd, the "reach and teach" events were a huge success. In one session I shared secrets to taking home the coveted "blue ribbon" in foods judging and in another I passed along information and hands-on experience with various gluten-free flours and other healthful products.

Most of the questions I fielded regarding gluten-free ingredients centered on how various flours behave in dessert makeovers. I understand from firsthand experience the challenges flour substitutions present.

As much as we rely upon food science for successful baking, the touch and feel of ingredients relays important information to bakers. To illustrate this at the fair, I set out plates of various gluten-free flours so people could see some of the differences for themselves.

Bob's Red Mill all-purpose gluten-free flour stood out with its slightly yellow hue compared to the King Arthur multipurpose. Boasting high protein content, Bob's version uses garbanzo and fava bean to bake solid structure into recipes yet the taste buds pick up on the beany flavor if there's not another strong ingredient in the dessert to mask the taste.

The coconut flour took most in the audience by surprise. Richly textured and slightly golden in color, this tropical flour lends an enticing nutty aroma and boasts high fiber content. Most people anticipated an overpowering coconut essence and were surprised with the mellow sweetness that hangs in the background.

While at the fair I passed out recipe cards for my gluten-free chocolate chip cookies and promised to share more gluten-free desserts this fall. Today I make good on that promise with apple crisp, a classic dessert that's an easy entrance into the world of gluten-free baking.

Crisp, just-picked apples take center stage in this dessert. Adding to it's appeal is the lack of a rolled crust -- no need to struggle with creating a gluten-free pie crust. Sprinkled with a crumbly topping, the best crisps keep sugars and spices securely in the topping before baking.

But sidestepping the crust doesn't mean flour gets the day off in the kitchen. The standard crisp topping combines flour, sugar, spices and butter into a flavorful covering for fruit. Baked until deeply browned, the topping creates that hallmark crisp texture.

A mixture of almond flour and coconut flours steps in for traditional all-purpose flour. Both gluten-free, these flours offer serious fiber for structure and background nutty notes that allow the spicy fruit to keep center stage. Apple juice gently moistens the fruit without over sweetening.

Served warm, this apple crisp falls so deliciously on the taste buds that Grandma would never guess it's gluten-free.

• Annie Overboe, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, lives in Villa Park. Write to her at

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